Communicating with your "grown" child

The most significant thing we can do as parents of adult children is to keep the lines of communication open. Most grown kids don't really want us to "tell them what to do"—even if they ask our advice. (If we're too quick to tell them just how to handle a situation, they may stop talking altogether.) What they want is for us to first listen to what they're feeling (to simply hear their confusion, their pain, their dreams, their fears, etc.) Then if we can just be a good sounding board, we have an opportunity to reinforce whatever they say that we think should be reinforced—without offering our own independent opinion. Mostly, this means reinforcing their effort to think clearly about all aspects of possible choices they might make.

One other great advantage of "keeping them talking" is that the more people openly express their thoughts to another person who cares, the more likely they are to be responsible in their decisions and their actions—especially if they know they're likely to share the facts of their actions with this person as well. The process of deciding what to do (while knowing you'll be telling someone who cares about whatever it is you're going to do) can serve to make people more responsible.

Life is long and difficult for almost everyone, so when our grown kids face a crisis, we need to remember that it's probably one of many crises they may face throughout their lives. Regardless of the specific outcome of any particular situation, the "process" our adult children use to deal with a crisis (and our active participation in that process to whatever degree they are open to it) will likely be the best we can hope for.

All we can reasonably do is to support our grown children in thinking through and sorting through the difficulties they face. In addition, we can share our own perceptions of life from our own experience—without translating that into how they should perceive life or what actions they should take. When our grown kids can take the "longer view" of life, they're often more able to make responsible decisions than when they are focusing only on the moment and whatever difficulties they're facing at the moment.

So our challenge is to "be there" for them for the long haul—which comes back to our number one priority: keeping the lines of communication open. Everything in life involves trade-offs; and while we might wish to simply tell them what to do in a given situation, we will help them more in the long run by taking that longer view of life—and making sure they will continue to confide in us for many years to come. Maintaining that parent/child bond for a lifetime is one of the most difficult (and critical) challenges we face as parents.

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