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  • James McPartland

How to Negotiate With Your Children

“When we communicate with others we often fail to understand... that we don’t understand.”

— James McPartland

How to Negotiate With Your Children | Blog post by James McPartland | Speaker, Author, Executive Coach

So I have a story about stories.

It turns out that every year about this time, my son has a birthday (that's probably gonna carry on for the rest of his life. :)

I introduced him, his brother, and his mom to the idea of spending the day at a waterpark. Slides, right? It’s summertime here in Southern California. Of course, he loved the idea.

I said, “Look, you bring your brother (that was part of the requirement) and your mom… me of course, and you can each bring one friend.”

By now these guys were getting motivated.

So I go into another room, pick one that I think would be convenient, and I book the waterpark. Man was that the wrong thing to do! Or maybe it was the right thing to do…

What I didn't know was that after I talked to my son, both boys sat down with their mom and did a competitive analysis on waterparks. (There are several in the vicinity of our residence.) Come to find out later, they had voted.

When I give my son the news that the park has been booked, the birthday boy gets really upset.

Now I begin to tell myself a story: “Wow, this dude is ungrateful!”

I allocated an entire day for the six of us, reserve a cabana, and the whole nine yards! Let's just say it was a reasonable investment for a day at a waterpark.

And I thought, “Wow, what does this say about me as a father if my son is a recipient of this gift and he's ungrateful?”

Well, that was my story. Turns out, my boy had his own story.

He said, “Hey, you told us that I could go to a water park for my birthday”

“Yeah, that's true.”

“And I looked at the videos of parks that we talked about…”

I said, “Okay….”

He goes, “We voted!”

“I didn't know you voted.”

“You picked one that I didn't vote for!”


Then this is where he got me: He said, “Look, we did what you wanted to do on Father's Day. Don't we always get to do something we pick on our own special day?”

And I thought, “Yeah…”

He says, “Well, that's why I was disappointed!”

And boy, did that turn the corner for me.

I think the point (and maybe the lesson is always continuous), is that we tend to interpret the world from a place of where others are but from where we are. I told myself a story, and concurrently my son was telling himself a story. And in that situation, it would have been easy to play the parent card and just say, “I'm the father”, but that doesn't seem to work. (It certainly didn't work for me growing up).

No, I came to recognize that I need to make sure I’m communicating. I failed at first to understand what my son was looking for, what his expectations were, and maybe what was on his mind. He might have benefited from me saying, “Hey dude, let me just run this by you. Here's how I see this playing out…”

I didn't know they voted. But after all, they did what I wanted to do on Father's Day.

So what I didn't understand was, I didn't understand.

My son and I both learned that day that we are quick to draw conclusions. I even began to judge myself as a dad… (well, there’s probably a lot of work to improve upon as a dad), but in that particular scenario, what I didn't recognize is something that's very important to me:

We need to meet people where they are at, not where we are at.

And meet people where they're at no matter how old they are because each of us has a view of the world, and perception or a story of how life is or how it should play out.

And the conversations we don't have won't help.

Our avoidance only creates difficult moments.

So my son and I both learned that day. And what I realized is that the story he had for his birthday was more important than the story I had about his birthday.

And for those wondering how it all turned out, we went to the waterpark I booked after all, and we had a spectacular time. And yes, I looked fantastic on those rides. (Teasing. I'm not sure that would be true.)

But after we came back and went through that entire experience, guess what my birthday son wanted to do?

Go back!

Out of all the ones he looked at (even though it’s not the one he voted for), he was now convinced it is probably the best one.

“Can we go back again, Dad? Can we go back several times? Can we get a year's pass?”

I think we'll probably go back, (I'm not sure we'll get a year’s pass), but the important thing I came to recognize is to meet people where they're at.

We all have a story, we all tend to interpret things from where we are, not where others are. And no matter what age anybody is, they've got a story and they want to be right too.

So if I could have walked in his shoes (or let's say his flip-flops), I perhaps would have understood differently. It might have prevented a few tears but I don't know that I would have gotten the lesson as I did so profoundly that day.

So the next time you find yourself thinking about a waterpark, call me. I can tell you how to get in, what some of the best rides are, where to put your cabana, and how to negotiate with your children.


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