Transforming Relationships One Pause at a Time
My eldest daughter has been a great teacher for me—I like to refer to her as my “practice
child,” for her younger sister has reaped the benefits of all that Iʼve learned from her.
My greatest lesson? The power of pause.
It seems to me this is the baseline for growing positive, respectful, all around healthy relationships with our children…and it took my child to
bring it to my attention. I admit, I am still working on on developing this skill—it is difficult, and
the results can be amazing—often transformational.
As Emily entered the teen years, our altercations ramped up. One particular time stands out
as a turning point in my awareness of the value of pausing. Emily wanted something and I
was reacting with my usual and quick “NO!” She mirrored my reactive-ness and verbally
fought back. Things escalated and soon she was in a full out tantrum, one that would rival
any toddlerʼs. Iʼm not sure if I screamed (losing it just as my daughter had) for her to go to her
room or if she just stomped off, but her door slammed and all became quiet. I remember
sitting there on the floor, tears streaming down my face, seething with anger. My cat came to
curl onto my lap—Iʼm not sure whether to seek comfort or to give it—and as I stroked her I
found I could begin to collect myself.
My husband and I talked about what just unfolded and I began to relax and wish I could take back how I had behaved with Emily. And then I was completely surprised, for my daughter
came out of her room, pushed the cat gently out of my lap, and curled her young womanʼs
sized body into it. She lay there just as my cat had been moments before—curled up tight.
I found the last of my reactive-ness fade away and I continued my stroking—but on my
daughterʼs back this time. Soon we began talking and before long we had apologized,
collaborated, and compromised—reaching a decision that truly was a win-win for both of us.
A transformational moment in our relationship.
What allowed such a transformational experience to unfold? Emily employed the power of
pause. She removed herself, calmed herself down, and reconnected. Her removing herself
gifted me a pause, as well. I had space to let go of my anger, to take deep breaths, to calm
myself down—allowing me to be receptive to her reconnection. My lessons didnʼt stop here.
Many times through her teen years Emily created the pause that I was having a hard time
doing. I grew to admire her ability to come back calmed down and ready to listen as well as
be heard. My heart would open up, I would be able to hear what she was saying, and weʼd
usually find solutions that worked for both of us. But it took her being what I consider the
bigger person—she used the power of pause successfully long before I did. She has been a
How have I used my lessons? I now find I am able to be the one to employ a pause prior to
responding reactively when one of my daughters “pushes my button.” My pause looks
different with each situation. Sometimes I model myself after a friend who is a pro at this
already and say, “Let me think on that awhile and Iʼll get back to you”—and then I do, even if
it takes all day to find the calm from which to work from. Sometimes I break eye contact,
turning my attention to a chore that needs to be done. There have been times when all I can
say is “Iʼm feeling angry, I need to take a walk,” and then do so. And there are moments
when I literally zip and lock my mouth and just sit with my child in their feelings.
Each time I find I am able to return to the subject of concern feeling ready to ask questions,
listen, and be heard—as well as respected. What a difference from yelling, banging doors,
tears, and “Iʼm going to do it anyway, you canʼt stop me” experiences. What message am I
giving my girls when I can remain calm and connected as they explore the limits of life? I like
to think they are learning appropriate ways to be an adult and to handle strong feelings. I
believe they are feeling heard and respected, and in return they often find the limits I make
acceptable. I look back on how Emily and I were a few years ago, and where we are now—
our relationship has transformed into a mutually respectful and loving one that brings me
incredible joy. I credit the power of pause as the key that unlocked our struggling relationship
and allowed it to bloom.
What does a pause allow us to do—especially when employed before reacting?
It allows us to act based on what we want most (for me, a positive and respectful relationship) rather than
re-act based on the emotion or circumstance of the moment. When we use a pause, we have the ability to transform our relationships.
When have you felt great about and confident in the outcome of a conflict with your child?
What did you notice about yourself? How could you use the power of pause to change the
outcome of current conflicts you may be having? What would be different for you if the next
time your child attempts to push your button you are able to create a pause for yourself?
What does pausing look like to you?
We all want positive, respectful relationships with our children—and we want our children to
grow up experiencing the same. Using the power of pause is a simple tool that has the
profound ability to transform our relationships, from infancy on. Take a moment today,
before reacting to your child, and think about what it is you want most with your relationship,
and how this interaction could be a stepping stone in that direction. Take a moment to
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