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Wednesday, November 8, 2023

How to Talk to Our Adult Kids

When your children become adults, it’s time to treat them as such. But old habits die hard.

We do it with the best of intentions. But pointing out imperfections and giving unsolicited advice to our kids after they’re grown just undermines their self-confidence. Do we have to learn how to bite our tongue so hard it splits in half? Well, maybe! Waiting to make a comment until you’ve really thought: 1) whether you should say anything at all, or 2) exactly how to frame your response, is a wonderful tool. 

Active Listening

Working on our listening skills is a great way to improve our relationships with our children. No matter whether you think they listen to you, get better with how you listen to them.
  • Stay non-judgmental, even when they are criticizing something you said or did. 
  • Don’t fill in every silence. Give them space to think and talk, even when it hurts.
  • Show them that you’re listening closely. Lean toward them, make eye contact, nod, etc. 
  • Ask questions.
  • Provide a summary to show you were following everything they said. “If I heard you right, you’re angry that I didn’t text you when we were making plans for dinner and you want to be included on all texts like that from now on.” Notice that this is not the time to defend yourself or pass judgment. You’re just repeating what you heard them say.
  • Ask if there’s anything else they want you to know. (Don’t be sarcastic. You’ll be better off if you hear them out.)
  • While not a part of active listening, you may be reeling from what they said. Answer truthfully. A good response might be: “I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that’s how I was making you feel. I want a good relationship with you and I’ll work to make it better.” Notice how it is not defensive, but it is authentic.

Connecting With Adult Children

Our kids are not little sponges anymore, awaiting Mom or Dad’s pronouncements to absorb values or save them from life’s hard lessons. But they still very much want our approval. Cut the judgment calls and be positive, handing out approval at every opportunity. 

When they reject your advice, smile and tell them you’re sure they’ll do fine. Maybe they’ll fall on their face, but they will remember Mom and Dad expressed confidence in their ability. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll recall a time or two when the same thing happened to you. 

Don’t stop trying. Keep reaching out to make connections. Ask the kids questions about their work, their weekends, their children, and pets. Ask them advice for something you’re trying to decide. What books are they reading? Keep making memories with them, even if you’re physically far apart.

Finally, here is a list of little reminders for parents about what annoys the heck out of our kids:
  1. Calling their significant other or spouse to locate them.
  2. Trying to locate them at all. They will get back to you in their own sweet time.
  3. Personal questions like: How’s your diet going? Are you hung over? Did you get my gift?
  4. Voicemails. Your kids want to glance at a text, not have to open a voicemail. 
  5. Emails. Ditto. Too much information, parents!
  6. Nagging. Not okay: Have you talked to your grandparents? Are you eating healthy meals? 
  7. Too much interest in the new significant other. Okay: Your new boyfriend sounds great! Not okay: Is he treating you well? How much does he make? 
  8. Guilting. Never send a group text about who has/has not done what for the family get-together – or anything else. Reminders should be private.
  9. Multiple texts. They got the first one. If it’s not an emergency, they’re just more into their friends and you need to chill. 
  10. Complaints. Why don’t you call/text me more often? Let’s face it, their friends are more interesting than Mom and Dad. If we’re a bit lonely, we can always play more pickleball …

Emphasizing good qualities and giving positive messages holds value whether your children are eight, eighteen or eighty. Find things to compliment and treat them like the adults they are. By giving them a little space and a lot of encouragement, you may find they actually want your advice once in a while, and family dinners will sure be a lot more rewarding!