If you want to learn how to be a better parent when your children are in their young adult years, you have to improve your “brand.” What do I mean? A brand is a perception our young adults have of us as parents. It involves their understanding of our values, our parenting style, our approach to parenting (permissive or strict), our expectations, beliefs, etc. Every parent has a brand that exists in the minds of their children. Just like a product, brand exists in the minds of the consumer. Post-it Notes as a brand are worth a lot of money because of the positive perceptions consumers have about them. How can we learn about our brand? Ask our young adults?
What is Your Parenting “Brand”?
Most likely, we will get a “deer in the headlights” look if we asked our son or daughter to describe our parental brand. It may take some effort or prompting to elicit the perceptions our young adults have of us as parents. It also involves a willingness to be vulnerable. Many parents don’t like the “V” word and feel threatened or exposed if they ask a family member how they are seen. Brene Brown, in her popular writings, has elevated vulnerability from being seen as a weakness and to be avoided to seeing it as a strength and a necessary attribute in healthy relationships. If we are willing to be open, to listen and accept what our son or daughter tells us about their impressions of us as a parent, we can learn a lot. Remember, perceptions are real to the person who holds these, whether you agree or not. Furthermore, perceptions are based upon actions and observations that our young adults have of us; as such, we need to think of what we do and say that contributes to these impressions. Here are some questions to draw out the perceptions our young adult might have about us.
- In what ways do you see me as expressing love for you?
- In what ways do you believe I am a controlling or permissive parent?
- In what ways do you believe I am consistent or inconsistent in my words and actions?
- When you picture me or think of me as mom or dad, what images, thoughts or descriptions come to mind?
- What strengths and weaknesses do you see in my parenting style with you at this stage in your life?
You may want to send these questions to your son or daughter along with an invitation to sit down and listen to their answers before you spring this upon them. Best to do this outside of the house since it represents a more adult-to-adult venue. When listening to their response, check for understanding by reflecting or summarizing their responses. Also, it’s acceptable to ask for clarification or examples that have contributed to their perceptions. Once you have had this open discussion, and you have listened without challenging their viewpoints, it is time to demonstrate further vulnerability.
Try Feedforward Parenting
We have talked about “feedforward” in an earlier blog as suggestions you might give your young adult about changes they can make in the future. Using this same concept, we need to ask our young adults for three or four ways we could be a better parent in one or more of their perceptions. Specifically, we can ask – “What three or four actions could I take to become a better parent to you as a young adult?” You can further indicate that you will be willing to consider and invest in one or more of their suggestions. It’s important to ask three or four actions you could take because it will cause them to have to think of more responses than if you just asked – “do you have any suggestions?’ Furthermore, having three or four actions will give you a chance to select one or two that you are most willing to do and believe are achievable. Once you have heard the suggested actions (feedforward), agree to take on at least one initially with an indication you may come back later to pick up the others. Now, it’s time to keep your promise and follow through.
If you don’t follow through, you will be creating a new brand of failing to keep your promises, and your son or daughter will be less willing to offer feedback or feedforward in the future. Also, and this is very important, you have to check in periodically with your young adult to see how you are doing in implementing your promised actions. Marshall Goldsmith, who popularized the concept of feedforward, says that it is easier to change behavior than change perception. Our kids have particular opinions of us, and they will hold onto these until there is enough evidence – repeated changes in the promised behavior – to cause them to change their perception of our brand.
So, the process is: change behavior, check with young adult for observation of this and further feedforward, and repeat this process until it seems your brand has changed. Be patient. It took quite a while for the perceptions to develop; it will take time for these to change.