11/18/2015 04:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Heart of Parental Intelligence: A Divorced Mother and Son Build Their Relationship

One afternoon a nine-year-old spent a great afternoon playing outside on a warm Saturday in November. He came inside after several hours grimy, hungry, and exhausted and his devoted mother fed him and gave him a bubble bath that he loved. I know this mother well and she shared what soon ensued.

After the meal and the bath, however, as if a switch had been turned on, her son became abrasive and belligerent not listening to the smallest requests from his mother. Thinking of how to use Parental Intelligence she stepped back and monitored her responses not showing her dismay and hurt at his outbursts. Worried and even scared by his harsh, aggressive attitude, she knew she had to find a way to understand what was on his mind. This kind of understanding is at the heart of unlocking Parental Intelligence.

He chided her for asking him to pick up his clothes left on the bathroom floor saying, "You're not my boss. I don't have to listen to you!" He dumped his hamper aggressively and ran out of the bathroom only to throw everything on the kitchen counter on to the floor. Although she felt like sending him to his room or taking away a privilege or a toy, her Parental Intelligence took hold and the needed sentence came cautiously but forthrightly out of her mouth: "What's really the matter? There must be something else wrong." It was this sentence that opened a tidal wave of serious thoughts that this nine-year-old had been harboring for weeks if not months.

"I want to live at Daddy's all the time. You expect too much of me. He doesn't get so upset and have so many rules. I can't stand going from one house to another. I have too much homework and things to do. I don't like being with you when you think I'm a monster. I'm a human being."

"I see," she responded shaken by his determination. "You must have been thinking about this for a long time which is why you've been getting so upset lately."

Of course conflict had been ensuing for a long time between this mother and son but never before had he confided his feelings so openly because never before had she opened the door to hear them. Distraught herself by the divorce and its aftermath where she and her ex-husband no longer spoke except by texts, this boy absorbed the tension and had been acting out aggressively on and off for many months at her home and in school.

At this point she had to call the boy's father directly on the phone and share her son's wishes. They would eventually make a plan to have him live at his father's and visit her often, at least, for the next few weeks while mother and son continued to talk. The son's actions would also propel his parents to begin to have some dialogue.

The mother's feeling of failure that came with the loss of the marriage was now followed by feeling she was losing her son. However, although they would be living apart, this was actually an opportunity to build their relationship. His aggressive outbursts were a catalyst for change in their ruptured connection. His 'back talk' and aggressive actions were a communication that she finally heard because she took the well-considered move to listen carefully to the message behind his behavior.

She became what is known in Parental Intelligence parlance as--a "meaning-maker." She found meaning behind his aggressive talk and behavior. This was a new beginning.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. has a new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence; Finding Meaning Behind Your Child's Behavior, found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius, and wherever books are found.