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Staying Connected after the Empty Nest by Sharon Wildman

Oct 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Parent Coaching - Guest Posts

“Mom, could I call you after classes and talk to you about what’s going on in my life?” What parent would not want to hear those words from their child – words that invite you into their hearts and minds? When you are living 825 miles from both of your children while they are at college, how do you stay connected? How do you live in the reality that they are young adults, making their own decisions, but at the same time still need the coaching and mentoring you provide as their parents? 

Our son, Matthew, and daughter, Sarah, are both seniors at universities in the west. We stay connected in practical ways by sending cards and packages by snail mail, emailing encouraging notes or articles and stories they might like, texting “I love you” or “I hope you are having a great day”, and letting them know we are praying for them. We farm, and they both miss being home for planting and harvest, so we send pictures as much as possible and let them know how much we’ve gotten done every couple of days. Doing these things allows all of us to feel close which makes the environment ripe for good conversations. 

My husband, Richard, and I have worked very hard the past several years at keeping those connections and lines of communication open with them by listening, listening, and listening to their hearts – just like most good coaches do. Reflective listening is our invitation to them to share the deeper things they are wrestling with. 

Many of our conversations with our children have been by phone, some by Skype® and some even by text. Not always the perfect settings for the best conversations, but because of distance they help us stay connected.    Waiting for their schedules to be conducive to relaxed sharing, we try not to rush them into conversations they may not have time for between classes and extra-curriculars. Richard and I try to remind ourselves to respect them as young adults and listen to their hearts at all times. We are available as much as possible when they are ready to talk, whether that’s morning, afternoon, or much more likely, late evening. Many times it’s nice to have a warning that they need to talk later in the day or week because then we can be proactive getting ourselves ready to listen when the time comes. One way we do that is to pray for the conversation to go well, for God to give each of us discernment and wisdom, and for there to be an ending to the conversation that respects our children and their thoughts, feelings and desires.

 Matt and Sarah are going through some relationship learning and growing opportunities with the opposite sex.  Richard and I have tried to walk very carefully as parent coaches by listening to their hearts and struggles as they try to figure “What’s next?” or “How do I handle this in a godly way?” Being careful not to tell them what to do but rather ‘coach’ them to develop their own solutions.  We try to gently encourage conversation with open questions, challenging them to come up with more than one solution for themselves, and considering every aspect of the situation before deciding those “next steps”.

 Some questions we’ve found helpful at opening their hearts to us are:

“What have you been thinking about the situation since the last time we talked?”

“How else could you approach that conversation with your friend?”

“You shared with me that you were going to pray over the timing of the conversation. What has God made clear to you about that?”

“How are you feeling about your relationship with  ________?”

Many times we ask the question and then wait – even through a long silence – while they think it through before answering. It’s natural to want to fill the quiet with another question, but giving them lots of time to ponder over the one you’ve already asked shows respect for their thoughts and feelings. Both children have told us that even though they sometimes struggle with not knowing exactly what to do in a situation, they are glad we allow them to think things through on their own.  Giving them quick answers would simply short-circuit the process of learning to deal with different relational issues.

 As empty-nest parents, we have learned that our children wanting us available 24/7 has come to an end. The next steps in their lives have begun as they are learning to navigate college, relationships and life on their own. But, we are convinced that the coaching approach with both of them has allowed us to enjoy an invitation into their lives in ways that many parents do not enjoy. Matt and Sarah may not talk to us every day, but we believe they do so far more than the average parent talks to their children, with the conversations being deeper and richer. They are happy when we call and they call us just as much. We know it’s because we don’t tell them what to do all the time that they are happy to hear from us. Richard and I respect their thoughts, feelings and desires about their own lives and try to give them a listening ear at all times.

 When we do think that they need more information or possible solutions they have not considered, we try to ask their permission prior to sharing our thoughts.   Only after Matt and Sarah have tried to come up with as many possible solutions as they can for themselves.

 For example, we might ask a question similar to:

“Would you like to hear a few other options that might be possible?”

“I think I may have some information that may help you come up with more solutions. Would you like to hear it?”

These are what coaches call “closed” questions which help us be very clear about whether Matt and Sarah desire our input or simply want to wrestle through this on their own.  We choose to respect their decision and honor their choice about whether or not we share our thoughts.

 Part of being a coach is not allowing your “client” to grow dependent on you or expect you to “have all the answers” even when they want you to tell them what to do. Obviously, that’s not what coaching is about. With our children, we try to do the same thing by pointing them over and over again to the One who is their Life Coach – Jesus. Many conversations we have with Matt and Sarah end with a reminder that God is the One who has all the answers to their questions and knows the way they should go. Often we pray with them at we conclude a deeper conversation with them to highlight this fact.   We don’t want them as adults to be dependent on us, but to be dependent on the Lord – to trust Him at all times and in all situations. As parents we coach and mentor them all of their lives, but in the end God is the One who has plans for them, to give them hope and a future. Coaching has allowed us to be a part of sharing in their hopes and futures.

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Richard and Sharon provide life and marriage coaching to individuals and couples, consultation to businesses for hiring and team-building, and teach relationship education seminars for churches and organizations. They are certified in several relationship curricula and assessments and are trained life coaches.  If you would like more information about their coaching ministry, please see http://stubbornpursuits.wordpress.com or contact them at stubbornpursuits@gmail.com 

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