An original idea by Katherine Dufort (daughter)
Review contributor, Alexandre Dufort (son)
In recent discussions with work colleagues, my daughter came to the realization that some of their family relationships were not as harmonious as our own. She then went on to suggest, to my delight, that I should write an article about our success in communicating with our two children, that persists to this day, even now that they’ve entered adulthood! Could it be that, like me, she realizes how privileged we are to be able to communicate with as much ease and frankness as we do?
From their very young age, my wife and I have tried, as often as we could, to communicate with our children. We went as far as to decree Sunday dinners as sacrosanct, where rather than taking the meal in the kitchen as per usual, we ate at the dining room, thus indicating that those evenings were reserved for taking the necessary time to catch up and to learn a little more about what was happening in each of our respective lives. And it is precisely what we managed to accomplish most of the time, especially during their adolescence, a critical time in the life of every youngster. By expressing our interest, we avoided partaking in disengagement, a form of disloyalty most likely to corrode trust ties, as per the words of author Brene Brown:
“…the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement… With children, actions speak louder than words. When we stop requesting invitations into their lives by asking about their day, asking them to tell us about their favourite songs, wondering how their friends are doing, then children feel pain and fear (and not relief, despite how our teenagers may act). Because they can’t articulate how they feel about our disengagement when we stop making an effort with them, they show us by acting out, thinking, this will get their attention.” 1
However, despite the establishment of this family practice, it cannot in itself explain how our two children, now young adults aged 21 and 23 respectively, to this day find pleasure, perhaps even a strong desire to communicate with their parents as frequently and with as much candour as they do.
So, after giving careful thought to the idea my daughter sparked, here are the highlights of the elements that I believe, contributed to our success.
1. Respect above all else – The respect that we have consistently shown our children by not infantilizing them, by taking them seriously even if their stories sometimes did seem childish but all so important to their eyes, allowed them to confide in us with complete peace of mind. The respect we granted them allowed us to establish a strong relationship of trust, because knowing they were being respected encouraged them to share their opinions, their realities and to let us in on what was going on in their daily lives. In addition, we tried as much as we could, to respect their right to free choice; naturally to the extent where it was made within limits we deemed acceptable. These are only two examples among countless others, demonstrating how we were able to implement respect at all cost.
2 – The importance of an honest opinion – We were able to provide them with an attentive ear, but even more importantly, we did our best to communicate our opinions, our concerns and our observations without imposing. The biggest challenge remains to offer answers and suggestions only when they are solicited, or otherwise when we know they will be welcomed. Ultimately, the premise has always been that we hoped they wouldn’t one day reproach us: “If you love me so much, why didn’t you warn me about this or that?” Parental love compels us to inform them of our concerns; however, it’s all in the way we do it.
3 – Influence without being intrusive – What it comes down to is that regardless of the advice we’ve provided them, the ultimate decision remains theirs. And even if ultimately their decision proved to have been wrong, we must recognize the result as inherent to their learning process, and that all the decisions they’ve taken, good or bad, shape them into who they’re meant to become. Above all, as parents, we should never use the killer phrase: “I told you so, didn’t I?” Are we so bent on getting recognition? Have we not ourselves made mistakes that have allowed us to grow?
4 – Being friendly without being friends. (parental responsibility above all) – Ultimately, it’s important not to become just friends with your children, because along the way that would lead to abdicating your parental responsibility. It is therefore important to establish a closeness of a friendly nature as our children grow older; nevertheless it should be done so without breaching parental obligations. And this should apply throughout our lifetime, regardless of the age we reach. Every child needs an anchor, a reference point, yet a relationship between you and your children that would limit itself to friendship would not allow them to benefit from your still much needed guidance.
Finally, my wife and I don’t claim in any way to have been perfect. But by taking a step back to reflect on the point my daughter brought up, it made me realize how our approach to certain milestones in the life of our two children helped them to spread their wings in relative safety. The establishment of an environment open to dialogue makes it so that to this day, knowing that we will always be there for them, we all still take immense pleasure in spending time together.
I leave you with the following thought:
“Whatever happens, do not judge your children, instead accompany them as best you can.
They’re often in much less need of a sermon than a good listening ear and a wise and informed opinion.”