Conversations with my Children

My daughter, Mackenzie, was deciding whether to give her first boyfriend another chance (actually a 3rd chance), or to end the relationship. When the relationship started, she was 19, he was 21. He held many wonderful qualities and was kind and loving to her, but he would repeatedly make attempts to strengthen the relationship, then jump ship, then ask to come back. Each time the ask-back seemed genuine, but after the 3rd time, it was becoming too much for her little heart to take. We were having a mani/pedi/lunch day when this conversation took place.

Mackenzie: I don’t know what to do. I love him so much.

Me: I know, you guys have a lot of fun together. He is such a great human in so many ways.

Mackenzie: Why does it have to be so frustrating?

Me: Right?

Mackenzie: What do you think I should do?

Me: (Pensive smile. No verbal comment.)

Mackenzie: I can’t imagine not being together. I also can’t imagine him hurting me like that again. Why can’t he figure himself out? I know he loves me.

Me: Of course he does. You are so lovable. Scrumptious in every way. No ketchup needed! Anyone who gets to be in your sphere is blessed, their life is elevated.

Mackenzie: Well, tell me what to do. Is it going to get better? He says it will be different this time.

Me: I have thoughts about it, of course, and many feelings. I’m happy to share my thoughts with you when you are ready to hear them.

Mackenzie: (Smile. We finish, pay, and off to lunch.)

At lunch.

Mackenzie: Well, what should I do, Mama?

Me: Ok, you know, you are my precious pumpkin, so keep in mind I’m completely biased toward your well-being and have no ulterior motives with you, unlike every other person on the planet. (We both laugh.) If you want to hear them and are ready, I’m happy to share my thoughts.

Mackenzie: I am.

Me: You know that I like him very much. He’s fun, smart, handsome, hard-working, so well-mannered. These are important qualities that draw.

Yet, we both know that at his age, 23, and given his circumstances and what he is trying to figure out for himself right now, and with his family issues, his career changes, it will likely be a while before that all settles. He has drawn you into the work he’s needing to do on himself right now. You seem to get the short end of the stick every few months when he cuts loose.

Mackenzie: Yes.

Me: So, first, accept one hundred percent that you cannot control another person, you can only control yourself. You want to live on the cause side of life. So you can have causality. The question is, what is your causality in this situation?

Mackenzie: I create the space for him every time.

Me: Right. How does that align with your values?

Mackenzie: It doesn’t, because I don’t have a need to feel this way. I value the fun and love we have when we are together. I also value integrity of speech, honesty, communication, commitment, and harmony, which this relationship doesn’t have.

Me: So what can you do about it?

Mackenzie: I can still love him, but choose not to be part of his process.

Me: Ok, so what would it look like for you to stay on the cause side of your life–to take full responsibility–for everything that is showing up in your life–how you feel right now, your current outcomes?

Mackenzie: It would mean I have to be honest about the fact that I know he is not going to change anytime soon. And, that at my age, this is not something I want to spend all my time dealing with. I can’t go through this another time. I know it will happen again. (Long pause) It will just be hard to not get to love him anymore (Deep tears).

Me: (Tears, too.) I know, honey. It’s so tough. This hurts so much.

Mackenzie: I love you, Mama.

Me: I know. I’m here. No matter what you decide, I will help you every step of the way.

Notes:

When parenting teens and adult children, it’s critical to get their buy-in before sharing your good opinions. I had very strong feelings every time she was hurt by her boyfriend. Yet, she had to navigate the relationship in order to maintain her causality. It took everything I had to hold back feelings of anger, dismay, and protectiveness, over the year and a half she spent with him. Each time, I had to gently guide her, ask her empowering questions, and help her go within to find her own answers. Each time she would welcome him back, I had to also. And I did, whole-heartedly–because she cared for him.

Mackenzie’s dad and I had many private conversations about what we saw, so we could vent and self-soothe as she walked her path. Of course her dad wanted her to “dump him!” If I had jumped in, guns blazing, she would have defended him, stood up for him and their love, made excuses for him. That approach simply doesn’t work with adult children. Yet, it is the go-to for most parents who have ALL the heart for their kids, but don’t quite know an effective way to coach and empower their children.

Pro tips:

1. Ask empowering questions. (How does that align with your values?)
2. Listen. (Smile, no comment.)
3. Step into their shoes, empathize, see their view. (You know that I like him very much. He’s fun, smart, handsome, hard-working, and so well-mannered. Those are important qualities that draw.)
4. Reaffirm your unconditional love and support as they navigate their own decisions and life, with you as their able, and only unbiased guide. (I know. I’m here. No matter what you decide, I will help you every step of the way.)
5. Remember that confidence comes from competence. When you over-direct and control your children (out of love!), you strip them of opportunities to learn and grow. Then, even when they do make the “right” decision, they don’t own it. On a subconscious level, they feel you “did it for them.” Rather, remind them of who they are. Help them live on cause, whether they are “doing well” or “messing everything up.” In this case, Mackenzie moved on from the relationship–and that was hard! Now, she is in a fun, loving relationship that reflects her core values and gives life to each of them.

Through this, they themselves will create the life they are meant to live. Best of all, they will feel unconditional love and safety from you, and you will get to be a deep, rich, integral part of your adult children’s lives.