Episode 17

How to repair toxic ruptures
with our kids

February 7, 2022

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 17 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara, and we're here to talk about parenting.

[Kyle]: And today our topic, I want to give you a quick preview at the beginning, we're going to be talking about toxic ruptures, okay? So, we're going to take some time to define that for you today and then, also talk to you about how we go back and repair those toxic ruptures when they happen with our kids, but first, I want to spend just a quick moment and I know in a lot of podcasts when podcasters do this, I kind of fast forward through this section, but I just want to put a quick plug that [Unintelligible] Sara and I don't talk about the courses we've done, but if you go to the website parentinglegacy.com, Sara and I have put together some courses that you can buy there. One is about how to move away from power-- You know, power struggles in the family and how to resolve conflicts and then also, how to understand and communicate with your teenager. So, if either one of those topics really excites you and you really would love some more help with that, feel free to go to the website and check that out.

[Kyle]: And we also, as we're hitting episode 17, you know, we really love the feedback we've been getting from parents, especially-- I know clients I’ve helped, have been able to come back and tell me how helpful the podcast has been and we love to hear that kind of feedback from parents. So, please leave your comments, please review the podcast, whatever you can do to share this information, you know Sara and I are just spending this time in our closet, just trying to share all the info we have with you. I mean, today is a kind of a cold chilly day. It was recently my birthday, I just turned 45 and we're just trying to do our best at our old age of our 40s. I’m trying to give as much wisdom as we can for free, to as many people as it can help.

[Kyle]: So, any way you can help us to send the word out about the Art of Raising Humans podcast. If it's helped you, we would love to hear that, that encourages us. Sara and I were just joking today, we would love in the future to do some like, travel tips even, because we love to travel, we love to vacation with the kids and maybe they'll be fun subjects like that in the future, but many of these podcasts we're going to be doing of the next several months, are subjects that have come up because parents have said “hey, could you talk about this?” or it's been an ongoing issue with clients that I’ve seen in practice or Sara and I’ve talked to with other parents outside of that arena. So, feel free to give us feedback on all that, okay? So, just wanted to give a quick plug to that stuff.

[Sara]: We really do, we will listen to it, we appreciate it, it helps us. We're doing this to, like Kyle said, to share stuff, so we want to know what people need and what they want and we just love talking about it.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's a lot of fun for us to sit in our closet and talk about it. [Laughter] So, today we want to talk about how to repair toxic ruptures with our kids. So, Sara, why don't you start first, kind of how would you define a toxic rupture, where are we getting that term from?

[Sara]: That is one of those fights you have with your kid that, like the word said, toxic rupture, where you know the relationship suffered. That was not just a little correction or guidance or it was something where you, you know and I think we have that inside of us as parents, where something happens, you have an argument with your kid or you have some boundaries studying with your kid or something and it didn't go well, and you're feeling anger, resentment or something. Your child is feeling that, there's a pull away in the relationship, you're no longer together, there's this distance there and you can you can feel it and this applies to a 17-year-old, it applies to a two-year-old.

[Sara]: You can feel where you have hurt your child, there's a distance in the relationship, this is not just-- It's a toxic rupture, it's a big thing.

[Sara]: How would you--?

[Kyle]: Well, I mean, I’m kind of getting the term. I think the only place I’ve seen it is with Dr. Dan Siegel, who kind of uses this term and even when you're saying that, typically it comes from me, a big reaction I’ve had to something that kids have done and I’m just mindless, I’m just completely unconscious, you know? They do something and I just [Scream] I just react to them, almost like I’m just like, you know, I’m just sending so much like, disgust at them or anger at them and I know for sure, I think a lot of people can feel that in their marriage. I know for sure when you and I have had a toxic rupture, like somehow the conversation just didn't go well and there's tension. [Unintelligible] your like, you're thinking, I know I’ve been thinking this like “are we to take care of this tonight? Is this going to be taken care of tomorrow? Can we go to sleep like this? Because like, I’m kind of upset at you” and you know, sometimes that might even look literally like, a person goes out on the couch and they're like “I’m just going to sleep on the couch!” and like, that’s--

[Sara]: It looks like the kid going to the room and slamming the door. Like a cold shoulder.

[Kyle]: Exactly, yes, yeah. Like you said, there's a distance, you know? It didn't-- The conflict didn't lead to us growing closer together, it was almost like we shoved each other further away, right?

[Kyle]: And so, in like, in our marriages when that happens, I know I feel this need to like “we need to talk about this”, you know? And even though it may be uncomfortable, I know you and I are committed to that evening to within the next day. We're gonna follow up with this, because there's something in me that says if we don't, I don't think this is going to get better, I think this is only going to grow and get worse [Laughter]

[Sara]: Yeah, it stacks up and we know, especially for marriage, if you have a lot of these things stacking up over time, everyone knows that's going to be a disaster for your relationship.

[Kyle]: And I like that term “toxic rupture”, the reason why it resonated with me is Siegel kind of talks about it, it is like toxicity that gets injected into the relationship and so, now all of those bonds we had that were positive bonds, are kind of getting inundated with some kind of toxins, you know? And so, it's important for me to come back and deal with that toxic rupture, otherwise and what you and I’ve seen happen way too often with kids is, it shades everything else the parent does, you know? So, like if there is a big toxic rupture, it might even be years later and because that toxic rupture was never talked about, discussed or followed up with, the parent may be doing something that they think is very benign or very kind, but the kid has been reading it as negative, as adversarial because they recall the toxic rupture and it has been informing the story, that has defined their relationship for years and years and years.

[Kyle]: And if I don't go back, I think this is why it's so important, if we don't go back and address the toxic rupture, then we lose control over that narrative, you know? Now, that story is out of our hands and it's going to inform so many things, that we're not even aware of from then on, but if I can go back and address the toxic rupture with my kids, at least I have some say in how that narrative is going to be formed between us.

[Sara]: And going back to, I think that's a pretty obvious to know that it's going to affect things. If I’m talking about 13-year-old I have a toxic rupture with and “oh, that still affects things at 16, that's a little easy, I think we can kind of grasp that”, but this is true too of our little ones, our twos, our threes, our fours, our babies, those toxic ruptures affect them as well. Their brain is developing and they definitely, even if they don't have the words to say it, their brain is remembering “oh, this and this leads, they're all about consequences and all about learning how things work”. If it's hot and I touch it, my brain is going to remember that that is going to hurt me. Same thing with relationship, it is telling them, their brain is going to remember “this is how relationships work”. So, even the little, all through the ages, this is an important thing to do.

[Kyle]: I like that example of touching the stove, it makes me think of how many times have we followed up with the kids, to try to repair the toxic rupture and they've shared some kind of story like, yours and my reaction told them that we don't love them or when they do that thing, whatever it is, they are unlovable, you know? Or that if they do that thing in the future, we will not love them, you know? We will reject them and we're like “whoa, man! Okay…”.

[Sara]: “I never stopped loving you!”

[Kyle]: “That wasn't what happened!” [Laughter]

[Kyle]: “I just was annoyed, you know?” and the kid “but your face and the way you--” and if we hadn't addressed that and revealed that story, that story would have tainted a lot of other things in the future and even if you have like a kid who becomes like a really obedient people pleaser, lots of times underneath that story is “if I don't do these things, if you are not pleased with me, then you will reject me”, you know? And so, a lot of times, like you're saying, when they're very young, it's very black and white. “I touched the stove, it hurt me, don't touch the stove again”, there is no subtlety, there's no nuance to the story. The story is either “you do love me or you don't”, either--

[Sara]: “I’m good, I’m bad”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, “the way you reacted to me, you would only do that if I was bad”. So, obviously in that moment, I became a bad person.

[Sara]: Yeah, the stories that they-- Children take story things, like this from their parents, very personal, it's very much about them and who they are as a person. Their value, their ability to be loved and whether they're good or bad. They take that, that's very personal and they take those messages inside.

[Kyle]: I remember one time I was doing play therapy with this four-year-old and I remember he was getting in trouble at preschool and he was saying-- Up until then his parents were saying he'd been doing great in school all those years, but then this year, he started getting in trouble a lot and then just doing play therapy with him, he was telling me that he always thought himself as a good kid and so, he'd always done good things, but then that year he had some kind of conflict with the teacher and her reaction to him looks similar to the reaction a former teacher of his, had to the bad kid in his class and he was like “oh, that's who I am in this class, I’m the bad kid” and then from then on, he started doing all these really obnoxious, really annoying things. [Laughter]

[Sara]: He was not good.

[Kyle]: Yes, and he was just like “I was just doing what the bad kid did in the other class”. Because he started to like, pinching kids and hitting kids and it was like “oh no”. He in play therapy, he became the dragon who was destroying all the stuff, it was really-- But it was interesting to see that there had been a toxic rupture between him and the teacher and nothing had ever gotten repaired and that story started to take root.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, I do want to emphasize, as I was writing out these notes, Sara, I was just-- The goal isn't, for me, is not to never have ruptures, you know? Never have these toxic ruptures. I think they're inevitable, they're going to happen.

[Sara]: Yeah. I mean, we're people, we're humans, we're going to mess up in any relationship and so, actually it can move into being a gift to them, because your child's going to grow up to have toxic ruptures in relationships with co-workers and spouses and so, they can learn this skill with you, because it's going to be in all areas of their life.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, it gives them opportunities to learn how to repair things that are broken whenever these things happen, in their marriage in the future or with their kids, they'll have seen you be able to do it.

[Sara]: We mess up and we do this. They mess up, they can do this.

[Kyle]: I’m emphasizing that because I was really upset at myself for having so many of these, you know? [Laughter] I thought the goal is to have zero. No, I mean, the goal is to have less [Laughter] You don't want to have as many, but I do-- I started kind of shifting my focus from try not to have ruptures, to “how am I going to help that moment turn into something that brings us closer together?” and that's really what I want this podcast to turn towards, right?

[Sara]: We're not trying to be-- We're not going to be perfect parents; we're not trying to be perfect parents.

[Kyle]: No. Conflict is going to happen, I am going to make mistakes, I am at times going to blow up, I’m going to say stupid things to you that hurt our relationship, I’m going to say things to the kids at times. I’m going to act in ways I’m not proud of or want to and if I sit in that space and just beat myself up, what I’m not going to do, is ever go back and repair, you know? Or if I do do it, it's going to be out of this anxiety of like “can you tell me I’m okay? Can you somehow make me feel good about myself?” and that's not the point of the follow-up. So, the big picture is, we move towards the follow-up ideas, my goal is to use these moments to build intimacy rather than isolation. So, when the rupture happens, we push each other away, I can feel the distance, I need to go back and bridge that distance, okay? And I find too many people I talk to, are not doing this. Why do you think they're not doing it? Why are they not following up after the rapture?

[Sara]: I think if some of it is just, we don't know how and I think some of it is “oh, it'll just go away and get better on its own”, right? It's like, okay, you know we get really used to in life to just walking away from the conflict or we think “well, he should blah, blah, blah. I only did it because he did this and this and so, when he's ready to apologize--”, but things just go by, days go by.

[Kyle]: Yeah, we get so busy.

[Sara]: Yeah, there's no repair, there's no “I’m owning my stuff, you're owning your stuff or making a plan”, it just sits there and then we start stacking them up more and more.

[Kyle]: Yeah. I’m thinking of the saying “time heals all wounds”, right? We're kind of like “hey, just give it some time, it's all going to be okay!”

[Sara]: “He’ll get over it”.

[Kyle]: “That's right. I mean, he knows I love him, why do I need to have a--?” [Laughter] And I also think the hindrance is, like you said, sometimes we don't know how, right? Or we think just time will happen, we get busy. I think that's a lot of times we just forget about it. It happens so often, we're like “I can't follow up with all this”.

[Sara]: “It’s just another one”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's just another thing like “oh my--”, you know? Or I think for most parents, it's the shame keeps them from doing it.

[Kyle]: And also, the kids resistance to doing it, you know? Like they may try to and the kids like “no, I don't want to talk about it.” “What am I going to do? They don't want to talk about it”. So, we just-- I think they just too quickly give up, because it looks like what they don't want to do, because the shame says “hey, you already screwed it up once, don't screw it up again, the kid says he doesn't want to talk about it”. I remember one kid telling me “Why would I want to do the follow-up? All it's going to be is another tongue lashing. So, I don't want to--” [Laughter] And I know too many times that's what follow up looked like for me too.

[Kyle]: It would be a great time to lecture.

[Sara]: That’s no [Unintelligible]

[Kyle]: No, it'd be a great time to lecture and tell them all the reasons why they made me so mad, right? Instead, the follow-up is-- What would you think the goal is in the follow-up? How do I know I’ve done it successfully? What am I trying to do in that follow-up?

[Sara]: You're trying to restore the connection, the attachment, the relationship is there. If you walk away from the repair, that conversation and you feel closer to each other, you-- And both of you feel closer to each other, you know that repair has taken place. We've brought things out to the light, we've talked, we've grown.

[Sara]: I don't know if you wanted to get into the steps yet, but that my goal is, at the end of this we're closer, not further.

[Sara]: And we both have gotten the chance to share and talk and say.

[Kyle]: I would think-- The words I’m thinking as you're saying, there's more intimacy, I mean, we got closer, but we understand each other better, right?

[Kyle]: And what I mean by that isn't like, that's where a lot of times parents get into the lecture “I want you to understand what I’m saying” and then that's where the lecture comes. No, I want the kid to understand what was motivating me. I’ve said this before another podcast we've talked about in the past, talking about anger and all that stuff is, I want the kids to know that my feelings are mine and the way I reacted, I take responsibility for that and um I don't want that to become a lecture. So, sometimes it might look like-- I know in the past Abby has told me “Kyle, dad, you talk way too much and you share way too many stories. I just want to-- Can we just get to the point, you know?” and I was realizing “oh, I think the way I’m approaching it, is to lecture her, is to try to make sure she understands me, so that way she does it different next time”. I wasn't trying to understand her. So, I try to purposely flip that with her, just to do what you're saying, to move closer by just saying “hey, what if I just asked you four questions?” I just want to be curious. “So, in the follow-up I just want to be curious and come at you open-handed and just have four questions that I just came up with, to kind of understand and then afterwards, even though there was tons of stuff I wanted to say, I’m not going to say any of it, because I just want to understand you”. So, I tried to get into first trying to understand her, before I ever tried to help her understand me, yeah.

[Sara]: And I think it's-- I think it's really important as you say that, I agree, I think we have to be we have to, one, be very calm, we don't go into that repair time until you're truly in a good spot. You know when you're in that spot, when you have settled, you're in-- You know and it's okay to even take a day, you know? Take some time, you can even tell them “We’ll come back to this, but I need some time”. It's okay to say that and let them know, but then when you come back to it, you're in that great spot and just like you said, it's not coming to lecture, it's not coming-- If you ask them questions, make sure this isn't drill sergeant, you know and make sure you--

[Kyle]: Interrogation, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, and you're not asking a question wanting a certain answer. So, the question isn't “now, tell me, what did you do wrong?”

[Sara]: That's not the repair question, the repair question is “what happened? How did you feel? What did you see me do?”. You know, the curiosity, the questions are to really get inside their shoes. If I’m that child, how did they feel in the moment? What was the experience like for them? I want their perspective and I want to come into the space, being able to hold their perspective and mine. Those two perspectives will be very different, we'll have different values, we'll have-- We won't necessarily agree and you don't want to come to that space until you can hold and empathize and be okay with their point of view possibly being very different than yours.

[Kyle]: And as you're saying that, I’m thinking it doesn't have to be an hour, this could take just a few minutes.

[Sara]: Yeah, and I’d say probably shorter is better.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I mean, sometimes you may get into a great conversation, it may turn to a-- I was thinking of key questions I would ask too. So, I loved how you're saying “if I’m coming into lecture, means I’m not in the right space, if I’m coming in to understand”. So, certain questions I find are really helpful is “what did you hear me say?”, you know? So, I think that to me, opens up some dialogue.

[Kyle]: To say “I’m curious how you perceived what I said”, right?

[Sara]: What they heard you say might not be what you said, but it's important to know what did you hear.

[Kyle]: And then another way I might say is the story, I’m stealing this from Brene Brown, but “the story I’m telling myself is this”, I really liked that a lot, right? So, whenever you said this to me, the story I was telling myself was this. Now, I think that phrasing is less attacking and it causes people to be less defensive, so it really helps the kids. So, I might even say to a kid “what is the story you're telling yourself?”, you know? So, “since you perceived me to say this, what was the story you said?” And that really can help the kid. The point of this whole follow-up, Sara, that I think is so cool, it's not only for me to understand them and for them to understand me, it's for them to understand them, you know? When you're talking to a child, a lot of times the kid isn't doing any self-reflection. The kid at worst, I mean, most of them are just beating themselves up just like you are. They're like “man, I’m such a horrible kid, why did I make mom or dad so mad at me? I shouldn't have said that”. That's what they're doing, their dialogue isn't “huh, what was it that I was believing or thinking or feeling at that time, that then caused me to react that way?”, right?

[Kyle]: And so, then when they-- If you can- Opens up, you can help them reflect upon what they were doing and what they were believing and how they acted to then move out of that, you know? How that interacted with them, right? And then you can both go-- And almost every time I’m surprised at the story they believed, they're surprised of the story I believed and almost 100% of the time, it's inaccurate, you know? It's shadowed or it's hard to see what actually happened, because we're both kind of skewed in our perspective of it.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I’m thinking of examples of times where I thought I might have been annoyed at something and I spoke to them, but they might-- My son might come back and say “you were so mad at me, it felt like you didn't even love me”.

[Sara]: And so, by going and finding out his perspective, I could hear what it looked like to him, what it sounded like to him and I think it just opens the opportunity for those things to come to light, so he's not carrying it around.

[Kyle]: Yes. So, the point of the follow-up, where I think it's so important, is because at the end of that follow-up that's where the growth happens, that's where the change happens. No matter what I-- No matter what we were saying to each other in that escalated moment, change is not happening there. If I’m like “well, I don't want you to do this” or “I want you to do this, I want you--" all the kid is hearing just like we did when we were kids was “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I get it, you don't like me, I’m a bad kid, I’m horrible. If I did it the way you wanted, I’d be fantastic”. That's all that's happening, there's no learning about how to do it better.

[Kyle]: So, the follow-up, if I’m really wanting to see change in myself and in my child or in my marriage, the follow-up is where that change happens. So, the end of that conversation, once we've talked about how we felt, how we saw it, once we're calm, all that kind of stuff's happening, “how do we want to do it next time?” That's why I’m emphasizing the follow-up, because that's the only way it's going to change. Is “hey, next time I do that and you think that, how could I help change that?” or “next time I do that, could you just ask this and just be curious?”. Say “hey, are you saying you don't love me right now?” and then I can say “no, I’m not saying that at all” and we could clear the air, right?

[Kyle]: And so, it's empowering yourself and the kid, to actually change that moment forever. It's going to be a whole new dance. I guess, that's how-- It's like, you're in this dance and if that toxic rupture keeps happening, we're gonna be stuck in this dance and it's gonna be so hard to get out of it, but in the follow-up, it is to change the music, maybe change the dance steps or to figure out a way not to step on each other's toes, right? And to make that dance a more positive intimate encounter.

[Sara]: Yeah, and it's the actual interaction, that's my first focus of change. So, let's say if my child hit somebody, you know and I’m thinking “okay, the goal is not at first to stop the hitting”, right? That's not my goal, my goal is “our interaction needed to be different”.

[Sara]: And I own my part first. I’m not going to say “now, you blah, blah, should be doing--”, I’m going to start with “oh, I yelled, I’m sorry I yelled. I own my behavior; I’m really working on that”. I’m going to talk about me and how I want to change and I can even invite them into that, like you said, “how could I say it differently for you?” And a lot of times kids have great insight, they'll say “well, if you would just blah--”. you know? Like tell you what and they give you great words to say to them that--

[Kyle]: Yes, that feel better to them.

[Sara]: Yes

[Kyle]: That they have-- Yeah

[Sara]: And they’ll respond to.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and wrapping this up, Sara, I was thinking, if your kid is resistant to it, you know, my suggestion would be to just lay it out for the kid and just say “hey, I know in the past it's looked like this, you know, typically it's turned into a lecture. It seemed like you're really resistant or you think I’m just going to say what a bad kid you've been. I want to change that, so I’d really like our fault to be us learning how to do this better and I want to learn how to do it better with you and I really can't do that without your input. So, let's just practice it”. So, the next couple times what I want to do is just come and be curious and if I start to slip into that, just say “hey, whoa, you're doing that thing again” or you give me feedback that maybe this isn't-- Because I want to change and I want to make sure we can have these follow-ups and they can be positive, you know, moments that we grow closer together, understand each other better.

[Sara]: Yeah, and then you can move into problem solving, problem-solving the disagreement there, but even the end goal of this, you know, what are we going to do about you being on your phone too long or whatever, you can get around to that, but the relationship needs to be first and this helps get you there.

[Kyle]: Yeah, good. Well, I hope this is very helpful to a lot of parents because I know these toxic ruptures are happening every day, all day long and I know follow-up is very hard to do. It's easier to just get busy and to just act like it never happened, just sweep it under the rug, but I’m sure everybody listening has heard of those and if you keep sweeping under the rug, we're going to start tripping over it. [Laughter] It's kind of just, start making everything we do clumsy and harder, it's going to make it harder to have the relationship I want with my kids. So, I want to appreciate all the listeners for taking a moment to listen to this and I hope today, it's given you some ways, some real practical steps to move towards intimacy through conflict and especially, just being aware of when these toxic ruptures happen and know what to do when they do happen. So, we just hope you have a great day being a parent today.

[Sara]: Thanks for listening.

[Kyle]: Goodbye.