(photo above used with permission @davemclellan)
“The present moment is really all that we have. The only place you can really love another person is in the present. Love in the past is a memory. Love in the future is a fantasy. To be really alive, love – or any other experience – must take place in the present.”
– Jack Kornfield
Have you ever said any of the following to your adult child?
- When are you going to have a baby? I want to be a grandma!
- You don’t call me enough.
- You don’t appreciate everything I’ve done for you.
- How can you ruin your body with those tattoos?
- Have you gained weight?
- How much money do you need?
No matter which of my friends I’m having lunch or coffee with, the topic of conversation invariably gets around to our adult children. And while none of us have any desire to go back to diapers, temper tantrums, or teenage drama, it seems that many of us have some dissatisfaction with our relationships with our adult kids. For baby boomers, we tend to compare our relationships with our children to the relationships we had with our parents. I called my parents once a week and always asked how they were feeling and how they were doing. I hear from my friends that they only hear from their kids when they need money. And they seldom ask anything about Mom or Dad’s health or happiness. So what is going on here and more importantly, what can we do to better relate to our adult kids?
My daughter and step-children are all in the twenties or thirties. That makes them millennials. Research has confirmed what many of us have learned through experience: Baby boomers and millennials have different approaches to living, loving, and communicating. While I don’t want to over-generalize and there are certainly differences among individuals, the following chart summarizes some major generational differences.
Baby Boomers (born between 1946 & 1964)
Millennials (born between 1980 & 2000)
| 1. Learned to exhibit duty, responsibility and respect from their parents
2. Value face-to-face and phone conversation
3. Focus on the future more than the present experience
4. Willing to work hard and wait for what they want
5. Became more conservative with aging
|1. Learned to question authority and expect equal treatment from their parents
2. Value using texting and social media to communicate
3. Focus on the present experience more than planning for the future
4. Want a balance between work and pleasure and want pay off quickly
5. Tend to be liberal and want major changes in society
Bridging this generation gap can be difficult, particularly if the relationship is already damaged. I recently heard about a retired woman who is estranged from her children and after years of trying to reconcile, she gave up. She said to my friend, “I’m not interested in trying anymore. I’m moving on with my life.” I understand her attitude but I also find it so sad.
What can mindfulness teach us about parenting our adult children better? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Mindful parenting is a lifelong practice. It means you become less attached to outcomes and more mindful of what’s unfolding in your life and your children’s lives. Mindful parenting is about moment-to-moment, open-hearted and nonjudgmental attention. It’s about seeing our children as they are, not as we want them to be. We let everything that unfolds in life be the curriculum for our parenting—because it is—whether we like it or not.”
It’s useful to remember that our kids are adults now. We need to get to know them as adults and act as if they are our adult friends, not as the young children we once knew so well. I find this one piece of advice to be very novel and powerful. I wouldn’t expect my friends to call me on a schedule; why should I expect my child to do that? When we do have conversations with our children, we baby boomers need to watch our language, attitude and tone. When giving our opinions, we should use more “I” language. Example: “I used to take a walk whenever I got angry with my boss. What strategies work for you?” We need to make sure our words and body language are saying the same thing. Example: saying “That’s fine!” when my scowl is saying “I totally disapprove.”
Using positive language can also make a huge difference in our relationships with our kids. Instead of criticizing our kids because they disappointed us, we should focus on something they are doing that is positive. Example: I overhead Jim talking to his daughter the other day on the phone. He said one thing that has stayed with me. He said, “With your experience, I know that you’ll figure out the best way to handle that.” No advice, just a message of confidence in his daughter. Beautiful! We can also use positive language more often when we describe our own situation. Instead of saying, ‘I’m so tired all the time’ we can say, ‘my knee is much better today and I feel more energetic.’
It’s so easy to give criticism, advice, or as my daughter once said, “I feel like I’m being interrogated.” After all, that’s how we related to our kids when they were young. But they are adults now. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do and say to show that I’m listening more. Sometimes, silence is better than saying anything. Other times, I can ask, “Is it okay if I give you my thoughts?” Asking permission to give opinions or advice can go a long way toward improving communication with our children, or anyone, for that matter.
Let’s enjoy the present moments we have with our adult children. Really, that’s all we have. Let go of our own personal agenda or bad history. Breathe deeply and relax. Smile more! Finally, notice the beauty and joy of everything related to our children – their voice, their eyes, their smiles. Then notice how grateful we are to have our children and to care about them in this moment.