When people have infant children at home, they tell themselves that the next stage of parenting will be easier—more sleep, less worry. They, of course, are wrong (but we should probably wait a few years to break the bad news to them). When parents of school-aged children run taxi service to afternoon activities, offer assistance in finishing last minute school projects, and stay awake on weekend nights waiting for their kids to return home, they tell themselves that the next stage of parenting will be easier—more sleep, less worry. When the kids are grown and on their own, parents think to themselves, all the worry will be done. But, of course, they are wrong again.
As a Legacy Coach to multi-generational, high-net-worth families, I have the privilege of witnessing the daily challenges of the final and longest stage for parents: parenting adult children. During this phase of parenting, it seems that all the rules change. No longer can a mother take privileges away from an adult daughter who is making harmful or risky decisions. Gone are the days when a father could take the car keys away from a son who speaks to him disrespectfully. Those who learn to parent their adult children effectively come to realize that this stage requires a major transition in the style and focus of parenting.
But where does a parent go to learn about this important transition? At the local bookstore, the books on raising infants and toddlers drown out the handful focused on this longest stage of parenting. Consider the fact that there is not even an English word for adult children. The word “children” denotes people of young age, and therefore, when used alongside the word “adult”, is an oxymoron! It’s no wonder parents and their adult sons and daughters often struggle to establish a thriving relationship.
For financially successful families, in particular, navigating the parent/adult child relationship can be tricky. All too often, parents fall into the role of “family bank”, writing checks whenever expenses exceed income. When this happens—especially when this happens without strategy or honest communication—the relationship can become confused or strained. For those working within an intergenerational family business, work roles often mire and confuse healthy relationship outside of work.
Regional distance can also exacerbate disconnection. It is not uncommon for adult sons and daughters to contribute unintentionally to the relational distance by allowing the busyness of raising their own children to get in the way of making time for important phone conversations with parents across the miles. To make matters worse, parents can get stuck in patterns of criticism or offering unsolicited advice that can push their kids away, further increasing the distance between them.
One thing that parents and their adult sons and daughters need most from one another is meaningful connection, but it can be surprisingly difficult to know the right approach. Some people are natural conversationalists, but others could benefit from having a script—a formula for a focused weekly conversation about the things that matter most. Aiming for once a week means it will probably happen every couple weeks, but any less frequent and it’s hard to find a rhythm. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters everywhere can create this meaningful connection by finding time to have a “TIG Talk.”
A Script for Meaningful Family Conversation
When we intentionally create space for meaningful connection, relationships thrive and a legacy of healthy family conversation becomes a foundation for future generations.
Forward this exercise to a family member and invite them to have a “TIG Talk”
T – “Tribe Update”
What’s new with your tribe? Your tribe might include your circle of friends, children, spouse, or pets. Share news about your best friend who just got a big promotion, your aunt who finally agreed to move into assisted living, or your second grader who won the spelling bee. Your family member loves hearing you share about those most important to you, so this will serve to create a bond between you.
Examples of Effective Listener Replies: “Thanks for sharing that.” “Sounds fun.” “That’s too bad.” “I enjoyed hearing about that.” “I could hear your love for __in your voice when you shared that story.”
Examples of Ineffective Listener Replies: “You should …” “Why did he/she…?”
I – “I, Myself”
What’s new with me? Now share any updates from your own life. Talk about your job, your new fitness routine, the delicious dinner you made, or your roof leak. This section requires a more honesty than the tribe section because it’s easier to talk about what is going on with others than with yourself.
Examples of Effective Listener Replies: “Sounds like you really worked hard on that!” “I’m sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with all of this.” “I enjoyed hearing you share that story.”
Examples of Ineffective Listener Replies: “Have you considered… “I think…”
G – “What I’ve Been Grappling With…”
What’s been keeping you up at night? This last section is both the most challenging and the most important. It is here where you will need to get real and share something that has been challenging you, or perhaps upsetting you. A son might tell his mother about his fears of sending his daughter off to college in the fall or his struggles finding work/life balance. A widowed father might share with this daughter the trouble he is having getting household tasks accomplished since his wife’s passing. It will be very tempting for the listener to respond with advice, in an attempt to help or fix the issue for their loved one. It is truly a gift when a family member shares something so personal, and the listener can give an even more precious gift back: a sacred space of empathetic listening without judgement in response. This level of honesty requires courage on the part of the speaker and excellent listening skills on the other side, but the connection will be worth the vulnerability that this part of the conversation will bring. Brenè Brown, research professor and best-selling author states, “Through my research, I have found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It is the magic sauce.”
Examples of Effective Listener Replies: “Sounds like this has really been tough on you.” “That does seem like a difficult issue to resolve.” “It’s clear you’re working hard to figure this out.” “I wish I could fix it for you, but I’m here to listen anytime you’d like to talk more about it.”
Examples of Ineffective Listener Replies: “Don’t be sad about that. I’m sure it will get better.” “You should…” “Why are you so upset about this?” “This doesn’t seem like a very big deal to me.” “Try not to worry about it.”
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