Questions about Your Son’s or Daughter’s Work, Life, and Career

by Richard and Linda Eyre

Column VI

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Editor’s Note: Richard and Linda Eyre will be guest hosts along with Dr. Joseph Allen on a “Book of Mormon Symposium at Sea” leaving March 21. To learn more about this uplifting and exotic Caribbean cruise click here

Last column we visited some common questions about children first leaving home, and we called it the first emotional phase of empty nest parenting.

The second emotional phase is an interesting combination of relief and worry.  It deals with your son’s or daughter’s job.  We’re glad to see our offspring becoming self-sufficient, yet we can’t help wonder if they are quite ready and if their choices are quite right.

We often feel that we know more about careers and work than they do, so we’re inclined to try to push them in some directions and discourage them from other options. Also, it is so hard to know when to help out financially and when to let them struggle.  It’s an interesting phase!

So, here are the common questions, with Empty Nest Parenting (ENP) and Leaving the Nest Kids (LTN) responses: (parents are identified by first name and last name initial.  Kids are just first names:

Questions:

1.                    How much should I be involved in my children’s career decisions?  How much should I ask?  How much should I suggest?

Bill N.: Here is where we need to really back off.  If we give too much advice and they follow it and it doesn’t work out, they will blame us.  And if it does work out, they’ll feel less satisfaction since it wasn’t their decision.  If we give lots of advice that they don’t follow and they end up having problems, we’ll say, “I told you so,” which is probably the worst thing we could say!

Le Ann D.: I disagree.  I say you can’t ask too much!  Find out all you can and then give them all the suggestions you can.  Why let them rediscover the wheel?  You’ve been around the track a few times, and they might as well learn from you!  You’ve got contacts and connections!  They don’t!

Gregory B.: Well, look, the key here is to give them so much confidence and support that they feel secure. Then they will probably ask you for your opinion.  Once they’ve asked, it’s their initiative rather than yours, and you can give advice without taking away their independence.

Kenneth W.: Again, give advice only if they ask.

Tom M.: Instead of pushing or making strong suggestions or interrogating, say things like, “What are your two or three best options or alternatives right now?”

2.                    What if they want to move back into the house?

Mandy E.: Absolutely not.  Worst thing you can do is to let them move back in.  It’s like a defeat for them – like a retreat from the real world.  You can’t go back into the womb once you’re born!

Jim R.: I think it depends on your house.  If you’ve got the space, okay – especially if you’ve got kind of a separate space where they can be a bit independent.  But they should pay rent or cover their share of the expenses.

Carolyn M.: Well, it may make sense – economic sense – if your house is bigger than what you need.  You know, most societies have at least three generations living under one roof.  I’ve been kind of encouraging a couple of my kids to come back. And I’ve got one who’s never left.

Saren: Some people move in with their parents and everything works out well, but it doesn’t work for a lot of people.  In most cases, parents have a hard time taking on a different role from the one they played when their children were in high school.  It can cause havoc in the lives of both parents and kids if parents try to monitor everything going on in their kids’ lives, probe their dating lives, set curfews, and do other things that might have been appropriate when their kids were in high school but that won’t work now that their kids are adults.  For every “success story” of a kid moving back in with his or her parents, there are probably twenty stories of messed-up relationships, hurt feelings, and family disruption that come from kids moving back in.

3.                    Should I encourage my kids to find a job near me?

Lonnie P.: Oh, for sure!  I mean, they’re your best friends as well as your kids.  Who would you rather go to a movie with or have over for Sunday dinner?  And hey, those grandkids are coming, and you’ve got to have them close!

Bill N.: You know, I don’t think so.  As much as I love my kids, I’m glad they live a plane flight away.  When I visit them or they visit me, it’s so special, and we really talk and focus on each other.  I think if they lived right here, we’d take each other for granted, and maybe even take advantage of each other.

Shawni: My parents are almost funny about this because they encouraged us to go to college, find jobs, and live a good portion of our lives away from them.  This could be taken in the wrong way – I don’t think they really want to get rid of us – they just want us to experience the world.  They’ve seen so much of it out there and have gained so much insight from their travels and experiences that they only want what they think is the best for us.  I cannot thank them enough for their “big picture” perspective, because I have learned and gained so much from living away from home and having my own independent experiences.  Sure, I have been homesick too, but I think even the homesickness has made me a stronger person.  The thing that makes living away so great (and I’m sure the main reason my parents can feel so at ease about sending us far away) is that they love to travel, and they come visit us as much as possible.  They love opening their eyes to new things and have helped us love it as well.

Saren: Now that I have a child, I have to admit it; it would be so nice to live close to my family.  Plane trips get harder and more expensive as our family grows, and I yearn to share my kids’ lives more fully with my family.  I guess every family needs to work out what’s best for them.  But it’s important for kids to feel that wherever they live, their independence will be respected and their parents will visit!

R&L: Still, there are many variables here. Go easy on this one, parents.  It has to be your kids’ decision where they live.  If you really want them nearer to you, be the kind of parents they want to live closer to!  And realize that you can have great relationships with your kids regardless of where they live.  We really enjoy the weekly e-mails and phone calls we have with our kids as well as the visits we make as often as possible.  I don’t think we’d be closer to our kids if they lived closer.  We might have a different sort of relationship, but I don’t think it would necessarily be a closer one.

4.                    How much advice should I offer about how my kids spend their money?

Kenneth W.: Zero – only if they ask.  If you start meddling here, you’re on thin ice.  It’s their money now, and they’ve got to learn by experience.

Dick D.: Well, the big thing is to help them understand credit.  Kids just don’t get it about the dangers of credit cards and high consumer debt interest.  Show them how to budget and live within their means or they’re headed for trouble.

Saren: I wish my parents had talked to me more about financial planning.  Growing up, I heard snippets of information that I pieced together to figure out some of what goes on with my parents financially.  My dad did a great job teaching us about saving money, always encouraging us to save 20 percent of any money we ever made.  I wish he’d helped us understand a little more about where to save this money.  For the first five years of my career, I just put money in a savings account.  I was very frugal and saved a lot, but the money didn’t really grow.  I remember hearing the terms IRA and 401K thrown around, but retirement sounded so far off, and I didn’t really understand the benefits of such things.  After getting married, my husband taught me a lot about investing (his father helped him follow investments all his life), and I realize there are so many simple things I could have done with my money all those years to make it grow so much more!  I just wish someone had sat down with me and offered me a few scenarios for how I might want to be saving my money and what sorts of returns I could expect from different scenarios.

If you haven’t taught your kids good, solid saving and budgeting habits by the time they leave home, it’s a little hard to start now!  Once your kids are out there on their own, making their own money, it’s really their decision how they spend their money.  You can certainly offer advice, but understand that they may not take it well.  No one likes to be told how to spend their own money.  If you do have concerns or just want to offer general advice, I think it’s best to ask questions in a nice, interested way.  Ask them how they’ve decided to handle their savings.  Ask what bank they’re using.  Inquire how their budget is working out.  These are all nonconfrontational questions if they’re asked in the right way and in the right setting.

Let them know that you’re there to help if they want any advice and that they’re welcome to talk to your accountant or friends who might offer alternative points of view or other financial advice.  It’s always great to suggest that they get other points of view from yours – there are many good methods of doing things out there, and the more information they get, the better they’ll feel about their decisions.

5.                   What if my child’s church activity is slipping?

Katherine P.: I’d think inactivity would be a symptom more than the problem itself.  The challenge would be to communicate enough to know if it’s a testimony problem or if someone in their ward offended them or whatever.  But a parent would just have to find out, because what we’re talking about here is where your own child’s heart is!

Peter J.: If your child is in a singles ward – well, I guess it really doesn’t matter what kind of ward it is – call the bishop there.  He’s probably the one that can give you some insight, and maybe you can give him some, too.  Especially if your child is living a long way from home, that bishop is your best link.

Katherine P.: I’m not so sure about that; it seems like you’re checking up on your child rather than communicating. Wouldn’t you want to approach something like this face to face, one on one, with your child?

Dick D.: Pray a lot.  Sometimes that’s the only thing you can do, and it’s the best thing you can do!

Saren: It’s important that your kids know that you’ll always love them, no matter what.  If they go through a period where they doubt their faith, they need your nonjudgmental love and support more than ever.  They need you to really listen to them and to express the fact that you respect them and their decisions.  It may help to tell them that you’re glad they’re really thinking about their faith, encourage them to pray, and tell them you’re praying for them.  The power of prayer is real.  Never give up on them.  Always ask about their faith and tell them how much the Church means to you. But don’t drive them away by nagging them or sending them on guilt trips.  They are adults. They need to make their own decisions, and your respect for their decisions will help them have more respect for your advice and ideas.

R&L: This question looms so large for those who face it that it makes all the other questions seem almost trivial.  Most of us trust that if testimony and church activity is intact, other problems will be worked out, but if spiritual commitment declines, everything else is in danger.

The easy answer here would be, “I’ve taught them all I could and now they have their agency.”  This might be true, but it is certainly not an acceptable answer.  The real answers are never easy, but here are some things to consider:

A.  Try to determine the root cause of the inactivity.  Three of the most common (and each requiring a completely different approach) are:

(1) A genuine lack of testimony – serious and sincere doctrinal doubts.

(2) Confusion about the gospel and the culture – doubts or concerns about how something is done and a failure to separate various Church cultural norms from church doctrine.

(3) Some personal offense – someone, often a bishop or ward leader, has offended them.

B.  Other than prayer, the most effective thing you can do about any of these is provide deep and trusting communication.  Arrange for a long drive where you are alone together in a car for several hours (or some other situation really conducive to talking) and ask questions long enough to understand which of the three you are dealing with. If you determine that it is (1), the two best things you can do are pray together and bear your testimony.  In the more likely scenario of (2) or (3), try the following:

(2) (doctrinal/cultural confusion): Try to explain the difference.  Predominant Church culture might involve anything from the way people dress to the kind of professions they value or the things to which they afford status.  Help your child see that God doesn’t attach much value to these things and doesn’t control the members of his church regarding them.  Explain that the gospel itself and the actual restored truths of the plan of salvation are what matter.  Try to think of examples when you have faced similar problems in disliking or not feeling right about something in the culture but retained your doctrinal testimony of the gospel.

(3) (Your child has been offended): If you discover this to be the cause, rejoice a little, because it is both the most common and the most easily corrected problem.  Tell your child that and help him or her understand the basic fact that the Church is perfect but its members are not (and some more obviously than others!).

C.  Don’t expect overnight results and don’t ever give up!  Patterns of activity can take time to develop (in both directions).  Hang in there, and keep communicating and praying.  Show faith both in God and in your child.

Review:

Manager: “A person in charge – with responsibility, with authority; one who decides and directs.”

Consultant: “A person who helps another person with his or her goals; one who advises and assists.”

What a difference! With small children, parents are the managers.  With our growing children depending on us and in our care, the day-to-day responsibility for just about everything in their lives is ours.

With grown working children all this changes, not only in degree but in kind.  A whole different type of relationship needs to evolve – one where we try to respond to their initiative, to help them with their goals, to back off and give them space to make their own decisions but always be willing and ready to help.

This is not an easy shift!  Our instincts are still to protect and to shelter – to manage.  This inclination can undermine our grown children’s independence, motivation, and confidence.

Consultant-style suggestions and support, on the other hand, complement and enhance their new independence and leave them with the positive incentives that come to anyone who feels entrusted.

But you can’t just suddenly announce one day that you are now the consultant rather than the manager.  You have to consciously and carefully work into the role.  The most effective route is to ask questions.  That is the prime skill of all good consultants.  Ask (with positive interest and with no judgment) every question you can think of.  Get inside their head and their heart and understand where they’re coming from.  And learn to wait for the magic moments when they ask you for advice!

Ask.  As mentioned earlier, it’s such a critical word and concept in our relationship with God, and it can also be so important in our relationships with our children.

Some have said that one of the great gifts of the Prophet Joseph was his ability to ask the right questions.  Virtually every facet of the Restoration (and nearly every section of the Doctrine & Covenants) was triggered by apt and sincere questions.  And the whole process of restoration was started by Joseph’s response to James’ admonition to ask.

In an ideal world (and an ideal parent-child relationships), there would be consistent and considerable asking in both directions.  Parents would ask with honest and loving interest about every facet of their grown children’s lives.  Children would reciprocate and add questions inviting advice and guidance.

And the higher degree of asking – that of asking God and praying for each other – would solidify eternal relationships. Alma the Elder’s prayer for his son was answered when all other efforts seemed to have failed.  And when children also pray for their parents, the triangle is complete, and God is at the family apex.

Join us again next fortnight for column 7 where we will deal with questions relating to your son’s or daughter’s wedding!

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1.  What has been your hardest adjustment as your child (children) grew up and left home?

2.  What’s the best idea you’ve had for communicating effectively with a child who has left home?

3.  What questions or concerns would you like to see addressed by other empty nest parents?

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