Last week in class an older gentleman, Mark, approached me on one of the breaks with this statement: I have a good relationship with two of my sons. They are also engineers, and we have a lot in common. My middle son and I don’t have anything in common, and I’m wondering if it’s too late to create a relationship with him. He seems so different—he’s interested in art and doesn’t seem to care whether he can find a job.
I let Mark talk about the situation, then I made these four points:
- For sure, it is not too late.
- All kids, no matter how much it may seem otherwise, want to have a relationship with their parents.
- It’s time for you to get interested in what your son is interested in.
- Stop doing what you have been doing and do something else.
My first two comments were intended to shift Mark’s perspective and get him back into the game of creating a relationship with his son. Sometimes, all we need is a glimmer of hope to keep trying.
When children are small, it’s easy to connect with them. I have a wonderful relationship with one of my granddaughters, and I’m sure it began when she was about four and invited me to have tea with her. For over an hour she created and served imaginary tea and conversation. We’ve been able to talk ever since.
Listen well when they are young, and they’ll tell you things forever.
Now I’d rather play with Legos or trucks than have tea, but my preferences do not matter. I’m willing to do whatever the kids want to do. Their choice. George Bernard Shaw said, “Forget about likes and dislikes, just do what must be done. This might not bring happiness, but it will bring greatness.”
Mark commented that occasionally his son will drop by the house and ask if Mark wants to do something. But each time they can’t agree on what to do because they are not interested in the same things. I told him that he needs to choose whatever his son suggests. Sometimes, you have to go to tea parties or art shows!
Open yourself to new experiences, and you might find new things that appeal to you. Ask questions and let your kids teach you about their passions and why they love these parts of life.
Stop doing what you’ve been doing…
Rita Mae Brown’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
As you can expect, when I asked Mark about the conversations he had with his son, the pattern was about finding a job and doing something useful. This conversation has been going on ever since his son chose to pursue art rather than engineering. I asked Mark, “And how is that working out for you, bringing that up every time you see your son?” Mark was great and smiled, “Not so well. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now!”
So my advice was obvious, but not easy: Stop asking about, commenting on, or even referring to your son’s lack of employment. He knows that you are concerned and doesn’t need to be reminded or confronted with it. Just be supportive and focus on spending time together, asking about his interests, and then be ready to listen—without judgment or unsolicited advice—when he brings the subject up himself. He will.
It truly is never too late.
Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving.
Paul Axtell is a writer and conversations expert. This blog is based on his award-winning book Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Cindy, where they enjoy time with their grown children and their 13 grandkids.