Being a foster parent or stepparent can be a complicated task and there are few simple and easy solutions to the challenges we face.   Several years ago, however, I stumbled across a simple technique that transformed my approach.  It’s called embracing the power of “and.”

Many times, we face what we think are competing facts that are impossible to reconcile. For example, we hate our job, but we cannot find a different one.  We love our kids, but they are going through a phase where they simply are not likeable.   We don’t like something about ourselves, but change is painful.  Whatever the situation, we find ourselves bouncing back and forth between two realities that we cannot reconcile.

One way out of that bind is through the principles of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  I am not trained in DBT and have never participated in therapy that used it.  However, I did serve for a time on the Board of Hillside, one of the best treatment facilities for children in the Southeast.   Hillside uses DBT with young people, and in learning about its programs, I learned about the part of DBT that teaches how to recognize and reconcile two competing realities.  The simple summary is to use “and” instead of “but” when describing the dilemma.

It sounds simplistic, but consider the difference in the following statements:

  • “I messed up, but I can try to fix it” becomes “I messed up and I can try to fix it.”
  • “I love my child, but he drives me crazy” becomes “I love my child and he drives me crazy.”

Just the simple substitution of one word changes the meaning and allows us to recognize that both facts can be true at the same time.   That recognition makes it possible for us to accept the situation and find a way forward.

Using the technique can be equally powerful in talking to our children.  Again, look at the difference in a few common statements:

  • “I am disappointed, but I still love you” becomes “I am disappointed and I still love you.”
  • “You had some terrible experiences as a child, but you can move forward” becomes “You had some terrible experiences as a child and you can move forward.”
  • “I know that you don’t want me here, but I will be here” becomes “I know that you don’t want me here and I will be here.”

That simple change creates an entirely different message.   Our children may not hear it at first, but if we are consistent, they eventually will learn how two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time.  That realization is a powerful one that can help in many different areas of their lives.

I’m not qualified to be anyone’s therapist and the principles of DBT are far more extensive than this short explanation.  In everyday life, however, its principle of recognizing two competing principles at the same time is a powerful tool.  Embrace the power of “and” yourself, and watch it begin to transform your perspective and your relationships.

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Debbie Ausburn

I make my living as a lawyer, but what I do is take care of other people’s children.