CYC-Online 92 SEPTEMBER 2006
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Relationships: A sideways view

Karl Gompf

It’s over! Our relationship is going nowhere. I worked so hard and now it’s turned out all wrong. Alice, of Child and Youth Care practice, was distraught. Painfully, she lamented the fact, her fact only, that her one-year relationship with a young boy in her care was strained. Most often he would not speak to Alice, swearing viciously when he did choose to acknowledge her attempts at conversation. She was now past understanding, she was even past wanting to “hang in there,” she was almost past caring. Her pain was intense. And no one, not even the most seasoned of her child and youth care colleagues, nor her seasoned supervisor, could help.

I’ve been there. Just as we all may have been there in that pain as we journey through life connecting and disconnecting with friends, lovers, family, and children who cross our paths in the Child and Youth Care world. So what does help? What advice for Alice? What moves us through the pain of relationships lost or relationships changed or relationships simply just not available?

Well, my mother taught that “time heals” and my father taught “just get over it.” Lessons well-intentioned. Child and Youth Care practice has taught to search for understanding – look at the meaning behind the behaviour. Look at yourself – develop your own self-awareness – how do you fit into the relationship equation? How about reframing? Are you able to look at the situation in new and enlightened ways? Perhaps there is a metaphor to explain what is happening to cause so much pain, and which, well-explained, will reduce your suffering. Try a new approach, try mirroring, try activities, try something, try anything, just try!

When none of this advice works – and often it doesn’t when we are faced with the complexity of relational “stuff” “here’s what you do. It works for me and it is summed up best by little Ruth May in the novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Sometimes you just want to lay down and look at the whole world sideways. Mama and I do. It feels nice. If I put my head on her, the sideways world moves up and down. She goes hhh-huh, hhh-huh. She’s soft on her tummy and the bosoms part. When Father and Leah went away on the airplane we just needed to lay on down awhile.

You see, both Ruth May and I know that the sideways world helps us make sense of the upright world. With our head on our mommy’s tummy (even metaphorically) we slow down and we can see our relationships in a new light. We breathe slowly and evenly and connect with the “hhh-huh, hhh-huh” real or imagined. We are able to focus on our relationship responsibility and to know what words and actions are required to lead to improvement in the relational struggle. The sideways world allows us to more clearly see the boundaries so important for the development of healthy relationships and to respect those of others as well as our own. This connection to our first relationship, our mom, gives us the insight we need to work on all aspects of all other relationships.

And so to Alice of Child and Youth Care practice, just lay on down awhile. If nothing else, as Ruth May said – it feels nice. The answers you are seeking for your relationship dilemma are within you. They will come at you sideways, not from your head-on, upright stance. Recently, it worked for me as I lay my head on the tummy of Mother Earth. I am now anxious to hear my mother’s reply when I ask her if I may rest my head on her tummy while I ponder another relationship issue. With 87 years under her belt, I suspect she will oblige.

This feature: Gompf, K. (2003). Relationships: A Sideways View. Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, 16.4, p.74

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