While our kids lived in our home, one of our family goals was to establish and maintain connection at an emotional level every day. We borrowed this idea from a friend and it made a big difference in the closeness of our family. Some days the connection came easily and other times it took much more effort. Figuring out how to be close to each of our children was work, but work I was willing to do.
The rewards were worth the effort.
I wasn’t perfect at it, but having that goal in front of me kept me moving forward, denying my ever changing emotions and refusing to accept the daily busyness of life as an excuse to not make progress.
Fast forward many years and now our children are adults. They are also married and engrossed in establishing their lives and careers. At the same time Tom and I are busy launching a new business and getting familiar with our new community after moving across the country 18 months ago.
Connection is no less important to me now, but it looks much different than it used to.
Things have to change over the years.
We are parents and they are still our children, but I have had to accept that many things have to change over the years if I want to maintain a healthy connection. The tools I relied on in my parenting toolbox to fuse our connection while they lived at home didn’t prove sufficient for the job as they left for college and work, learned how to live independently, started dating, got engaged and now are married.
The most significant discovery I have made in the past 6 years that we have been empty nesters is that the woman wielding those tools has to adapt and grow much more than she ever thought possible.The most significant discovery I have made in the past 6 years that we have been empty nesters is that the woman wielding those tools has to adapt and grow much more than she ever thought possible. @lorikayziegler Click To Tweet
My first challenge came from the way I thought about this new stage. While we are and always will be the parents of our adult children, the phrase parenting adult children is an oxymoron. We can’t really “parent” adults, even if they do happen to be our children. That doesn’t mean they don’t need us (they DO), but it requires me to approach the relationship differently. (Be honest with yourself – do you want your parents to “parent” you now? Did you want them to “parent” you when you were in your twenties? Thirties?…)
When I found myself floundering several years ago I reached out to dozens of parents further along on this journey. A comment from one mom in particular stood out. She described the relationship she shared with her adult children as more of a marriage than a parent/child relationship. Unable to grasp her meaning, I mostly ignored the rest of what she had to share. I might have continued to push that concept aside, except that several other parents shared the same idea using different words.
A relationship of equals.
I didn’t want to accept that as we all mature, our relationship with our adult children should grow into a relationship between equals. Any influence we have in their lives will be that of relationship, not of authority. When I try to pull “mom moves” with our kids, they pull away and often end phone calls or visits a little more quickly.
As the older, more mature party in this relationship, I believe it falls on me to continue to figure out the pathways toward the best connection possible. Have you ever lost signal on a phone call because you drove through a space between two cell towers and in the middle of the zone neither tower would take responsibility for the connection?
Someone has to take the leading role (also like a marriage) and guide the relationship through the seasons of life. Taking responsibility often requires changing your mode of operation.
Here are four smart decisions I have found helpful. Maybe you can find a small nugget to help on your own journey of connection.
1. Listen first, and ask questions.
I don’t know about you, but I am so quick to offer an opinion about everything – whether it’s asked for or not. Often, our kids choose to talk to us because they trust us to be a good sounding board. They aren’t always looking for our opinion. Over and over again, I’ve seen our kids work out the details to their problems simply by talking through their experiences and feelings. If I sit quietly and listen, asking a few questions along the way, my kids are usually able to find their own solutions to the challenges they face.
2. Respect them.
My son is a campus minister and sometimes preaches on Sunday mornings in our church. During a recent message, I had a rather loud, vocal reaction to a point he made. Upon reflection, I thought it might have embarrassed him. I mentioned it to a friend and her immediate response was “you’re his mom. You can say whatever you want.” While I appreciate her encouragement, I disagree with the concept.
Just because I am the mom doesn’t entitle me to “say whatever I want.” Philippians 2:3-4 reminds me:
don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
3. Expressive communication.
Our adult kids long to hear words that tell them we believe in them. They want to know we value their opinions. They grow leaps and bounds when they feel our support whether we agree with their decision or not. And they appreciate it when we respect their need for privacy and space.
The challenge in being expressive is that it’s just as easy to express negative emotions and sentiments as positive. “I miss you” is often a true and innocent statement on my part. From their perspective, however, I’ve learned that they sometimes feel shamed, guilty, and manipulated. It’s just as true and easy for me to say “I’m so glad you called” or “it’s so fun talking with you.”
4. Accept them.
I may have carried these kids in my body and Tom and I may have raised them, but God designed them to make their own choices in life. There is a difference between accepting and tolerating the decisions our kids make. There is a difference between accepting and tolerating the friends they choose or the career path they take or the person they decide to marry. They have a God given right to choose their life path. They have the right to grow and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes the same way I did. Sometimes I think I want to protect myself even more than I want to protect them in the process of life.