One of my favorite things is talking with my adult children about the stuff that they are navigating in their mid-life. I don’t shy away from any aspect of these conversations even when the topics are tough. Something that I have noticed as they hit their 40’s, is that their perspectives on me are evolving as they get deeper into mid-life. They are now going back and revisiting the past through their own parenting lens. There is a depth to our discussions that I love, for it pulls back the layers of our family history and allows for healing and growth.
I’m in a better place for these meaningful talks because of all the personal growth work I have done. I no longer listen with my mind racing about how to solve a problem for them. I recognize that this is not my role now. They are grown ups and they need a confidante, a sounding board, and a judgment free space. When my focus is on listening, I find myself discovering so much more than what is on the surface. We can dig a little deeper.
As my adult children have navigated through their own life experiences with marriage, parenting, and careers over the past ten years or so, they too are discovering more about me as a whole person, and not just “mom”. It is in these nuanced conversations that we find new common ground and mutual respect for each other. The very stuff that they grapple with today, I also struggled with. My experiences provide perspective and assurance they too can get through the tough parts of life. The best gift that I can offer to them today is the insight I have gained on how I might have done it better. It is precisely why I gave them each a copy of the Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I wish I had not only known about the 10 guideposts for wholehearted living, but that I had someone I could confide in who would help me cultivate them earlier in life.
That is precisely the resource I want to be now for my adult children.
It’s hard as a parent to witness adult children going through tough struggles. I’d hoped they’d be spared some of those adversities, but that is not how life goes.
I don’t think it is all that unusual for adult children to be reluctant to discuss their challenges with their parents. There is a part of them that doesn’t want to admit to mom and dad that they are wrestling with life issues. They don’t want to disappoint, to burden or to get lectured.
And yet….the truth is….that we as parents have been exactly where they are and we not only know firsthand the worries, the second-guessing and the what-if’s — we know that we made it, that we might have done better and that we want to be the support system we either had — or wish we had.
These 10 guideposts for Whole-Hearted Living give me a great place to start when it comes to having some of these deeper conversations with my adult children.
I’ve come to realize that it is necessary for our adult children to have a healthy dose of life experiences under their belt before we can delve into some of this wisdom. After all, it only makes sense when they can actually relate to it.
My son who has gone through a divorce and is co-parenting his 8 year old daughter very well with my daughter-in-law, has a much different lens through which to view my divorce from his dad when I was his age. He can also assess the relationship that his sister had with their dad when she was only 8 through a parenting lens. My hope is that this does not impact his current relationship with his dad, but that it offers a new framework to understand prior mysteries about the complexities of his sister’s relationship with their father. My son can now understand that my parenting job for his much younger sister was made harder by the choices their father made about his relationship with his daughter. The ripple effect from his dad’s co-parenting decisions resulted in a lot of painful confusion and estrangement in our family for a very long time. That hard lesson learned has resulted in my son and daughter-in-law being very cognizant of keeping their daughter at the forefront of intentional co-parenting.
My oldest son reminds me a lot of myself at his age, burning the candle at both ends at work and at home. He is striving to be an over-achiever professionally and personally. Been there. Done that. I recall very clearly how exhausted I was from it all so it’s easy to put myself in his shoes when we chat. Where I used to quickly dole out advice, I now listen more and ask more questions. My focus now is to empower him to find his own meaningful solutions. I recently read The Advice Trap by Michael Stanier Bungay to help me get better in supporting him in this way. My stories about wrestling with similar work and parenting issues when I was his age offer some comfort and assuage some of his fears about the future. I can even get a chuckle out of him when I tell him that it has taken me many years to “ooze this much wisdom.”
My daughter is a decade younger than her brothers and has a lifestyle that is quite different. Her husband is a professional athlete has has been for 12 years. This means several moves to new locations every year, with many moving parts to each. She is home-schooling her two children to provide continuity for their education in spite of all these relocations every year. She has had to become a master of logistics to pull this all off in a seamless way for her husband, her children and her dogs. Like every other young mother, she can feel pulled in a thousand directions, feel like she’ll never get it all under control and she sets the bar high for all that she should accomplish in a day’s time. I used to give her examples of all that I juggled when I was raising her and her brothers and boy did that backfire. It was not helpful — and I know that now. She felt like I was judging her with all my comparisons. Thank you Brene for helping me to realize the error of my ways. What my daughter really needed was for me to see her, acknowledge what she was feeling and to articulate how I valued her and all that she does with so much love for her family. She did not need me to rush in and do things for her. She needed to know that I have her back and she can offload all her stresses with me in a safe, judgment free zone. It occurred to me that when I was her age, I was similarly overwhelmed. It was then that I realized that I had to overcome my lack of organization and ability to prioritize if I was going to keep my sanity. Oddly enough, it was my own chaos and overwhelm that led to me becoming an efficient planner, organizer and resourceful problem solver. The one area that I totally neglected however was my own self-care. I’m so grateful to be able to have these honest conversations with my daughter about the importance of taking time for herself and her own interests. She is now a role model for her own little girl – the best source of motivation there is.
Everyone of the 10 guideposts that Brene Brown offers in the Gifts of Imperfection permeate my conversations with my adult children these days. Through our deeper conversations we revisit the past with fresh perspectives, empathy and benevolence. Honestly, we are starting to heal some chasms that existed for far too long.
In a recent Being Well podcast on connecting with our true nature, Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest, shared some of their own father/son dynamics along with childhood experiences. Dr. Hanson stressed the value of adult children being able to have conversations with their parents and even grandparents about the family’s past. When we are older, we can handle some of the relevant details that may not have been appropriate to share when we were younger. He explained that this can lead to a deeper understanding of the bigger picture and can lead to improved relationships and family healing.
Brene Brown and her twin sisters had a similar conversation during the second episode of the Unlocking Us Summer series. They reflected on their own mother and what she might have been struggling with that ultimately led to divorce from their father later in life. There was no angst or big emotions as they talked through this, but rather a keen desire to understand mom and dad a little better — and to extract the lessons.
I have a few friends who have shared with me that they had long-standing problematic relationships with one of their parents for many years. It was only when they were much older and some key circumstances had changed that they had a breakthrough. In some cases, it was a parent that stopped drinking. In others it was becoming a caregiver for an ailing, aging parent. The stories my friends share are heartwarming because they came to know their parents in a totally different light. They discovered common ground, greater understanding and a humbling realization that most of us are flawed, messy humans doing the best we can. A lot of heartache has been healed through these hard conversations. A lot of wisdom has been imparted.
As my own personal growth journey unfolded, I realized that I had a lot of childhood trauma that led me to develop some of my triggers and behavioral patterns that stuck with me for decades. Unfortunately both of my parents were deceased and I could not have these conversations that might have answered so many of my questions. My brother and I have had quite a few conversations about our family and our shared experiences. This has been enormously helpful to both of us and has truly strengthened our bond. We are all that is left of our family at this point and very grateful to have each other. We are the best of friends.
I had no idea when I started my deep dive into my own personal growth six years ago that it would prepare me so well for being able to have deep, hard conversations with my own adult children. Again, I find myself extremely grateful. Anything that I can offer to my adult children to help them understand their childhood, their own triggers and behavioral patterns is an invaluable gift to them. My adult children getting to know me as a whole person, with all my crazy dreams, my flaws, my wild stories and my unconditional love, well that is the best gift I could ever receive.
The Greater Good Science Center – Article – The Cost of Blaming Parents