Curiosity did not kill the cat;
it gave her room to breathe

Curiosity did not kill the cat

You’ve probably had one of those days recently. If you haven’t, you figure you’re due.

The tension in your body takes its toll, as does the constant slight holding of your breath, because you just know that other shoe is going to drop.

It always does.

And it’s going to hurt.

“Mom! I told you I had this meeting after school today. You said you’d be there. You have to be there. Or are you going to say you’re too busy again?”

“But I waaaaaaaant that toy!”

So you squeeze a little more, trying to eke that last bit of energy out of yourself so you can work around this latest twist, all the while holding your tongue against the growing tide of frustration, anger, and helplessness. At this point, honestly, you are ready to collapse into a pile as deeply crumpled and oxygen starved as your child’s dirty laundry in the closet.

Hang on. There is a way through. Today I’ll share three powerful questions, all driven from a perspective of curiosity, to help you find room to breathe.

 

Do you see these moments as a reason to affirm your expectations or an opportunity to get curious and solve a larger problem?

Go ahead. Admit it. More often than you like to admit, you expect the worst. However, these expectations may run so silent and deep you may not even be aware of them. Nonetheless, they are still powerful lenses for your perspectives. Is there a program running that auto-fills your responses on the fly? “Oh, Derek! You always make us late.” “Ali, you can’t have everything you want.” You don’t mean to say those things, but you may think, “I love my family, but I get so tired of dealing with these ‘emergencies.’ It shouldn’t have to be like this.”

 

Remember you are imperfectly human, functioning in an imperfect world.

It’s ok to admit it. You are among friends. :-)

Your family? They’re human too.

That means in spite of best intentions, your family’s schedule will be incomplete, your communications sometimes broken, and yes, your view may be trained more on weaknesses. These areas will always be a work in progress to some degree.

However, there are better ways to respond with ability to these challenges that will ultimately give you more room to breathe.

Remember the words from 1 Corinthians 10:13:  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV 1984)

 

Cultivate curiosity as your new response

Rather than throwing your hands up in defeat and allowing anger, disappointment, frustration and chaos a regular seat at the table, consider the advantages of becoming truly curious, i.e., interested in listening to others and finding solutions together.

You can’t be curious and angry at the same time.

You are more open and approachable.

Your family is less guarded when you are more calm.

You think more clearly and more creatively when you are relaxed.

You have created an environment in which you come together to solve a problem, rather than being at odds over it.

Just a note here: When I talk about curiosity, I am talking about the tone of voice and very interested demeanor you use with your best friends when they’ve made a great discovery, found a new way to do something, or have overcome a challenge. This is not the snarky tone you use on your teen when asking how in the world they plan on paying for the latest, greatest thingy they just can’t be without.

 

Curiosity goes hand-in-hand with asking quality questions and getting quality information

Now that you have your delightfully curious mindset firmly in place, it’s time to start asking some great questions.

Let’s assume that a request has been made, especially a last minute one. Your response goes something like this:

Hmm. That might be a challenge because (fill in the reason why). I’m curious. What do you think has to happen so that you/we can do or have that?

This immediately puts all parties into a problem solving mindset. At first, you may get a snarky response, or a flat out “I don’t know.” But keep at it. “Well, let’s figure this out. What has to happen so you could (get request filled)?

With practice, your family will begin to approach challenges in general with curiosity, rather than an automatic attitude of defeat. Not only will it help defuse potentially troublesome moments, but it will give everyone powerful tools to use anywhere they are.

 

When something has gone awry, here is a great question.

I’m curious. What was it you really wanted, that you really hoped would happen?

Again, this will take a little time, as it is a change from you ordering the kids to be quiet or to just go to their rooms. You will eventually get responses from your children that will be priceless. The truth will come out. Then you can help guide them to a solution with the previous what has to happen question. Remember everyone, including kids, likes to have a stake in the solution. That is why it’s important that they are involved with the heavy lifting on these questions.

 

Here is another powerful question when there is an unexpected result:

Hey, do you know how you could view that?

This can be said with excitement, like when you are shopping with a friend, and an interesting and attractive idea takes root: Hey, do you know how you could wear that?

It can also be said carefully and thoughtfully and with gentle curiosity. Your inflection will depend on the situation.

Keep in mind the number of inventions that have come from experiments that didn’t end as anticipated, such as Silly Putty or Post-it Notes. The scientists didn’t just throw in the towel; they used curiosity to find a fresh way of viewing the results, rather than slinking away in depression and failure.

It’s important at the minimum to find a reason to be grateful, for that will lift spirits all around.

 

Learning to respond first with curiosity will keep heads more cool and calm, and will engage everyone in solving the problem. Getting the family into this mindset means fewer emergencies and more shared responsibility in the decision making. Then, much like the cat, your curiosity will give you much more room to breathe!

 

Questions: Have you used any of these questions before? How did it work out? Do you have powerful questions you use? Would you share?

I love hearing from you, and others benefit from your experience, questions and comments. I invite you to jump in with us today!

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you. I’ve tried to breathe through moments, particularly when my children are clearly trying to make my head explode. “it’s important at the minimum to find a reason to be grateful, for that will lift spirits all around.” I make an effort to ask myself why I’m so bothered, frustrated, or made cranky by what’s happening. Just the time it takes to think through this sometimes saves the day.
    I genuinely appreciated this post…
    God’s peace and good to you.

    • I’m so glad this post spoke to you, Chelle. I remember how incredibly frustrated I would get with the girls, and it never helped solve anything. Thanks for sharing. I imagine there are lots of moms reading your comment, and thinking, “Whew! I’m so glad I’m not alone!”

  2. I love your insight as always. This curiosity is actually part of the system of yoga – called “self inquiry.” It is what has enabled be to look beyond my knee jerk reactions and go “why am I acting/responding/behaving this way?” Your blog is such a great blueprint for life. I am so glad to have you as a mentor!

    • Oh, I am so humbled as always by your words, Ilene. I didn’t know this was part of yoga, too. I read your comment and laughed, because I “misread” it to look beyond my own personal “jerk reactions” (those that go beyond knee jerk to just jerk :-0). Embarrassing moments and learning ones too, for me. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  3. Brilliant! If I can only HOLD ON, I’ve discovered that asking a question in a heated moment is always better than saying a statement that is most likely driven by emotions gone wild!

    • Very well put, Melinda! As my mother in law says, Nothing I never said, never hurt me. For me, it’s either that, or a curiosity question. Both have their moments, and are certainly more effective than saying the first hurting, hurtful thing that pops into my head. :-(

      Your phrase “emotions gone wild” creates images such crazy, out of control nasty little demon in my head. It’s just more firepower to help me remember to do right by all of us in the conversation! Thanks for that!

  4. I SO need to be more curious. I am currently reading a book about being assertive in a polite and powerful way. Your different responses reminded me of how we can word things differently so everyone stays calm and it creates less defensive behavior…and keeps us from being jerks! :) Great post…as a mama I could use all the tools in this parenting belt. Come visit my linky party…it closes tomorrow night.

    • That sounds like a good book, Dionne. And, yes, I can say from experience using these questions and a curious tone has absolutely kept me from jerky behavior. :-)
      I’m so tickled you are adding this tool to your parenting belt as well. You just never know when you will need another tool. The types of challenges we handle are so varied!

  5. Thanks for such a great perspective on how questions can change a focus. It’s a great habit for me to start as my boys get older, too. I appreciate it! Have a great day!
    Michelle

    • Thanks, Michelle. I hope these questions are useful as you all grow into new roles and different seasons I’d love to hear how they work for you!

  6. These are great questions, and I know I forget to ask them, especially when the moment is tense…so Thank you, Kim! Tweeted to share your wisdom with others.

    If you get a chance, could you please answer some of these questions, as I tagged you, and I would love to get to know you better…please :) http://soulstops.com/post/2012/08/25/Eleven-Random-Things-About-Me-and-then-some.aspx

    • Thank you, Dolly, for sharing this post. I am touched you wanted to share the information. I hope you find the questions useful for your family!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post on a new way to approach life’s interruptions and unexpected items on the list…I am a list maker, so I really dislike having to add things to it…I view that as a great aggravation : ) I need all the help I can get so I appreciated your advice very much. I will try this perspective and I pray it helps me for my sons and husband would surely love a calmer and gentler mama : ) Have a blessed day! I’m visiting from Soli Deo Gloria.

    • Gisela, Welcome from SDG! I just love what Jen has done there! Thanks for your kind words, and I pray as well you find these questions helpful. Remember to be patient with yourself and everyone else as you find this new path.

  8. Wow, I loved this post. I don’t have any children at home anymore to practise on but I do have a husband. You gave some great ideas for better communications.
    Blessings!

    • I am so glad you took away useful information from this post, LeAnn! I found myself using one of these questions again, just this week. I would love to hear how this helps. Stay in touch and let me know how it goes! Thanks for coming by.

  9. How’d you get so mart, anyway? This is so awesome! Great perspective!! I’m going to be curious tomorrow!!

    • You are so sweet, Adrienne! It is just an accumulation of over 30 years of sometimes painful experience of falling down, insights, apologies, forgiveness, and being willing to listen and to change when it was really, really hard, whether as a parent, spouse, sibling, or member of a family business. I sometimes wondered if we were going to make it through the teen years, and was I ever going to do a good enough job to do right by our daughters.

      I encourage you to read a post I wrote-The Hard Love-about my youngest daughter Leslie. http://www.toodarnhappy.com/2011/04/22/five-minute-friday-the-hard-love/

      Take a deep breath and have courage. You can only do the best you know how where you are, with what you’ve got. Your caring heart and the deep love you have for your children is evident. Just keep the faith and remember that every day is one to be savored, if not now, then later when time has softened the rough edges.

  10. Hey Kim, great post!
    I will definitely be curious with my adorable niece and nephew…and my in-laws!
    I can already see the advantages of using this at work too! There are always emergencies there! :)
    Thanks for great info!

    • You are so very welcome, Lisa! I’d love to hear how these questions go with your relatives. I used one this week on a young man considering a move towards upper level management. I asked him what would have to happen for him to be in that particular position. As always, the question led to a most interesting discussion.

  11. Kim, I’ve loved reading your blog so much! I’m nominating you for the Super Sweet Blogging award for your sweet blog and sweet spirit! You can read about it here: http://auntieemsguide.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/super-sweet/

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