Thursday, November 10, 2016

Improve your parenting: work with teens you didn't raise.

This is not me or a teen I work
 with, but it's what our conversations often
look like. 
I belong to a couple of online communities where (mostly) women discuss their changing relationships with grown children after they leave for college. 

There is worry about staying close, of course, about losing a pulse. There is worry about what we won't know by feel anymore. 

Who will offer all those helpful, crisis-dodging comments that start with  "Why don't you..."?

How will they know if we don't tell them? 

May I offer a little something from my "been there" files?

Distance won't end a healthy parent-child relationship, but distance will grow it into a healthy adult relationship as you lose your opportunities to influence choices, and your son or daughter gains the chance to make decisions. 

Relationships don't stop when that happens. If we let them, relationships evolve like people do. 

We do judge. We have been the boss of them since they were in onesies. We call it other things when they're older - directing, suggesting, coaching - and we know enough to "let them handle" (non-life threatening) matters, but when kids live at home, it is impossible not to know the things they could be doing or doing better to make their lives as good as we would if we were them.  

We change our language, but we tell them still. 

"It's only my opinion, but..."

After our nest emptied, I began to work with teens at our local  Boys and Girls club helping them write their life stories. I love it because the things they share, and say and really want to tell me are not treated or organized to avoid judgment. They want to be heard, I want to know what they think. There is no stake in it beyond that. They don't worry about my opinion of them and I don't worry about their grades.

And, nothing is better than listening to a teen who does not expect to be judged. Indeed, if I had to pick a single moment that makes me look forward to working with these kids every year, it's the one when I say something to a teen that surprises them, and a look crosses their face that makes me know what they looked like when they were four, and they say very slowly, "that is so true."

I remember well, those years when our kids were moving away and I worried that the state of our relationships - up or down - would freeze in place.

Were we really done already, I wondered?

What I know now, what all my new empty-nest friends will  know I hope, is the lovely paradox: that the further apart we allow ourselves to be, the closer we become as we are less guided by our old roles in each other's lives and grow to simply like each other as people.

Today, my relationships with my grown kids are much like those I cherish with the Boys and Girls kids. I want to know what they think, and they want to tell me about their lives and they want to hear about mine.
And even now, every so often, I throw out an observation, and I get this: "That is so true."

And it makes me feel like we all turned out just fine.


  1. Good advice for a difficult transition point. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I ove this. I have 2 in college and 2 in high school. so i still feel stuck in the middle. But I do love how my relationships with my older two are morphing into something new and amazing.

  3. In a sense it is about relationship, and allowing the changes to happen. Loving another is allowing the other to grow, and wanting the relationship to freeze happens with judgement and fear. Is that close? Anyhow, your children would probably look silly in a onesie now. :)

    1. MORE than close! I shouldn't bash judging, because in the beginning when we ARE the boss of them, it builds a feeling of safety and confidence to be, let's call it "knowledgeable." But like most behaviors, I think there's an expiration date, and it's often subtle.

      Also, I still have those onesies.

  4. The people benefitting from your approach are many. You, your birth children, your volunteer children, and us, and our children, and hopefully our volunteer children...

    1. Thank you Mithra. I am really grateful to be doing two things that I love: working with teens and writing. But the kids, all of them, have made me a better person.

  5. Hi Susan -I'm visiting from the JR blog :) My kids aren't in grade school yet but #1Kiddo is particularly headstrong and even now I wonder how college will be for her. Good to hear some perspective on that :)

    1. Hi J.R.friend! Lennon, if you are the parent of such young kids and already respectful of a behavior that separates one from sibs, I would say, you're on the way to making openhearted communication the norm. These will be hard and thrilling and rewarding years ahead! Thanks for visiting.