Getting On With Your Grown-up Children
How To Keep Communication Open With Your Grown-up Children
Here's my advice to keep these important relationships going
Chatting to a friend on the phone recently she moaned that her twenty-something son wouldn't tell her anything about his life. And I mean anything! She knows nothing of his social life, never hears anything about girlfriends, and has no idea whether or not he enjoys his job as a graphic designer. She's never been invited to his flat, although he does visit the family home on occasion.
"Why do you always know what's going on with your two?" she asked. Because I have the tricks of my trade up my sleeve - all those little communication tips that psychologists and life coaches have. I reassured my friend that her situation is much more of the norm rather than my situation, where I use little ploys to keep communication open with my two.
Many parents of grown-up children want to develop a more meaningful relationship with them. They feel they’re missing out on something special when they’re pretty much cut out of their child’s life. What they envisage is a relationship that’s more like a supportive friendship Parents complain that once their children have flown the nest they’ve little idea of what their grown-up child's life is like. This is not about wanting to interfere in their child's life, but simply wanting to know even the most basic things like whether their child is happy or not.
Here are six steps to relating better with your grown-up children:
Never Preach Or Teach!
Let's begin as we mean to go on with the most important thing you can do. Many grown-up children find it irritating when they begin a conversation with their parent who immediately jumps in with some advice. You need to bite your tongue and resist the urge to preach to them, or feel that you still have to teach them about life. Quite rightly children feel that it’s their time to live life by their rules, after all they had 18 years of their parents' rules. So even when you know you could give them good advice, don't offer unless it's asked for. Personally, as advice giving is my main line of work I find this difficult!
Don't Go Back In Time!
Apart from wanting to advise your grown-up children, do you know what one of the hardest things to do is? Not to go back in time and slip back into the family roles you used to generally fulfil. One of the most interesting and exciting things that can happen between parents and grown-up children is to leave those old roles behind rather then slip into them without a thought. The sorts of things I mean include the general dynamic in your relationship when they were adolescents - fraught, cool, tense, heated, etc. - and how this plays out in everything you do together. As well as arguing over the same sorts of topics you used to - their choice of music, clothes, their politics, etc.
A great technique for extracting information is to simply mention, in passing and in a casual way, that you've heard “news” of an old friend of theirs. You’ve been told they’ve, say, got their first job, are buying their first flat, have got engaged, etc. Start talking around this friend and their "news". You'll be surprised when your child say things like, "Yes, I recently met up with them and we were talking about our jobs, theirs is so much harder than mine," etc.
Forget The Small Stuff!
One of the worst things you can do is start niggling or nagging them about little things like do they eat regular meals and do they keep their flat warm enough? This is the sort of topic that turns your grown-up child right off a relationship with you unless they bring it up themselves. If you want any chance of hearing about the big stuff, like why they broke up with their girlfriend, or why they're desperate to change jobs, avoid the small stuff.
Be Interesting Yourself!
You’re relating in a new way with your grown-up child. This is your chance to be the interesting self that you are with your own friends! Talk to them about the things you're doing. It may have been a lifelong mystery to them, while growing up, what you actually did when you went off to your office each day. Share some anecdotes from your life. Tell them what book or film inspired you recently. Let them know about the evening class you’re toying with taking. Or how you got too tipsy at a charity event you went to. You no longer have to put up the pretence of being some super-human, “have-all-the answers” adult.
Time For Equality!
When they start opening up to you, this is your chance to grow a mature and equal relationship with them. Always keep in mind the basic premise that when they start telling you things that you don't comment as their parent, but you respond more like a supportive and responsible friend would. Even turn the tables on them and ask them for their opinion on something you've been considering. It's amazing how demonstrating this little bit of wisdom can enhance your relationship.
Ultimately you've got to have respect for them and be crafty in equal measure! You need to respect their new lives that they control, as well as putting into action some of these techniques.
Published in The Express Newspaper