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  • Lori K Walters

When you and your young adult child approach things really differently

Observe your big kid when you go to a potluck dinner or social event. What do they do? Do they walk in boldly and take over? Do they stand on the edge of the group? Do they find a way to blend in?

These are the three general types of human social stances or energies: moving against others, moving away from others and moving with others. I've found it helpful to look through this lens to see more about how I interact with my kids, particularly where we're in sync and where there's contrast or friction.

· Assertive types walk boldly into the crowd; they bring the yang energy to the party. They enjoy being seen and heard and move confidently. They're the ones who energize the party and take center stage by telling a story, starting a game or mentioning their most recent accomplishments. Their nature is to demand attention and a secure, esteemed position in the scene.

· Withdrawing types, on the other hand, have more yin energy. They tend to disengage. They may watch and learn from the sidelines or, if they join in, it may be in a mysterious, standoffish way and they might leave after a short while. They can also appear to be engaged, smiling and nodding but, in truth, are tuned out. Unlike the assertive ones, who think that they are what’s happening in the room, the withdrawing types feel they aren’t quite part of what’s going on.

· A third approach is fitting in. These people look around to see what others expect of them, dutifully saying hello to Aunt Kathy or making a bee-line to join the other Dodgers fans. They follow the standards they have learned from childhood and often find a way to be helpful. Their energy is neither demanding nor withdrawing, but more like "earning" their place in the room.

Of course, one's dominant stance shows up in more situations than potluck dinners. It's a deep-rooted characteristic that's noticeable at the dinner table, while driving across town, in interactions with colleagues and classmates, in a store and in the locker room. What's your sense of the social energy of your young adult child?

*Caution: Please Do Not tell your kids that they’re a certain type. Neurological studies show that human brains aren’t fully developed until age 25. When parents or teachers label a child before they have the maturity and cognitive and emotional bandwidth to differentiate between their authentic self and a label, it can have a long-lasting impact on how they see themselves. So, I offer these categories not for putting people in boxes, but as a tool to foster your understanding of your child.

What’s your social approach? As you read these descriptions, you’re probably thinking about your own social stance as well. And, yes, this is exactly where I’m headed…

Do you tend to be moving against, away from or with people?

If you’re an assertive type, you go after what you want. Independence, fortitude and confidence are yours. What that means for you as a parent is that you may be demolishing the barriers that hold your children back and, at the same time, unwittingly protecting them from battles they need to face themselves. You might expose them to as many opportunities as possible and push them to ‘go for it’ without allowing time for them to rest. Or you might be so intent on supporting them to accomplish their dreams that they don't have space to try things, make mistakes and learn in their own way.

If this sounds like you, consider how your ‘push’ affects your relationship with your child as they strive to become more independent.

If you're usually withdrawing, you probably disengage in order to claim your privacy, individuality or inner peace. You are also likely perceptive, understanding and flexible. In your parenting, you may be so flexible that you fall into the habit of letting your kids do whatever they want when they actually need you to provide boundaries or leadership. You may be so analytical that you try to help them learn from their experiences and end up offering them too much from your head and not enough from your heart. Or you may initiate fascinating explorations of emotions and purpose but, immersed in your own inner world, fail to register what's really happening in theirs.

If this is your approach, what's your sense of how your ‘retreat’ energy impacts the connection between you and your child?

Finally, if you see the balancing, service-oriented stance in yourself, you feel drawn to move ‘with’ people. You probably focus on serving the needs of others, meeting expectations and creating a secure environment. In your parenting, you may be prone to pushing your kids for perfection and stressing them out, all because you earnestly want them to "reach their potential". You may strive to give them a smooth life at the expense of allowing them to experience disappointment. Or you may over-emphasize responsibility and working for the good of the community while not giving them room to express their gifts in their own way.

How might your ‘compliance’ energy affect your relationship with your child?

Same or different?

Knowing your usual social stance may shed light on some areas of discord in your relationship with your young adult child.

For example, if you tend to withdraw and your child is assertive, you may find yourself at odds energetically. You may feel uncomfortable with your son or daughter as they pull you into the center of the action. Or you may subtly hold them back when they are eager to take their place and get the party going. Later you feel hurt that they ditched you. Or they’re annoyed with you and neither one of you really knows why. (I'm speaking from experience here.)

Here's another example: You feel frustrated that your child isn’t standing up for themselves at work. You hear about a manipulative co-worker and you know exactly what you would do. You ask, somewhat emphatically, “Why don’t you just say no and tell your boss what really happened?” And then your child shrinks a little, says they’ll try and walks away, leaving an awkward chasm between you. How easily these differences lead to confusion, resentment, uneasiness and conflict. As you feel into this now, how might you honour these differences and still stay connected with your kid? Think of specific circumstances that may arise and what you could say or do. And if you have a social energy that's similar to your child's, that can create some difficult dynamics too. Like two assertive types both vying for attention, two of you scoping from the sidelines or two compliant types tripping over each other to be the most helpful. If this is your situation and it causes disconnection between you and your child, what might be your new move when this comes up next?

Supporting Their Development (and yours)

While we all have a dominant social approach, we also have access to the two other approaches, which we can develop. I’m guessing that you’re already thinking of times when you wished you had been more forceful, more cooperative or more reserved. It’s the same for all of us – it takes practice. So, consider setting an intention for your next meeting or dinner party. How can you bring a bit more of a different stance into your interactions?

Noticing how your child moves – against, away from or with people - may also show you opportunities to support them to develop the other approaches in themselves. I’m not suggesting that you tell them to take another approach (yikes). Instead, how might you gently bring this topic into a conversation? What questions could you ask to help them know themselves a little better? What stories might you share to plant a seed? ~

There is beauty and goodness inherent every personality. And there are millions of right ways of going along in this human journey. May we be tuning in to our big kids' energy with curiosity and sensitivity to their way. And loving all of who they are and how they do their life.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS Is your dominant social stance the same or different from your child's and how does that affect your relationship? How can you use this lens to help your child see themselves or develop new capabilities? How can it support your connection with them?

With you on the journey,


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