Who knew there were 54 million results when you Google conversation starters? Apparently, lots of people need help starting a conversation in all kinds of situations. When you narrow it down to conversation starters for adult children, you still get 9 million. But, alas, if you Google conversation starters with your grandchildren’s parents, there’s nothing!
Yet, meaningful conversations with our grandchildren’s parents are key to strengthening our relationship with them. Today’s parents are experiencing overwhelming pressure from work and information overload and it just keeps escalating every year. They shoulder an enormous amount of responsibility and sometimes they need an empathetic ear to unburden their woes.
How to Navigate Conversations
We can be that empathic ear if we approach these conversations with an open mind and heart. Doing it well requires intentionality, self-control, and thoughtfulness. Even if you try not to parent when you talk to your adult children, they can often hear what you say through the parenting filter. Your observations and questions may sound like criticism to their ears, and your suggestions may sound like you don’t have confidence in their ability to run their own lives.
Here are some things to consider when navigating this sometimes treacherous road with your grandchildren’s parents:
- Start with an honest conversation. Talk about the type of relationship you ALL want to have with each other. Be honest and admit that it’s hard not to be their parent but you realize they are the parents now. If it feels genuine, say you’d like to be part of the team and acknowledge that they are the team captains.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice. This seems to be the cardinal rule for grandparents and rightfully so! Our adult children rarely want our advice. They want us to understand what they’re going through and empathize. If you believe you have something especially meaningful to share, say, “I have a thought! Do you want to hear it? You can say no.” (They almost never do.)
- Keep the focus on them. When they share something, don’t fall into the trap of bringing up a similar situation from your own life.
- Work on your listening skills. When you listen, do it with your heart, empathetically “hearing” what your adult kids are saying. Don’t spend the time when they’re talking thinking of your response — listen more, talk less.
- Pay attention to body language. If your questions are starting to irritate them, move on to another topic.
- Be positive and encouraging. Ask thoughtful and intelligent follow-up questions and offer genuine praise.
To start a meaningful conversation with your grandchildren’s parents, ask open-ended questions that can’t be responded to with one-word answers. Here are some of my favorite conversation starters with my grandchildren’s parents:
- I’d love to hear what you’re reading, learning, researching.
- I’m interested in …
- I’m fascinated by …
- What’s your take on …
- Tell me about …
- How’s your day/week going?
- I’d love your advice …
“That Must Be So Hard”
Here are a few final suggestions for responding to your grandchildren’s parents. When they do pour out their troubles to you, remember this phrase: “That must be so hard.” As inadequate as those words may feel to you, they’re far superior to “Let me give you some advice.” Our adult children want to be heard and understood. They need our empathy not advice.
Finally, pick your battles. If you absolutely must share your opinion, make sure it’s worth the risk. Sometimes your relationship is more important than knowing you’re right.
What are your favorite conversation starters with your grandchildren’s parents? I’d love to know how you encourage meaningful conversations. Please share your tips in the Comments box.