There is really only one skill required in order to be a good parent once your children have grown into adulthood. It is the ability to appear supportive without really saying anything. Any comment that borders on opinion travels through the air waves and lands as judgment in the fragile ears of our children. An innocent remark about how a new car looks or an old job is doing and the wheels start turning in our offspring’s head.
“What did you mean by that?” asks our incredulous twenty-something. It’s as if we’ve just confirmed their worst suspicions that we had always hoped for more out of them. Truly, if our children are paying their bills and not asking us for money we’re already on the road to parental bliss. If they’re also putting money into any kind of investment plan and have some kind of faith in some higher being, have started looking around at someone nice to settle down with and might volunteer at something while cutting back on the processed foods, well, that would be nice as well. However, all of that we as parents would be wise to keep to ourselves for a couple of very important reasons.
The first is because the time has passed to guide our children toward some bright and shining future. They’re actually in that future and it’s their turn to pick and choose what it’s going to look like. Every time we butt in we’re actually telling them they’re getting it wrong, try again. That can be a real confidence blaster.
The consequences of over-parenting any adult can end up being that our grown children stop trying to create bigger and better and start settling for smaller and what appears safer. The results of that are often a lot of great opportunities get left on the table. Worst case scenario is that the child is living in your basement. No one wants to see that.
Risk is a necessary part of the big picture and its cousin, failure is vital as well. The first adds a certain amount of exhilaration to life and pulls the idea of faith out of theory and into practice. The second teaches us what we want to keep or discard in the description that is our lives.
Failure is also a much better teacher than success when it comes to building a nice, big fat dream. When we find ourselves able to stand back up again and can see how to solve a problem a piece at a time we also catch on that there actually is a solution to just about anything. There will be some compromise, some letting go, a few bumps and bruises but even the worst of it can be resolved. We learn to take that with us as we move forward.
Everyone who has reached beyond what had been done before like Bill Gates or Steven Spielberg or Serena Williams had a parent who allowed for risk, failure and then consequence without looking jittery about the potential outcome. They stood on the sidelines cheering them on because they knew the skinned knees were only a part of a long and continuous journey.
The second consideration is because as any parent stuck in the sandwich generation between grown children and aging parents knows, some day we are going to need our children’s help. It’s inevitable that if we live long enough we are going to once again require not only physical help but perhaps a little guidance as well. The most obvious source is going to be our progeny and how they treat us is going to be a great reflection of how we treated them. If we are able to take our hands off of their business now and yet, be available to listen and answer only direct questions then that is probably what we’ll get in return.
In the meantime, though, the next generation still expects us to somehow figure out how to empathize, cheer, lament or acknowledge without any kind of adjectives. And, fortunately, there is something that can help out with this phase. By the way, this part works equally well with aging parents as it does with grown children. It requires only one syllable, ‘huh’ pronounced three different ways depending on the situation at hand. A surprised inflection at a promotion or big purchase, a lower inflection for puzzlement at a problem and a drawn out, even lower ‘huh’ at a disappointment. That’s all that’s needed. A pat on the back or a good strong hug can also be added at your discretion.
Q: Are you the grown child or the parent? What is working for you in this new relationship?