I just got off the phone with my college kid who lives several states away. She’s so busy, she rarely has time to call so when she does, I’m anxious to hear her voice and find out how she’s doing. I try not to guilt her into calling me more. I try to be patient and flexible because she’s overwhelmed with building her life away from me and the last thing she needs is added stress and pressure to call her mom. It’s so hard to wait. I constantly wonder and worry about her. This is one of the many hard parts of parenting this newly evolved kid who lives her own life so very far away.
After this particular phone call, I felt completely defeated and I could tell my girl did too. She sounded so exhausted and my contribution to the conversation made things worse, not better. This was not my intention, of course. I always want to encourage her, guide her, and be an unconditional safe place for her to share anything she feels or is experiencing in her life.
But sometimes, I speak too soon, I share my opinion when I just need to listen. Sometimes I push too hard on an issue or tell her what she needs to do. And I’m learning that although I might know more and I’m saying things to help guide her in growing into a healthy, wise, and strong adult… I need to change my way of parenting this child of mine who deserves fewer interjections and opinions and more gentle submission and support.
This isn’t to say that I have a powerful role in helping her steer her course with guidance and input, affirmation, and direction. It’s a tricky balance between the two. I’m still learning how to do this delicate dance with my young and naive, but grown-up child, who I love more than she could ever comprehend.
So, I’m working on setting some guidelines and some important ground rules when it comes to this new path of parenting I am trying to improve. I want to build a strong foundation in our newly forming long-distance layer so our relationship not only stands the test of time but also grows deeper as I learn to love her well while she navigates adulthood.
The very last thing I want is for my beautiful daughter to stop sharing all the parts and pieces of her life with me because she grows weary of my response. I don’t want her to avoid discussing certain topics or refrain from divulging sensitive issues, or stop talking about her personal struggles because she anticipates some kind of negative reaction from me- whatever that might be. And although I often don’t see it that way and I think I’m “helping and guiding”, she receives it differently and can end up feeling discouraged, misunderstood, and dismissed.
What my precious college kid needs most from me is confidence and confirmation, believing in the very best of her, and framing my words in ways that empower her. And I do this often. But I need to be diligent in how I continue to build our bond because I am deeply aware of the times I fail. Those are the fragile places I must change or I will risk losing the strong and trusting connection we have.
After thinking long and hard about where I fail and what I can do about it, I’ve come up with five things I need to change in how I communicate with my college kid:
- I need to listen more and interrupt less. Full stop.
- I need to only offer my opinion when I’m invited to do so. (Unless it’s a safety or health issue)
- I need to only give direction and instruction, guidance and advice- when she asks or I do and she permits me to.
- I need to affirm and encourage her independence by letting her figure things out for herself and support the decisions she makes on her own.
- I need to let her lead our relationship and meet her needs, not the other way around.
When my college kid shares something that is in some way upsetting to me, I first need to listen to the whole story and hear how she feels about it and how she is handling it before interrupting her with my passionate opinion and pertinent parental input. This is hard for me because I want to protect her and make sure this world isn’t tossing her around in misguided lies and throwing her into the hands of hurtful people. I want to jump in and save her from unsafe situations, deceptive discussions, and unhealthy decisions, and tell her loudly and clearly that this is NOT. OK.
Instead of blurting out my disdain and disagreement and my concerned call to action, I need to first allow her to share all the details of the situation and how she actually feels about it, and how she is managing it for herself. Then I can ask if she’d like my opinion on the matter she described. I know she respects my input and will often ask for it, but I must wait for the invitation to do so. If I interrupt her too soon, she won’t have the opportunity to process it fully and share her own perspective, which inhibits her autonomy and inadvertently sends her the message that she is incapable of coping with hard things on her own. That is limiting her growth out of my own incessant needs of trying to parent her like she was still too young to know, when in fact, this is how she grows and learns how to navigate life on her own.
Instead of trying to control how she is handling all the specifics of her life circumstances, I need to change the dialogue to allow her to lead the conversation and take control. It’s SO hard to give up that control because I have somanyquestions about her well-being, her physical health, her choices, her safety, her friendships, her stressors, her classes, and how she is taking care of allthethings and mostly herself. All of my racing thoughts and concerns come from the depths of my love for her. All my worries about her are valid to me because I am NOT WITH HER. But these are my own needs, not hers. These needs should not be met by her. Now more than ever, I must let go of what I want and need- and love her the way she wants and needs to be loved. She should feel free to offer me whatever information she wants to give on whatever topic she wants to address and not be bombarded by my interrogations, proclamations, or instructions.
I want my college kid to want to communicate with me because she anticipates a positive conversation filled with my diligent listening, my unconditional love and support, and my opinion and advice, only when needed. I want her to reach out to me knowing that she can share anything with me and I won’t interrupt her, question her, or give her my unsolicited input and direction.
I want my college kid to have a long and lasting relationship with me, knowing she will always have a mom who gives her confirmation, consolation, and careful counsel when requested. I want to be by her side while she processes all the challenging choices she needs to make in order to be the very best person she can be. She deserves a mom who loves her the way she deserves to be loved.