My son has lived away from home for a number of years as he studied for his degree. Soon, he will further his study in a different country. Our life as a family is changing, maturing. Much as our relationship must change and mature. How have I kept, and how do I keep, connected with this delightful, caring, and talented young man? Well in truth, it all started many years ago.
Develop a Respectful Relationship: It’s Never Too Late
I was fortunate to attend a parenting course when my son was still a baby. That course (Parent Effectiveness Training, or PET) provided me with life-long communication skills that I put into practice as soon as I learnt them and I’ve continued to use these same skills throughout his life. Together we built a strong and warm relationship, based on the foundations of trust and respect, care and concern. Now, when we talk, text or message, we know we have a base of love and regard from which to share our thoughts.
Through the graduates of my own PET classes, I’ve discovered that it is never too late to learn how to communicate – even, perhaps, to resurrect a relationship that may be foundering. For some years I ran PET groups for grandparents, many of who were parenting their grandchildren. They began using the same skills with their adult children, as well as their grandchildren. Many were delighted to find that, by listening and talking differently to their adult children, their relationships improved – that it was not too late to reconnect.
Listening to Hear
Throughout my son’s childhood, I trusted in the power of Active Listening, of deeply hearing, my son’s experience. I tried not to dismiss his hurt, or laugh at his fears. By listening, I supported him to find his own solutions to his own problems, to make his own decisions about his life. By enabling his ability to make decisions in childhood, I hoped I would equip him to make decisions (based on his own best judgement) as an adult.
I know that as my son moves through life he will face (and has faced) adversity. I cannot smooth his way, or control events to make him happy. I can only listen, and support him to help develop his character and resilience.
A Relationship Built on Trust
I trust my son. Unconditionally. I have always believed in his innocence, good intentions and competence. Even when annoyed with him, I knew that his behaviour was simply meeting a need.
By building a relationship based on trust, I can now watch him soar. I know he will reach out when he needs reassurance or support, before he stretches his wings once again.
I hope he feels safe to confide in me, as he knows I won’t blame him, or put him down, or question his motive.
My son and I are in this relationship together. I trust that he cares enough about me (as he knows I care about him), to maintain and strengthen our relationship.
During my son’s lifetime we developed some common interests. We enjoy reading books of various genres and watching films. We like to talk about politics and current affairs (sometimes in heated agreement!)
These interests are now a lifeline to initiating discussions, and are particularly useful when we may not have spoken for some time. A lighter topic can lead to those deeply satisfying heart to hearts – the cement in a relationship.
When our interests diverge (his love for his chosen form of music, for example), then I try (desperately) to understand his passion, to accept our differences.
I learn so much from my son when I am open to his experience and knowledge.
Technology, Communication and Connection
This topic was worthy of a blog of its own! For me, electronic forms of communicating are both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing is the mobile phone. Now we have a screen so that we can see each other (if we choose) and electronic platforms for face-to-face communication over long distances. But these calls are time-consuming. Who has time these days to just sit and talk?
Instead, more often than not, my son and I have been seduced into the ease of texting, the instant connection of Facebook messaging. So much quicker, fitting into our busy, time-poor lives. But the effortlessness of texting comes at a cost. Our words are short and to the point. The subtleties of verbal and non-verbal communication are lost in the perfunctory words scrolling across the screen.
On the one hand, I am grateful for the peace of mind that instant connection affords me. On the other, I miss the closeness that develops when we talk in person.
Technological communication saves time. But I think time is essential for maintaining quality relationships. In days gone by, letters took time to write. Phone calls took time to make. Time becomes an investment in relationship.
What I’d Do Differently Now
If I had my time over, I’d prioritise time with my son over work, or cleaning the house, or watching TV. I’d ask him if we could make a regular time to phone or video call, from the minute he left home. I’d discuss why I thought this was important to me, to us, to our relationship.
My son, the man, will always be my child. He is a person who I admire, respect and love deeply. Keeping connected will take work, time and commitment from both of us.
Listening, trusting, and communicating respectfully will hold the key to our enduring relationship.
About Larissa: Larissa Dann is a parent, a daughter and a partner. She has been a science communicator, a professional telephone counsellor, and manager of a community organisation. Her passion is parent education, and now, writing. She enjoys reflecting on, and writing about, parenting, living with elderly parents,and what her children (and her dogs), teach her about life. You can join her Parent Skills Facebook page here, and read more of her work on her Parent Skills website.