If you know me at all, you know I am incredibly proud of my son. And if you don’t know me yet, or very well, know that I am incredibly proud of my son.
I am proud of the man he has become. He is thoughtful, insightful, generous, kind, and a lot of other wonderful adjectives that make a mom’s heart burst with love and oh yeah, pride.
He graduated high school, went to college out of state, and every year assumed more financial responsibility to make it easier on us as he got jobs.
First his food, then his utilities, finally his rent and insurance on his car. He has since moved three times around the country, pursuing his career, and is now enrolled in grad school, paying his own way. And, he’s happily married, gifting us with a lovely daughter-in-law.
But let’s backtrack a bit. It wasn’t always smooth sailing. I’m talking about those pre-teen and teen years that most parents moan and groan about. The pushback — really challenging — years when they think they know it all and parents are idiots. Yes, we had those too.
It is so easy to see the path our kids should follow. After all, we have been there, made mistakes, and gained wisdom. So why shouldn’t they want our experience to show them the way?
Many of us parent the way we were raised. In some families, you didn’t question your parents at all. For the easy-going child, there was never a need to.
But for some children, “I’m the Mom, that’s why” or “because I told you” are instant pushback and frustrating for everyone.
The child pushes back and then the parent pushes harder, and thus begins a Ping-Pong game of sorts until there is a blow-up. Mom and Dad might win and feels justified, yet privately aches for the unhappy child. The child feels angry, unheard, and powerless.
I came across this quote from Dr. Shefali Tsabary clinical psychologist, author, and speaker: “We are in charge of our children but not in control of them”
How do we balance that with wanting the best for our children and knowing our life experience can help them on their path?
A friend gave me some parenting advice when my son was about 10, and it totally changed our relationship. Because it taught me how to empower him. It was the BEST advice I ever received.
It starts with asking the child questions, listening, being present, and creating a safe space for them. It is about connecting with them in a way that lets them know they have the power to spread their wings and fly.
Here are the 7 things I said that helped empower my son to be the man he is today.
1. What are your thoughts?
This is a great way to draw them out and have a conversation.
It is really important to stay on your side of the fence or line, and really give them a safe space to share, because if you advance too much or too quickly, they will retreat and the conversation will be over. They have to really feel safe in letting down their defenses and the trust that is built is amazingly strong.
2. How do you plan to handle that?
I admit, the first time I asked him this question, was a bit unnerving for both of us.
I took a leap of faith by not “telling” him what to do, and suddenly, he had the opportunity to choose instead of just rebel.
I could almost see the wheels turning as he figured things out. The question became easier for both of us rather quickly.
3. Have you considered your options?
Sometimes, even if they know what the choices are, it gives them the opportunity to have a sounding board to explore them with.
4. Do you want to talk about it?
You are giving them the opportunity to talk because they want to, and you’re putting the choice in their lap.
Be prepared for a “No” and know that that’s OK. If they don’t want to talk right now, let it be.
They will come to you when they are ready, because you left the door open for them to walk through, instead of locking them in a room with you demanding to talk about it right now.
5. I’m really proud that you are working through this.
Every child, no matter what age, wants to know their parent is proud of them. This boosters self-confidence and reinforces new skills of working things out for themselves, as well as making wise choices.
6. How did that feel?
This is a follow-up to something they shared. It furthers the conversation and tells them you are interested in what they had to say and share.
Really engaging with your kids makes them strong, independent, and prepared to handle life.
It is so easy for parents to give replies with “ok” and “umm hmmm” and not be fully present. The more you allow them to express themselves, the more they will share with you.
7. I’m here if you need me.
Some kids really want to figure things out on their own.
But knowing they have a safety net (you) to catch them and guide them when they are ready is the biggest gift you can give your child to empower them. I still get calls asking my advice, thoughts, and opinions, because I sought those out in him.
My son calls me nearly every day and our conversations range from “Just wanted to say hi” to “Can I ask you a question?”
I treasure how close we are and enjoy the friendship that has developed over the years. I look forward to the day he is a parent and has the joy of empowering his own children.
Barbara Abramson is the Chief Relationship Officer of Making Meaningful Connections. She works with corporations, schools, senior centers, and community organizations to help people connect more deeply to themselves, to each other, and to the opportunities in their lives.
This article was originally published at Barbara Abramson. Reprinted with permission from the author.