by Bill Farrel
Healing relationships with grown children sometimes means dealing with past failures to move forward.
David felt like he was all alone — with a story no one in our small group could understand.
“Brittany cut her wrists last weekend. I don’t believe she intended to take her life, but I definitely heard the cry for help,” he said. “When I asked her why, she said, ‘It isn’t like you would miss me, Dad. You’ve always been so busy with your career. I’ve felt for a long time that I’m invisible to you.’”
To his surprise, David quickly discovered he was far from alone. John’s relationship with his son Steven hadn’t reached a crisis point, but it brought its own share of pained conversations when John urged Steven to look for a job. Steven’s response? “Why, so I can be like you, Dad? You have a lot of great stuff, but I want to have a better relationship with my kids than I have with you.”
THE HAVE-IT-ALL MYTH
The Boomer parenting style was influenced by our own distant relationships with our fathers, whose core anthem was brought to painful light in songwriter Harry Chapin’s haunting hit “Cat’s in the Cradle.” How did we end up as the second verse to the story of a man so busy chasing his dreams he missed connecting with his young son?
The you-can-have-it-all myth had a lot to do with it. It’s not just the women of our generation who bought into the idea that they could have everything, from bringing home the bacon to frying it in the pan. Men did, too. Many of us thought we could find fulfillment by building a career that would provide personal satisfaction and material goods. We believed in ourselves and in our pursuits, and we naively hoped our kids would understand.
They did not.
They wanted us, our interest, and our interaction — not just our things. They wanted us to believe in them as much as we believed in our dreams.
Just as in that Harry Chapin song, we’ve arrived in the second half of our lives and want a relationship with our children. But we aren’t sure how to engage. We’re acutely aware of the moments we missed and lessons we left untaught.
SETTING THINGS RIGHT
If you are one of the many living the lyrics of “Cat’s in the Cradle,” what can you do to recapture vital connections and develop proactive, satisfying interactions with your adult children?
Step 1: Pray. Ask God to open the hearts of your children toward you — and open your heart toward them. Relational progress is much easier when hearts are soft.
Step 2: Forgive yourself. You are, like every other father or mother, an imperfect parent. You made mistakes. Guilt and shame, however, will not help you. “For you are saved by grace,” which makes it possible for you to live as “His creation” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Step 3: Forgive your children. Your sons and daughters are every bit as imperfect as you are and have been operating out of personal pain. Being bitter will not help heal the relationship.
Step 4: Sincerely apologize. Set up individual appointments with your children. These conversations require preparation for all individuals.
- Specifically admit your shortcomings, but don’t overdo it. That will only draw the attention to you, which your children likely think has been the problem all along.
- Give each child permission to evaluate you as a parent. You’ve done some things well, which gave your children good instincts for life. You’ve done other things poorly, which created a need for growth in your children’s lives. Let them know you are OK with them sorting through all of that.
- Avoid unrealistic promises. Don’t say, “I’ll be a great father from now on,” or “I’ll become the mother you always deserved.” You’re striving to get real with your adult children, so be realistic.
Step 5: Meet them where they are. The reality is, your kids may no longer be children. They’ve arrived at new levels of maturity with new goals and different relational needs than wen you were raising them. Approach them accordingly. (See sidebar How to Connect by Age.)
“We believed in ourselves and in our pursuits and we naively hoped our kids would understand. They did not.”
Our small group huddled together and prayed for Brittany and Steven. We asked God to soften the hearts of everyone involved. We prayed for wisdom for both David and John to approach their young adult children strategically.
The first steps were promising. David asked his daughter, “What can I do to help you, Brittany?” She responded, “Can you just stay with me for a while? I could really use a friend right now.”
John said to Steven, “Son, I want you to know that I’m proud of you. I’ve noticed you’re talented with computers and new technology. I’m confident you’re going to have quite a career. If you’re ever interested in what I’ve learned about business, I will answer any question you ask me.”
Steven didn’t have much of a response. He looked at his father with a mildly stunned look on his face and said, “OK. Thanks, Dad.”
David and John hope for more in the relationships but for now, they both agree that even an imperfect start is a new beginning.
Bill Farrel was born in the heart of the baby boom and loves his career. He has struggled to build a friendship with his dad who was a good man but didn’t know he was supposed to learn how to be a dad. He is amazed at the fact that he is actually building friendships with his 28-, 26-, and 22-year-old sons.
How to Connect by Age
If your kids are…
- Teenagers: You’re a coach. Lay out the challenges, provide skill training, and set up parameters within which actions can be taken. Connect with teens by cheering them on, making yourself available when they want to talk, and patiently asking questions that lead them to good decisions.
- Young Adults. They tend to be independent but are interested in consultants who can help fill in the gaps. Connect by saying to them: “I’m proud of who you are becoming. I know I haven’t done everything right, but I do have some life experience. If you ever want my perspective, please ask. Then, patiently wait for them to ask!
- Adults. Realize your children are now at the maturity level to be your peers. You all bring equal value to the relationships. Connect with your adult children by humbly asking for their advice when you believe they have insights you need.
The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children by Stormie Omartian (Harvest House, 2009). Click here or on the book cover to order.