After my first four days back at Earth Fare, after a year away, I have been very keenly reminded that my greatest satisfaction in this job comes from validating people – affirming them. And, while I really love doing this with individuals – especially if they seem lonely or depressed or like they could really use a shot in the arm – the greatest challenge and satisfaction comes from validating couples and families. Here I will describe two families.
I gave maybe a sideways or even backwards validation to this family. There were maybe seven of them – a mom and kids of various ages, maybe 7-16. The mom was pretty spritely and energetic, but the kids were the most burned-out crew I had seen in a long time. Every one of them looked to be in a bad mood. How do I validate this? Validate their truth in the moment, make it OK!
“Did you guys have a bad night last night?”
Mom: “We’ve been driving since 6 this morning – it’s been a real long day.”
The mom and I then had some back-and-forth about how hard it is to be in the car that long, where they started, where they were going and for how long, etc. I didn’t even attempt to involve the kids, because none of them made sustained eye contact with me or showed any signs of being willing to talk.
How was this conversation validating of the family?
- It gave the mom some support – a shot in the arm – and if she stays in good shape it will be good for the whole family.
- The kids got to hear their mom and this neutral third party say that it is natural and understandable and OK to not be in a good mood on a day like today. Validation doesn’t have to be telling the person what’s great about them – it can mean telling them that they are fine just as they are.
Then there was the family I validated for whacking each other. It seemed like the grandmother who was at the counter paying for the groceries. One of the four kids came up and said something to her – and she whacked him on the chest. Her wry smile made it clear that her intention was in no way mean – and the kid seemed to get a tremendous kick out of the whole interaction. I would have loved to hear what he had whispered to his grandmother.
Then, moments later, the big dad playfully whacked one of the older kids, who also seemed to love it. It became clear that lightly whacking each other was a form of intimacy in this family, of belonging – of saying “I love you.”
I said, “I like you – I like a family that whacks each other.” They all seemed to think that was one of the funniest things they had heard in a long time. I appreciated them just as they were – as a family that some family therapy journals might not value – and I think it was a real validation, something that might make them appreciate themselves even more.