Monday, September 8, 2008

"...And how do you feel about that?"

When I took Pablo to college, the sensitive deans planned a wonderful day for the freshman parents. They knew we had driven and flown very far, and to just drop off your kid and disappear was not what we needed at this delicate time.

What we needed, they felt, was to be read the riot act, but in gentle--and humorous--terms.

So while Pablo was settling in and running errands on campus, the deans eased us into being college parents.

The major lesson was how to talk to your now adult child i.e. college student.

Your student calls you, either to share events and stories about his life or to complain about something. And no longer are you to offer your unsolicited opinion or advice.

Instead, you are to say, “And how do you feel about that?”

And then you listen.

Then you say, “And what are you going to do about that?”

And then you listen.

Only if you are asked for your advice or opinion, you give it. If not, you don’t.

Think about it. You didn’t want to hear your Mother’s opinion about what you ate for lunch, or what sport you decided to take up, or where you decided to go for vacation. Think about your friendships. Your best friends don’t offer their opinion on every little thing you do. If they did…you probably wouldn’t have them as friends.

I know, it’s hard. We’ve been telling our children what we think for so many years now that it just comes naturally. Kids don’t want a parent constantly saying what she feels about some aspect of their lives or behavior. It makes them feel they are under scrutiny, where everything they do or don’t do will be judged.

Carolyn Heilbrun, author of “The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond 60” wrote that one of the ways of being a wanted adult in the lives of her children was to stop talking and start listening. What your adult children tell you will be far more interesting than anything you could ever say to them. It is their world and their struggle, now. What they need most, is someone who will listen.

I'm not saying I have all this down yet. It takes practice to stop jumping in and trying to fix things. But I do think, if you treat your adult children as respectfully and lovingly as you do a friend, and you have a greater chance of having a loving, rich relationship for life.

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