Playground Perspective: Try To See It My Way

There's an old adage often bandied about in facilitation and consulting - "Meet your clients where they are," it goes, "not where you want them to be."

A recent parenting moment was a powerful reminder of the applicability of that adage on the home front.

Thea went to the hospital last month for outpatient surgery. She's had a herniated bellybutton since birth - a fairly normal problem - and it needed to be resolved.

Thea, perspectiveA friend told me, "She'll never remember it, and you'll never forget it!"

How right he was!

I sometimes struggle to appreciate that Thea experiences the world differently from me. In so many ways, her experiences are much more pure, less filtered. They're certainly less rooted in experience - or information overload!

My perspective: Our daughter was in a scary environment with a bunch of people she didn't know. We were putting her into the care of strangers for the first time ever. People die under anesthesia. Surgery is bad. We're not in control.

Her perspective: "I'm going to the hospital with Blue Dog to see the doctor to fix my bellybutton," she brightly informed me when I went to wake her the morning of the surgery. When it was time for surgery, Thea gave us both hugs and then skipped off with "Nurse Cupcake" to hunt for duck food. The surgeon said she walked right into the surgery, climbed onto the table and proceeded to chat herself to sleep as the anesthesia took effect.

The surgery went without a hitch. And though she started well, she woke confused and disoriented. We quickly scooped up our sobbing toddler in the recovery room.

By lunchtime, she was curled on the sofa with her favorite stuffed animals, a cup of juice and 32 episodes of "Curious George" teed up.

And over the next 24 hours -- when I was ready for her to recover and move on -- Thea was just starting to process her experience.

"I went to look for duck food and they didn't have any, and I woke up and you weren't there," she said (repeatedly over the next few days). "Then you were there, and Mama was there, and Mema was there, and you had Blue Dog and my duckie."

The day was a whirlwind, and every time I tried to anticipate Thea's needs, it turned out she needed something very different. When I thought she needed a hug, she needed to skip off on her own. When I thought the worst was over, it had just happened in her world. When I was ready to move on, she needed more time to process.

The lesson? Pay attention to the people in your life. Appreciate that their experiences are different from yours. Take the time to ask them what they really need from you, and be prepared to offer it.