How to have Real conversations with your Young Adult Kids
Have you ever watched two dance partners who are obviously uncomfortable with each other? Maybe they’ve just met and feel uncertain. They touch each other gingerly. The dance goes on but it’s awkward between them.
Communications with our teenager and twenty-something kids can be like that too – strained, cautious, keeping a certain distance.
And oh, what pain that causes in a parent’s heart. We feel like it shouldn’t be awkward. It should feel open, honest and loving. But when we talk to them, it always seems to go south.
We step on their toes, bump elbows with them and lose our balance.
One woman described it so well: “I try to choose my words so carefully but then what comes out my mouth doesn’t feel authentic. It’s kind of fake. And I know that they can feel it too. Then they retreat into their shell. I’m trying to engage them in open conversation, but they don’t quite trust me.”
The truth is that that these young adults are looking for something real that they can hang onto and believe him. They don’t want rehearsed conversation and they don’t want lectures about the right thing to do. They want to be able to talk about their ideas and aspirations and the things they’re wrestling with.
And as parents, we all want to be that for them. It is written deep in our hearts to be there for them for everything.
But sometimes our approach isn’t having the desired effect. So I asked, “What is it about the way you are communicating with them that has them feeling uncomfortable or unsure?”
For this woman, the answer was that she was “being kind of fake” - saying what she thought would be acceptable and not upset her child - instead of being really herself.
And you? What about the way you communicate with them feels forced or fabricated? What might they be sensing as insincere or untrue?
It’s ok. All of us are trying to do our best for our children. And none of us are perfect. You already know in your heart what’s not working in that dance with your child. Be honest with yourself about what your part in that awkwardness might be.
How do we communicate more genuinely?
If you were raised in a family where you were always told what to do, then it makes sense that there’s part of you that doesn’t trust your own voice.
If you grew up in a household where your safety was not guaranteed, then it makes sense that you have trouble trusting yourself in emotionally charged situations.
If you had to grow up quickly, be the strong one and take care of others, then it makes sense that you are you have typically avoided being vulnerable.
Every one of us has stories about the way we were parented and how that influences the way we parent our kids. As little ones, we came to conclusions about how we had to be in order to belong and be loved. We adopted certain behaviours and beliefs. We carry these patterns in our bodies, our gestures, inner narratives and go-to emotions. I’m sure you can name a few of the parenting habits and beliefs you inherited.
Some parents I’ve worked with feel ashamed or annoyed that they aren’t able to overcome such a pattern. They know what it is. They can hear their mother’s words coming out of their mouths or see their father’s look of disapproval on their own face. And they just want to get past it already. Despite their efforts, it feels like a tattoo they can’t wash off.
But it’s not, my friends. What’s true is that, if you can see the pattern - really see it - then you are on your way toward healing and transcending it.
Family pathology rolls from generation to generation like a fire in the woods, until one person in one generation has the courage to turn and face the flames. That person brings peace to his ancestors and spares the children that follow. ~Terrence Real
Seeing Our Pattern in Action
What does it take to see our own parenting patterns? Courage, compassion and watching yourself in action.
Ask yourself: What happens when you’re talking to your teenager and it doesn’t go as you had hoped? Do you move in closer or lean back? Do you look up, down or past them? Does your heart puff or sink? Your head buzz or clang? Get curious about what’s going on inside you when you are falling into your old pattern.
One of my parenting auto-pilot patterns is the urge to jump in and fix things when my kids tell me something’s amiss. Oh, how quickly my brain races to find solutions - lightning fast. My mouth wants to spit out the solution; I can actually feel it in my tongue and lips. And I have a full body response too. The moment I hear one of them is having difficulty, a big mother bear instinct pulses through me, a state of alarm, heart racing, ready to pounce.
These kinds of details are important clues for you. Signals that let you know that you are about to repeat your old habit. And this awareness is essential for being able to shift out of it.
Your emotional landscape also has much to teach you. Right at that moment when you feel the urge to _____ , what emotions are rising in you? There may be many. Name them. Out loud. Get to know them.
The feeling that accompanies my urge to solve my kids’ problems is fear. The basic parenting fear that something bad is going to happen to my child. And powerless, with them being out in the big world.
I feel vulnerable as I write this, but I can imagine you thinking that these are completely natural, reasonable things to be feeling. Please give yourself that same kind of acceptance.
The details you observe provide indispensable information. They help you recognize the pivotal moment when you’re just about to fall into the old pattern so you can make other choices about what you do next - choices that will gradually shift you out of the pattern.
Our trust in ourselves is developed one experience at a time, when we are being completely honest with ourselves.
So I invite you to lean in and take a closer look at what’s getting in the way of your communication with your child. See when your auto pilot kicks in. Be honest with yourself and name that pattern.
Our kids’ trust in us is also developed one experience at a time, when they feel us being real with them. Saying things like
“It’s hard for me to wait and be quiet when I know that you’ve got a problem. I just need a minute to resist the urge to fix it for you.”
“Wow, what you just said woke up a dragon in my belly that wants to lash out. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now. I need to take a few breaths before I can really listen to you.”
“Would it surprise you to know that I feel like running away from you right now? I can feel fear in me and I just want to name it.”
This is being real and vulnerable with your kids. It’s not about laying out all your flaws or apologizing. It’s not about making them take responsibility for what’s going on for us.
It’s about being honest. “This is what’s happening in me right now. “
Being brave and present and choosing something other than manufacturing it.
Freeing yourself from struggling to get it right.
This gives them something to lean into.
It invites them to dance and be real with you.
With you on the journey,
Photo by Dana Tentis: https://www.pexels.com/photo/silhouette-people-on-beach-at-sunset-315843/