What Happened When My Kids Decided to Run Away From Home
You know that moment when you suddenly realize things are oddly quiet in the house and you think, “Oh, Lord. What’s going on?”
One Saturday morning, I had that moment. I went upstairs to see what all the silence was about. When I entered Dalia’s room, Marissa (9) and Dalia (5) were busy putting items into a bag. “What are you doing?” I asked.
Marissa answered, “We’re running away.”
A few things: a) Two of the most-watched Disney movies in our home, Frozen and The Lion King, have main characters who run away from home. b) Marissa was still adjusting to the divorce. And c) I remember being about her age, packing up and getting halfway down the street before returning home from my own escape. So I was neither alarmed nor offended by this statement.
In fact, my response was, “Can I join you?”
“Sure!” they happily agreed.
I let them know that it really wasn’t a good day to run away because Dalia had ballet class and then we had plans to go to Aunt Linda’s house, but that we’d go another day. They seemed satisfied with that.
For the next several days, Dalia kept asking when we’d be going on our “trip.” Her kindergarten teacher even pulled me aside after school to express concern that Dalia was talking about running away during class. I explained the situation, and later educated Dalia about how her comments had worried the teachers.
On the way home from school, I turned on my phone’s voice recorder and documented our conversation:
Me: So, what did you pack?
Marissa: Let’s see…..pajamas, a change of clothes, underwear, a scarf, a spray bottle (if we get hot), my allowance, one piece of jewelry (in case we go somewhere special), some string, a whistle, lip medicine…..
Me: Where will you sleep?
Marissa: On a bench.
Me: Where will you change your clothes?
Marissa: In a bathroom inside a store.
Me: Why are you running away?
Marissa: I don’t really know. I want to know how it feels.
Me: How do you think it’ll feel?
Dalia: Good. Because I get to be in the wild and I like animals. I like to pet doggies and kitties…..
Marissa interrupts: Bad, because there’s rain, thunder, lightning, fires, kidnappers…..That’s it.
Two days later, after we had finished our dinner, they grabbed their backpacks and we ventured out on our “walk in the wild.”
About ten minutes into it, Dalia began complaining that she was bored. At first, I tried to convince her that that she was, in fact, having fun. But I quickly changed my approach, and decided to join with her instead. Take a listen (click below):
Did you hear what happened there (right before I got distracted by the giant spider)? I stopped resisting Dalia, and actually echoed her complaints. As soon as I said that I was bored and wanted to go home, she tried convincing me that we were having fun looking at the houses.
In social work school, I learned about the importance of joining with clients, or “meeting them where they are.” People (both big and small) often need to feel heard, understood, and validated in their own views before they can be open to considering new ones.
The other reason this approach worked was that once I stopped trying so hard to influence Dalia's position, she was free to choose it for herself.
Soon after we saw the spider, I told them about all the other creatures we'd encounter in the wild. When I mentioned snakes, the girls got scared and decided they wanted to go home. Apparently, they're not as cut out for the wild as they had thought.
This week's challenge: When you feel the urge to argue or engage in a power struggle with your kids, join with them instead. Demonstrate empathy, acceptance, and support. If you can, try to match them non-verbally, and use their exact language to communicate that you “get” them.
Be proactive — in the comments below, tell us what struggle you repeatedly have at home that you could try to change using this technique.
If you’re ready for a change and want to feel calmer and more confident as a mom, schedule a FREE mini-session with me here to learn more about how I can help.