Who Are You Looking For Today?

Have you ever had a conversation that stopped you in your tracks? Gave you one of those, "Ha, I could have had a V-8" moments? That happened to me over lunch with a couple we had just met. I think what I loved most is that Dad had so much to say that day. Us moms can be very vocal, and it seems to me men often defer to their wives about parenting and let them do most of the sharing.

"One of the hardest things for me," Dad told Tom and me, "is that I'm never quite sure who my kids are looking for when they call. I don't know if they're looking for a friend, for a mentor, for dad or just for someone to listen and not say anything at all." He went on to explain that if he knew who they were looking for it would help him know how to respond better in the conversation. He said he often feels frustrated because he mistakenly thought communication would get easier once all his kids had grown up.

Yes! Exactly! Who are you looking for when you call? Please, tell me who you want me to be today! I want to help you, and I want to give you what you need, but that is hard when I don't know what role I am supposed to play today.

Ok, adult kids - the ball is in your court now! Tell us parents who you are looking for when you call...

On the flip side, a short time later I shared that conversation with a friend of mine and her immediate response was, "why doesn't he just ask?" Another aha moment! Of course! It seems so simple! Why don't we just ask?

Ok, parents - the ball bounced back! Ask your adult kids what they need from you!

What is it about our relationships that keep us from having some simple, honest conversations? What's so hard about asking our kids what they need from us in a conversation? Why don't we think of it or if we do, why don't we act on it and say, "I'm not sure what will help you with this. What would you like from me?"

Why do we sometimes have trouble asking a simple question? Maybe we think that we should be able to read their minds and know what they are looking for. I don't want to have to work that hard or be that perfect - do you?

There are times my phone rings, and it's one of the kids, and I immediately tense up. I love talking to my children! Why would I react that way? I think I have put a lot of pressure on myself at times, thinking I had to have the "right" answers, say the "right" things, react the "right" way... Does that ever happen to you?

I think it's just part of a learning process. We have to learn new ways of connecting as adults continually. Asking our kids what they need moves us another step toward giving up the parental control we exercised (rightly) when they were younger. It empowers them to take responsibility to get their needs met.

As for our adult children, what makes it hard for them to say at the beginning of a conversation, "Could you just be a sounding board for this? I need to talk, but I don't think I want a lot of input right now." Or, "I need to know what you think about something. Can you help me?"

One of the dangers of not having that clear and honest communication is that we can unwittingly build walls that cause resentment. Unfortunately, resentment often seeps out of our hearts and is exposed when we talk negatively to others about our kids or our parents.

I overheard two young women talking at an airport one day, and it made me sad to hear how disparaging one of them was about her dad. She was frustrated that her dad didn't listen and insisted on giving his opinion about everything she shared with him, but it was disturbing that she spoke so disrespectfully to her friend about the situation. Her friend even suggested she talk to him about it, but that didn't seem to be an option for this girl.

On the other hand, I've also heard parents complain about their adult kids...

In any relationship, humility, openness, and honesty are important keys to build or strengthen excellent communication. That applies to parents and their adult children. I'm learning to ask more questions when I talk to my kids and not just fall into "parent mode" and start telling them everything I think. I don't always get it right, and I can usually sense when I've gone too far. Asking what they want or need and admitting I don't always know what to say has paved the way for some great conversations.

Maybe all this comes naturally to you. If so, that's great! Keep it up and help the rest of us! If this is new for you, try it out and see what happens. It may feel awkward at first, but my guess is you, and your adult kids will both enjoy learning new ways of relating to each other. I'd love to hear what works for you!

And all you adult kids listening in...I'd love to hear from you as well!

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