I just launched my program for parents and grandparents, so I wanted to discuss how these people in our lives can impact the development of young adults. What I am so impressed by these days is the confidence that young adults have in being open and honest with themselves to share the truths about themselves to others.
After reading what I share below, I challenge parents and grandparents to step into the shoes of the teens or young people in their lives, and think back to when they were that age. I know we walked miles in the snow, uphill, both ways, and there is no challenge greater than our own. What if maybe it is just relative, and we all have had the same levels of struggles? Wouldn’t it be easier if our families (young and old) came together to support each other? I honestly think that is what we all want, it just takes courage and vulnerability.
Through my work, I have been reading books, blog posts, and website articles, and watching documentaries and television shows that document the struggles that so many individuals experience as they try to learn about themselves and how they share it with the communities that they live within. It is by no means easy. Some have it easier than others, but even taking the family out of it, the challenges are real for our youth these days.
Home should be their sanctuary, but so often when our children feel they do not live up to the expectations of their parents or their grandparents, our children feel that they must remain in hiding or be someone they are not. It is said that a parent loves their children unconditionally, but I think it is more likely that parents love with conditions.
Unless we acknowledge the impact that our reactions have on our children to their failures, we will continue to be disappointed, and they will never see their own potential. It isn’t just identity that we may find we disapprove of, it's the success in school we expect, it’s who they chose as friends, and even who they chose to love - not just based on gender, but race, religion, and socioeconomic status. We put so much value and weight on those choices our children make, that they are bound to fail in at least one (if not more) of those categories. If we are setting them up for failure, then how can they be successful, and how can we say we love unconditionally?
How quickly we forget the multiple mistakes we ourselves made as young adults. We do not choose for our children to have messy lives, but that is how we all learn. Here is where ‘The System,’ fails parents and students alike. ‘The System’ implies that failure is an end and it is a bad thing, when in reality more learning takes place when we fail than when we succeed. If ‘The System’ starts to reframe failure in a positive way, maybe we as parents will follow along.
The generational gap between our children and our parents is wide, and beliefs and values change. The challenge as parents is to try and bridge the gap between the two, so that everyone is happy, or at least it seems so on the outside. I make this as an extreme blanket statement, for the point of this blog, but I know there are many exceptions to the rule. Those in the baby boomer generation carry a lot of judgement for things they do not know, or are not familiar with, which makes sharing things with our parents challenging, especially when it comes to choosing a different path.
I don’t think our parents forget the challenges they faced when they decided to take a different path from their parents, but like us, they do not want that for their own children, and in doing so they set barriers for open and honest communication. I know for myself that telling my parents about some of my own choices has been really hard. Living with my boyfriend, now husband, was a hard one for them to swallow. Trying to decide if I would raise my children in the Catholic faith, after I saw so much exclusion of my own unbaptized husband. I will admit, there were a lot of uncomfortable conversations with my very spiritual parents around those choices. When it comes to choices about your children, the conversations are very orchestrated - hiding information we think will meet disapproval, and sharing things that are a slight fabrication of the truth. I wonder if our parents know, I do think our children see what we are doing. What messages are we conveying to our children when we exaggerate the truths to avoid an uncomfortable conversation?
Do our children think they have to do the same for us? Do they wonder what grandmom or granddad will say if they too share something that is outside of the values from their grandparents times? Do we even stop to share how we navigate these challenges with our parents, or our children? I know that it has taken me 40+ years to find my voice with my parents in most areas, but I would be lying to my readers if I said I tell my parents everything, or don’t tell them what I think they want to hear.
This puts a huge barrier up for our children to be themselves. First, they have to navigate what they believe mom or dad might think, and then what mom’s parents and dad’s parents think. Just stop to reflect on how difficult that might be as a child, especially if they see their own parents working around their parent’s values. It can be exhausting.