As I write this, my two daughters 19 and 22, are happily exchanging news as their paths cross briefly before they are off again (spoiler, it’s not always like this). Having them living at home is (mostly) contagious joy for my partner and I, the highlight of the new COVID era. It means I have a second chance at parenting.
Many kids will stay at home for longer or return home after a time away, presenting a second chance, a GOLDEN (see below) opportunity to create closer connections whilst setting boundaries, keeping agreements, and balancing freedom with home responsibilities.
As much as we are all hunkering down under one roof, it’s good to remember that our children’s journeys are their own. The need to individuate from parents as a young adult is a natural rite of passage: first job, drivers licence, first relationship, eventually leaving home. (deadline age 24!). Who knows whether their successes or failures can ever be attributed to what we did or didn’t do as parents.
Bearing witness from the kitchen sink, in the car, from the dinner table, or the fridge door, I see the tricky transition my daughters make from school, to work, study and beyond. The privileges we took for granted post school have evaporated for this generation of young adults and replaced with different opportunities as well as impossibly heavy loads for many.
Economic and job instability, erosion of freedoms, climate collapse, the buzz of face to face university life replaced with the isolation of online study; it’s a lot of loss and grief to process, perhaps already overlaid with childhood trauma. Many young adults and their parents don’t have the skills to fully process emotions – to recognise, name, describe and give voice to them – a skill called emotional literacy.
Our young people are asking us to upskill and fast track our emotional literacy; be wise, strong elders to help guide them when post school road maps are unrecognisable. We can become a parent mentor, creating a secure place and safe haven to share feelings and observations in mutual trust and truth telling, to delight in them, to guide, take charge when we need to, be calm, kind and listen.
Our kids want their parents to hear their pain and a place to drop their load when it all feels too much. It is an act of love to meet them where they are, without dropping any of our own stuff – fears, criticisms, assumptions, judgements, solutions or life lessons – into the space.
This is not easy work. Like me, I imagine many parents oftentimes feel distracted, exhausted and overwhelmed; navigating big life transitions – dying parents, menopause, changing work roles, financial flux – whilst also co/parenting children and doing our own inner work.
I am still learning to meet my daughters with the whole of my heart and mind wherever that might be – at the kitchen sink, at random times when I least expect it. I turn to face them and listen, and I aim to keep listening, widening the space for them to enter and drop their load.
Pre COVID when my kids were younger, I acted as though they were a mini me, their failures my failures. I had difficulty separating my own needs and interests from theirs and applied outdated notions of success – the “right” uni degree, and professional career. Now with a second chance, I can see them as unique and talented beings, flexible and resilient, reflective and dynamic, readying themselves for this rapidly changing world.
We don’t know the full psychological and social costs of isolation, separation and dislocation for our children; we can only create a safety net to allow them to fall and get back up again.
Here is a simple but powerful GOLDEN check in to do with your kids weekly using the skills of compassionate communication.
Dr Arne Rubenstein, The Rites of Passage Institute Parents and Children Growing Together Online course
The Art of Listening Erich Fromm