I just read a great blog post by my friend, C.C. Chapman on parenting his kids as they become young adults. CC is also teaching at a college in Boston, so he has a great perspective on mentoring young people as they start to deal, gradually, with the expectations of the adult world.
It took a long time for me to develop a more adult- to-adult relationship with my own parents- and I think I only got there sometime in my mid-40’s. That wasn’t what I wanted for my relationship with my kids, so I’ve had to look at what I say to them, and how they hear it as well.
For example, there are times I catch myself doling out advice- sometimes it’s a to-do list, sometimes it’s a way to handle an issue- and I hear my mom in my ear. And I remember how that stuff felt like a lecture and a criticism, not always like help- even if that’s all she intended. So when I hear that, I try to stop myself and say: “Hey, I realize that when I am talking to you about this stuff, it may sound way different coming from me because I am your mom. I respect that you need to manage these things on your own, and I’m trying to help – but I also know it can sound like a lecture. I don’t mean it that way- I just want to help you in any way I can and make things easier for you if I can.” Sometimes I even add “When I’m bugging you X, that’s because this stuff has a direct impact on me, and I’m dealing with my anxieties and worries when I ask you to do this stuff, maybe before you think it’s really necessary. Please help me manage my stuff by doing x. “
This level of self-insight has really made the relationships with my kids much better during this time.
I remember trying to be my own person at that age, but still being dependent; trying to figure things out, and not wanting to admit I didn’t have a plan in place; Hoping things would magically work out and what I really needed was a dose of reality. But I also remember being afraid to admit it to my parents, because I never really believed that I wouldn’t look like a failure to them if I did.
The biggest gift I hope I can give my kids is a sense that I love them unconditionally. That whatever happens, we can deal with it- big or small. If they want different things than I want for them, that’s a-ok. I’ve even had the “Hey, if you don’t want to finish college, I will admit I will be disappointed, but I understand this is your life, and you need to make the decision that’s right for you, and I respect that.” Saying even the tough things- identifying the elephants in the room and discussing them openly- has helped build our relationship and trust level, and that’s what’s really important to me.
So much of early parenting is being a superhero to your kids- perfect and invincible. But as they grow, they need to see aspects of real life through you as well. Disappointments, failures, joy, celebrations, navigating difficult relationships with others, simple pleasures being good enough- all of it. Being perfect and strong was easy when they were little, but as they hit their own growing pains, they need to know life is about how you react to the tough stuff, and that we’ve got a family team here ready and willing to help, no matter what.
I love my kids, and who they are becoming. But I love that we’re getting through a lot of things by having built a base of trust , so when they are ready to talk, they know I will listen, and not try to just take over, fix or otherwise make their problem mine. It’s time to let them handle their own issues, with Matt and me acting as cheerleaders from the sidelines, offering help when we can. They need to feel the pleasure and pride that comes from getting through a rough patch and learning a lot along the way. And nothing’s better than seeing them succeed .