Want a Better Relationship with Your Adult Kid?

Do you wish you had a better relationship with your adult kid? 

What would it take to make it better?

If you answered something like: 

If she would be nicer to me, if he would call more often, if they would make better choices or settle down or work harder or drink less or or or… then I would feel better about them, then we could have a better relationship.

A lot of people will agree with you, and commiserate with you… because you are powerless to do anything, the relationship is out of your hands. You are at the mercy of your kid’s behavior. It is a very painful place to be. 

But is that the way it has to be? 

Here is what I believe is true: 

You, and I, and everyone, cannot make other people behave differently than they do. Even our kids.

People get to be and do what they choose.

When we set rules, expectations, “shoulds” for others, we often end up feeling disappointed, angry or hurt.

How we feel is because of how we are thinking. We think we feel hurt because our son didn’t call, but if it wasn’t for our thought “he should call” we wouldn’t be feeling hurt. 

It seems like a nice thought, a reasonable expectation: my son should call. A kid should call his mother. 

But let’s look at the reality: when we have that thought about our kid, we feel disappointed and hurt, and then how do we behave? Most likely we complain, we pout, we decide to “show him” by not calling him, or maybe we call and chew him out… And what is the result of all that?

Can you see where that reasonable thought turns out to be a kind of poison? 

So what can we do differently? 

We can start trying out different ways of thinking about our kid. So he’s not big on calling- what if we worked on making that okay. Not making it mean he is selfish or doesn’t love us. Or that we are a bad mom or have a bad relationship. But maybe instead, thinking, he is living his life, as we all are. What else? Busy, doing things, taking care of stuff, minding his business, being a grownup, just being himself. I’ve raised an independent man, living his own life.

Can you feel the relief, the easing off? 

Ultimately, our relationships with our kids are based on what we choose to think about them. Our thoughts, the emotions they generate, and the way we behave are what end up creating the relationship. 

So… what kind of relationship will you create?

Real Life Coaching

I have a client I’ll call Lora, who has an adult son I’ll call Chad. (Note: My coaching sessions are always confidential. Express permission has been given by this client to use the following, with some details changed in addition to the names.)

Lora had always worried Chad wasn’t capable of taking care of himself, of being responsible, of making good choices. They had a pattern: Chad would call and tell Lora his problems, Lora would rush in to fix the problems and rescue Chad, and then he would end up being mad at her.

At some point, awhile back, Lora had recognized the futility of this. She decided to stop “helping” Chad in this way, and to instead trust that he knew best how to live his life.

Last weekend Chad called and told Lora he’d just spent the last of his money. Lora knew not to try to rescue Chad, and she knew she didn’t want to criticize or scold him. Bit she felt frustrated and upset, got off the phone quickly, and felt depressed for the next few days. She had a lot of “noise in her head” with thoughts like:

Chad’s not managing his money and his life

Chad’s in trouble, and I want to help him but I can’t

Lora had successfully avoided taking on Chad’s work. Now she was ready to take on her own work, and consciously look at what was going on within herself. Lora had worked through much of her relationship with her son over the past couple of years, so this session was mostly about remembering and realigning with the conscious decisions she had made for herself.

As we talked about her recent conversation with Chad, here is a look at how her thoughts developed:

I know how stuck he feels and how bad that feels

This is his life, it was always supposed to be his life

It’s okay if it’s hard for me, if I feel sad

I understand that it’s hard for Chad

I love him

I want to believe in him

I want to believe he is capable, that he can handle his life

I can hold space for him to be himself

I was struck by how beautifully Lora came around to discover for herself what she now could offer Chad. When she stops viewing him as unable and incapable, there is nothing to fix, no one to rescue.

I want to be clear: it isn’t necessary for Lora to see evidence of Chad’s success at financial planning, for example, in order to believe in him, to believe he is capable, to believe that he can handle his life, on his own terms. 

Like all humans, Chad is learning life by living it. On the job training. He may be struggling with one or more of life’s issues now, and maybe he will his whole life, but it is his life to work with all these things we have to deal with on planet Earth. 

And Lora gets to love him, enjoy him, practice holding space for him, practice believing in him and his amazing unique existence. She gets to support and appreciate and be interested in how he figures it out. She gets to feel the relief of letting go of judgement and frustration, of the need to fix and rescue.

She gets to just love her son.

What, Me Worry?

Of course I’m worried, I remember thinking, my older son is on his way to Paris and has no place to stay when he gets there.

Of course I’m worried, my dad’s about to marry that crazy woman.

Of course I’m worried, my younger son stays up all night on the computer and can’t wake up for school in the morning.

I remember thinking, 

about so many people, in so many situations: 

of course I’m worried. 

Now sometimes I worry about people in my life, but now I don’t think: of course I’m worried. Now, I know I have a choice. I don’t have to worry.

Does that mean I don’t care? Does that mean I don’t offer help when it’s appropriate?

No, it just means I try not to waste time worrying. My worrying helps nothing. Solves nothing. It makes me feel terrible. It makes me act in unhelpful ways: I get so absorbed in the problem I can’t see a way out. I fuss and fret and hover and act weird around the object of my worry. (Just ask my kids.)

Now I realize that my worrying about other people: 

-shows that I don’t believe they are capable of living their own life, making their own decisions, figuring it out, asking for help if they need it.

– indicates I think I know what’s best for them. (better than they do)

– means I’m not minding my own business, living my own life.

-shows I don’t get that people figure stuff out, learn what they want to learn, in their own way and time.

-shows a lack of appreciation for individual differences, ideas, approaches, ways of living life.

-shows I’m not aware of and/or not taking responsibility for the negative energy I am putting out into the world.

-shows that I am choosing to ruminate about worst case scenarios, rather than be present, alert, available and supportive when and if I am needed.

And yes, I am aware of the covid-19 virus. I know any one of us can become ill at any time. Many of us will. Some of us will get very sick, some of us will die from it.

When I do find myself worrying about people I know and love, about people in my community (defined in so many ways), and sometimes just worrying about all the people in the world, I look inward. 

If I find I am worrying out of fear or panic or lack of faith in humanity, or if I am meddling where I don’t belong, I know that what comes out of that worry is not going to be helpful. Not going to add anything positive to the world. I know that any action I take needs to be on myself, on my own thoughts and emotional outlook. 

But if I’m coming from a place of love and respect, faith in humanity and life, if I’m being thoughtful and reasonable, I ask: is there something I can do? What do I have to offer? 

Because when we act from love, from respect and faith in others, then everything we offer is what is needed, and is exactly right.

Choosing Love

Is there someone you are “supposed to” love – but who you find it hard to feel loving toward? Your son or daughter, your spouse, a sister or parent?

You think: if they were more considerate, if they would tell the truth, stop drinking, be more responsible, did what they were supposed to do, if they just appreciated all you do… it would be so much easier to love them.

Dear friends: do you know you can just decide to love them, exactly as they are right now?  Instead of resentment, judgement, disappointment, you could feel love.

This doesn’t mean that you have to approve of everything they do.

This doesn’t mean that you have to let yourself be treated poorly.

It doesn’t mean that you have to spend more time with them or even stay married to them.

It just means that you get to feel love. It’s a gift that you can give yourself. It feels amazing to set down resentment, a huge relief to let go of judgement. You can stop trying to control others, stop reacting to them, and just let them be as they are.

How to do this? 

Own your feelings. Understand that you (never anyone else, no matter what they do) are responsible for how you feel.

Stop focusing on the behaviors and qualities you have been letting bother you. There are many other qualities. Open yourself to seeing them. Open yourself to the fullness, the mystery, the humanness of your child (husband, brother, etc.).

Consider that you may not be seeing the whole picture. That no one can ever completely know another person’s experience. That where each of us is right now is temporary. There are always countless possibilities. And, that other people get to live their own lives in their own way. Just as you do.

Choose loving thoughts. It may help to scope out, focus on the bigger picture: All beings are worthy of love. We are all humans, doing the best we can, from where we stand. I chose love because it feels better than resentment. I chose to add more love to the world.

Practice creating and feeling the physical sensation of love, on purpose. For a few minutes, sit quietly with closed eyes. Breathe deeply and evenly, in and out, centering your attention in your body. Feel your chest expand and contract. Imagine breathing in love, breathing out resentment, hurt, judgement. Let your in breath fill your limbs, your throat, your face. Let the warmth, expansiveness, stillness, and energy fill you and soften you. As thoughts and feelings rise up, gently notice them, and return to your breath. When able, on your out breath begin to imagine the feelings of love flowing out of you into the space around you, into the world. 

Allow the love and compassion to encompass yourself as well. Know your own worthiness and value. Respect yourself. Take good care of yourself. Speak your truth, as best you can. If you need to set boundaries, have them address your actions, what you are willing to be around, how you will behave- as opposed to rules of how others should be or behave.

When we stop thinking that love is something that needs to be earned, when we unhitch our love from all conditions, we can practice unconditional love. We can chose this because it stops us from creating unnecessary suffering, for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the world.  We can do it because it just feels good. Because it brings us freedom and grace. 

We can chose love on purpose because it aligns us with the best, truest, deepest part of ourselves. 

What Strange New Creature?

Remember returning home from college, so full of all your new ideas and experiences? 

In one of my holiday memories from that time, apparently fresh from a full body dive into feminist theory, I remember lecturing my mom and her best friend Peedie on how they threw away the best years of their lives on marriage and raising kids. Still makes me cringe. 

Are you wondering what strange new creature will arrive on your doorstep soon, after months away at university? And how you’re supposed to know how to parent this newly semi-adult, semi-independent kid of yours?

You actually don’t have to know; s/he will probably come home knowing enough for several people. I am joking… kind of. Seriously, just be open and curious. Not creepy and interrogational; just show interest. Conversationally ask questions. And not (just) about grades, class sizes, whether they liked a class or not. Avoid yes/no questions, as they can be showstoppers. 

Think of open ended, leading questions to get them talking. What are they finding most interesting about their classes? surprising about being in college? What were some of their favorite assignments, and why? If you hit on something that gets them to open up, keep it going: “oh yeah? hmmm… how so?”

This is how the strange creature will become less strange (or at least less unknown.)

And if s/he starts lecturing you on some particular socio-economic-cultural-gender privilege, or spouting esoteric theory… be gentle. To be passionate about new ideas is a wonderful thing. Even if you don’t love the idea, love the passion, appreciate the intellectual exercise. 

Try to stay calm and unruffled. Don’t take it personally. And try not to judge. As you calmly say, “oh yeah? mmm… how so?” visualize reminding them of this conversation in forty years. 

You chuckling, s/he cringing… so worth it!

Why Your Kids Don’t Text You Back

Here’s a question I hear a lot, from moms with kids away at college:

Why can’t s/he just text me back? 

Sometimes followed by: I sent her three texts today and she hasn’t replied to any of them! 

Or: he knows how I worry when I don’t hear back.

I can’t answer the question exactly, but I’ll take a stab at it:

She’s in class and has her phone off.

He’s late to meet friends for lunch and is running across campus.

She’s in the library, reading a novel for her American Lit class.

He is doing research for a history paper.

She’s sleeping in as she was up all night with a friend who’s having a hard time.

She is worried about her midterms next week and doesn’t feel like talking.

He is typing up his Geography notes.

She’s trying to figure out her schedule for next semester.

He’s in his Sociology professor office, discussing today’s class.

He’s struggling with a math problem.

She’s working on ideas for her business marketing class project.

S/he forgot to charge her phone.

He’s going for a run.

She is getting dressed to go out with her roommates. 

She’s looking for the R.A. because she locked her keys in her room.

In other words, they’re busy. Even if it’s busy hanging out with friends having a beer. They will get back to you when they have time, when they feel moved to, when they have something to say. 

Moms, I know you love them and are thinking about them and want to stay connected. Your kids know that too. And by not replying to every text, they are saying, as gently as they can: okay, Mom, that’s too much. I love you, but I need to be me, outside of who I am to you right now.

Your kids are creating their lives, independent of their family. Making new connections. It’s hard, it’s exciting, it takes focus… and it’s important. It’s healthy and appropriate.

What’s healthy and appropriate for you is to take care of yourself. Your thoughts, your feelings, your worries, your needs. 

And for you to live your own life. This is a perfect time for you to be redirecting all that wonderful loving mama-attention toward yourself. 

If you need ideas or support, I’ve got you. Click here to schedule a free, introductory, 30 minute call with me.

Throw Out the Rules and Roles… and Get Real

She should text me back.

I’m his mother; he should treat me with respect.

He should take out the garbage (without being asked.)

Does this sound like you? If so, like most of humanity, you have manuals for the people in your life. A manual is an instruction guide we have for others that we are often unaware we have- it just seems obvious, true, and just, well: duh!

Like: kids should respect and appreciate their parents, pick up their socks, not lie or sneak around, and of course, text their moms back within the hour. Husbands should be emotionally available, know when their wife is upset (and ask the right questions, but not offer advice), mow the lawn, change the smoke detector batteries, and of course, take out the garbage. Obvious, right?

Let me just ask: do you like it when other people have rules for you? Even if you like to have dinner ready by 6:30 every night, don’t you want it to come from your own personal ideals and free choice, rather than another person’s rule for you?

When we feel responsible for meeting another person’s needs, and they feel responsible for meeting ours… especially when the rules are unspoken and assumed, not deemed mentionable let alone negotiable… the result is often manipulation, effort to control each other, and a lot of resentment. 

What if we allowed others to decide for themselves what they were willing and able to do?  Each be responsible for meeting our own needs. Ultimately we have no control over others’ behavior, so when we tie our satisfaction or happiness to their actions, we give away our power to feel good and to take care of what is important to us.

Clearly in relationships, in families, in households, we have many overlapping interests and goals. We all want chores to get done, bills to get paid, to have food to eat, for life to run smoothly. We generally want to help each other, and do our part. We want to feel appreciated and cared for. 

Conversations- that include listening as well as talking- lay a foundation for relationships that honor all parties. Negotiating in good faith, working things out, giving and taking, looking for solutions that all can live with. Being open and accepting, avoiding blame and judgement, even when things don’t “go our way.” (Tip: There is always more than one way.)

Conversations and openness allow us to be real with each other. To learn about ourselves and each other. To practice kindness, accountability, fluidity, responsibility, allowance and communication in very concrete ways.

Rules and roles don’t. “Shoulds” and “musts” don’t. 

So start noticing whether you have a manual for others’ behavior, and how it affects your relationships with them. Consider throwing your manuals out. Some advice though: don’t expect others to throw theirs out. Instead, just begin a conversation, listen, be curious, and see what you learn.