I was recently reading an article about ‘office moms’ and a woman was describing how she would take advice from her office mom that she would ever take from her own mother. Her comment was “You know how it is with your mom: Even if you know she’s right, you just can’t hear it from her.”
While this sentiment rang true – we all know what she’s talking about – no one wants to feel that it applies, or that it will apply in the future, to them. How do we get our future adult children to not only love us, but also to love our advice, to want to seek it out, to listen to our strong voice of wisdom and experience?
Since our pool of knowledge is infinite to young children this is not a problem when we tell them about the dangers in life, the values that we hold, the proper behavior in social situations. Their inquisitive minds may drive us crazy asking, “why?” But when they stop asking, we miss being their authority source.
While we don’t have all the answers, we still like being asked. It does our ego good to be regarded as smart, even if only by a child. For them to go elsewhere for advice, especially to just another adult who is not a known expert, feels like a slap in the face. “Why didn’t you come to me?” we wonder, silently or aloud. What did we miss doing or saying that created a lack of connection that caused the child to turn elsewhere with their need?
This question goes back to parenting style when the child was growing up. The parent that is overly critical, even with the best intentions, breaks down communication, sometimes irreparably.
“You brought this whole mess on yourself”
“You aren’t going out looking like THAT are you?!”
“What makes you think that anyone would want to play with you if you won’t share?”
Some parents feel that they need to be critical or their children will never improve. How will they ever become hard-working mannerly adults or learn anything? Their intentions are good but their method shuts down communication. If all you’ve ever heard from your parent as a child is criticism, you are not apt to go to them for later advice. You know what the advice will be prefaced with…”you should have known better”, “how could you think such a thing?”, “you have only yourself to blame”, etc.
‘But that’s not me – I’m not overly critical’, you think, ‘plus, there’s a lot of good stuff in there too!’ Yet the criticism may be all the child hears or remembers – it’s louder than the rest and may drown out everything else. One distinct memory I have of childhood is my mother being critical of my appearance – a large thumb dipped in spit coming at my face when I was little; a comment “is that a zit on your face?” when I was a pre-teen. Hardly the stuff for future confidences.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: While there are many barriers to communication, criticism is a biggie. Even with the best intentions of being helpful, supportive (“let me tell you before someone else does”), and caring (“I only say this because I love you”) the criticism that follows puts up communication walls that may never come down. There are many better ways to parent and get your message across effectively that doesn’t close communication.