We know it's hard to let go.
As the mother of two adult children and as a relationship and life coach, I, like many, strive for that delicate balance of loving my children but not smothering them. It definitely takes self-awareness, a filter and lots of self-control — but it's worth the effort.
One popular practice many older parents use is the “keep your lips sealed and your pocketbook open” mantra. The method may work for some, but money isn't necessarily what your children are looking for from Mom and Dad. Most adult children want their parents to respect their privacy and to recognize that their views and opinions may differ from those of their parents. And they especially want their feelings validated.
Here are 4 strategies that help keep the lines of communication open with your adult children and maximize the joy you experience when you spend time with them:
1. Keep your boundaries in check
Until recently, I only thought about boundaries in terms of the physical ones between states and countries that our grade school teachers taught us about in geography. Well, in my journey to be more self-aware and improve the quality of my work and personal relationships, I learned about the boundaries that psychologists and life coaches talk about. Debbie Pincus, a licensed mental health counselor and author, defines a boundary as “the line you draw around yourself to define where you end and where your child begins”. Parents tend to cross boundaries in their desire to fix things for their children. Instead of being a helicopter parent, swooping in at any sign of challenges or problems your adult child is experiencing, allow them to navigate through their struggles on their own — it's their journey now, not yours. Let them know you love and support them and are a phone call away if they need you.
If you want to have a meaningful relationship with your adult child, make sure you set clear and reasonable boundaries. Be aware of the lines they don’t want you to cross (like asking too many questions about their romantic life).
2. Be present and empathetic
I was taught a clever acronym to think of when speaking to my children: W.A.I.T., meaning "why am I talking?"
W.A.I.T. is useful in all relationships and in our day to day encounters at work, home, shopping, etc. It helps us be present and be empathetic, and reminds you to stop and think about whether or not you are making something about yourself when your children need your support.
Nancy Hathaway, M.Ed., the founder of Being Present With Our Children, talks about parenting mindfully and being in touch, aware and present with our children with loving and non-judgmental attention. Our adult child may want to share a story about something that happened in their life, but they are not necessarily looking for our advice or looking for us to fix things. My adult daughter told me last year that she just wanted me to LISTEN and not to offer any advice or solutions. Listening improves our ability to be empathic.
3. Ask permission
Asking permission is a fabulous tool I learned about as a coach — I like to ask my clients for their permission to start coaching and to interrupt them if they go into story mode (lots of details) to help them focus on their objectives in the limited time we have. Asking your adult child if you may make a recommendation or share an experience will help you avoid crossing those boundaries. It also shows your child that you respect him/her and acknowledge that they are in control of their lives.
4. Actively listen
Active Listening is more than just listening — it's about being mindful when you listen. It’s a tool that is used in parenting, therapy, education, customer service and professional and personal relationships to facilitate and improve communication.
Manuela Heberle, a faculty member at Park University explains that: "Active listening goes beyond just listening — it means being attentive to what someone else is saying. The goal of active listening is to understand the feelings and views of the person. Active listening is not only used in the therapeutic setting, but it's an essential component of effective communication.”
Try out these 4 tools with your adult children and you will see the outstanding and mature individuals they have become.