The first foundational practice that will enable our young adults to leave in a healthy way is that of connecting. Kids don’t leave well if they leave a home that is not well. If the relationship is strained and contentious and parents are angry, resentful, anxious, frustrated, fearful, protective, and other such emotions, it becomes hard for the young adult to leave and the parent to let go. These are sticky emotions that ensnare both parties and become burdens that each carries into their eventual separate lives. There are a variety of reasons these emotions exist, but the first step to resolve these is a commitment to connect to the young adult. When we have these emotions with our young adult it is easy to lean back and distance ourselves. Although not intended, the message our young adult gets is one of rejection. To connect, we must override these emotions and continue to make sincere efforts to listen and understand our young adult. Failing to connect with our young adult diminishes our lives and theirs and complicates the letting go process.
Be a Black Belt in Listening
I like to tell clients and people in my workshop that I am a black belt in listening and can out listen just about anyone. Here are some simple steps to be a better listener:
- First, we have to have a desire to listen. Are we willing to take the time to listen in and send the signal that we care and value them as our children?
- Second, we have to approach our young adult as a learner and not a teacher. The Buddhist tradition emphasizes having a “beginner’s mind.” This refers to openness, desire to learn and free of preconceptions such as “I know best.” Who can best teach us how to relate to our kids other than our kids? If you want to be a better father you can read a book but why not ask your son or daughter.
- Thirdly, we understand and believe that relationships are reciprocal. If we listen with compassion and empathy, we are more likely to experience these in return than if we listen with a hidden agenda. Look for an opening to ask them when they will get a job or move out. We have to ask ourselves what is our intent in listening.
“My young adult won’t talk to me! I’m lucky to get a monosyllabic grunt out of him every other day.”
If you don’t have a tradition of talking in any in depth, it will be hard to disrupt this pattern, but not impossible. It starts with apologizing for not taking the time to listen over the years but indicating a desire to do better now and in the future. If your son or daughter appears to have taken a vow of silence which you failed to notice, they will be skeptical that you truly want to hear from them. They have no doubt become wary over the years of the “we need to talk” invitation which of course means you need to talk. So maybe you just invite them to go to breakfast and then shock them by saying you don’t have an agenda other than just getting to know them better. At this point you need to put your money where your mouth is and shut up and truly listen. Meeting outside the home for these “getting to know you” times is always advised. At home, it is too easy for both to regress into old dysfunctional parent child patterns.
Take Advantage of Numerous Venues
It’s important to take advantage of venues that allow for informal talk and listening. These could be while driving – road trips are great. I have great memories of my son and I taking a road trip to Illinois and Indiana to look at colleges. We talked for twenty to thirty hours. Talking while attending events – sporting or musical events, while shopping, hunting or fishing, etc. Most young adults, especially males are not comfortable with the “lets do lunch” invitation or experience. But food does help. Sometime late at night if you can stay up and your son or daughter comes in and wants to raid the refrigerator and talk, slap yourself and take advantage of this special time with them. Finally, you don’t always have to meet face to face. Even though we want to try to reconnect face to face, sometimes young adults are more candid over the phone, texting , snapchatting or other mediums. Take advantage of these but continue to pursue human touch.