Throughout her life – at every age – when people meet my daughter, or see us together, or hear about our relationship, they usually say one or both of the following:
I hope I can have that kind of relationship with my kid(s)/daughter(s).
How do you do it? How did you get to where you are now?
The answer is both simple and not simple at all. The truth is we both worked at it. The truth is we had a rough couple of years there in her early teens. (We will each attest to this.) The truth is I welcomed and wanted my daughter from the second I knew she was coming into this world. The truth is we got lucky. The truth is luck had nothing to do with it. The truth is grace. The truth is that I can’t say for sure what the truth is because we made it up as we went along.
Looking back on it, I know we had a lot of support. I’ve thought a lot about what worked for us and I’ve been writing down ideas. One of these days I’ll share them more fully here. At this point, I think they come down to one simple thing: meet them where they are.
I said it was simple. I didn’t say it was easy.
Many adults have forgotten what it is like to be small, to be young, to wonder at each new discovery about the shape and workings of things. All of the ages we have ever been are inside of us. To parent effectively, we need to recall wonder and delight. We need to remind ourselves of the frustration of stumbling as we try new things.
We need to meet children where they are, at every age/developmental stage.
We need empathy.
We cannot expect children to be short adults. We cannot expect them to know things about the world that they haven’t encountered. We cannot expect them to have skills they haven’t had a chance to practice.
We must see them as they are: small humans with distinct personalities and separate bodies – deserving of dignity, privacy, respect, kindness, compassion, and justice.
Curiously, this doesn’t stop as they get older. It never stops. Not if we want to have an ongoing, mutual relationship with our children as they become adults.
If we want to understand people, we must meet them where they are. If we want to be understood, we need to invite people to meet us where we are.
This means being vulnerable. This means owning our stories. This means building a toolkit for dealing with shame and anger, frustration and fear. This applies equally to grown adults and children, regardless of gender or whether you/they identify with the gender binary.
We all need to be heard, to be seen. We all crave connection and want to build courage.
These skills can be applied to ageing generations of our families as well. These practices translate to our wider communities: the bookseller, the doctor, the barista, the teacher, the bus driver. Don’t assume you know who or how they are, or what their story is.
Meet them where they are.
And then, if you are lucky, when you are having a particularly hard day, your (adult) kid will lean over and do this to make you laugh. And it will work. And you will swim in gratitude for the amazing person she is.
That’s the truth.