The most popular piece I’ve ever written was an article for Huffington Post called When Your Kid Leaves Home for Good. Although I wrote it years ago, it pops up intermittently, resurrected by the mysteries of the Internet, and when it does, I invariably get emails from people around the world wanting to share their sadness about their child leaving home. Obviously, it’s a topic with widespread application and deep emotional appeal. Everyone wants to know – How can I stay close to my kids when they’re no longer living under my roof?
The good news is that I’ve experienced this, first as the child and now as the parent, and I’m here to tell you it can be done successfully and very pleasantly. I find that my relationships with my adult children are better than they’ve ever been, and although my parents live far away, they maintain close relationships with their children and their grandchildren.
Not only that, but adult relationships with your children are twice as nice because you no longer have to parent them as strenuously as you did when they were growing up. Sure, you’ll always be a parent, but now you can be a friend too. That’s a beautiful thing. Miles really don’t matter, thanks to technology and transportation. The logistics will take care of themselves; your focus should be on the relationship.
Below are five tips for fostering strong bonds among family members, the kind that aren’t strained by distance.
- Take advantage of technology. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but kids today aren’t big on talking on the phone. They like to text, send images and gifs, and even engage in conversations almost entirely comprised of emojis. Embrace this, even if you don’t understand it. Grandma who texts talks to my kids WAY more than Grandma who insists on phone calls. Which grandma do you want to be?
- Learn from your kids. Trust me, they have a lot to teach you. When you get the opportunity to spend time with them, or you actually do talk to them on the phone, ask them about the latest lingo and what it means. Get them to show you features on your phone you never knew existed. Ask them about their favorite shows on Netflix. Everyone loves to be valued and to feel that they have something to offer. When you become the students and let them be the teachers, you show them respect by welcoming them into the adult world with you.
- Honor family traditions. Kids rely on these and when they come home, it should feel like the home they remember. Their favorite meal, a family movie, or a neighborhood walk provide comfort and create a safe haven for young adults for whom so much is new and different. Grandparents should establish their own traditions, such as playing cards or building puzzles with the grandkids. Each visit will then strengthen the ties among extended family members.
- Love their friends. Young people’s peers are some of the most influential people in their lives. As you’ve probably discovered, what their friends think is frequently more important than what you think. Knowing that, make an effort to learn the names of your kids’ friends, to know something about them, and to get along with them. I love my kids’ friends. When I see them, I genuinely enjoy talking to them, and my kids know this. As a result, I’m much more likely to be invited along. Likewise, they are much more likely to visit my home and be perfectly comfortable there. Boyfriends and girlfriends are even more important. Make them feel like part of the family, and you’ll see much more of your kids.
- Be there, no matter what. Set the precedent early on that it doesn’t matter how far away anyone is. You can always be there with emotional support, encouraging texts, Facetime, and phone calls. It’s amazing how strong a relationship can be between people who only see each other a couple times a year. It’s all about being there in other ways, always letting the other person know you are thinking about them. Your kids will set the tone for how often they want to talk or text. Follow their lead. Don’t be a pest and don’t drop off the planet. Find what works for everyone and honor it.
As we begin a new year, think about the ways you can engage with your kids or grandkids that will speak to them where they are. Once you relinquish the need to be in charge and allow your kids to grow into the adults you always wanted them to be, you will be astounded by how much you genuinely like them.