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How Parents Can Launch Their Young Adult Children by Being, Not Doing

“Trying to force something is the best way to stop it happening.” -Indries Shah.

momgirlinparkAs a college consultant, I am frequently struck by the fact that many parents who clearly love and want the best for their teenage or young adult children ironically seem to create rebellious, undesirable behavior in their kids or even drive their kids away. I see this painful paradox in parents’ demands for academic achievement; college, major or career decisions; fashion, peer group or dating choices; the list goes on. So often our actions, intended to create what we see as desirable behavior in our children, actually have the opposite effect.  As parents, we have all observed these common sense patterns at work in the dynamic between ourselves and our kids. Yet, it remains tempting to “act” the next time we are anxious, starting the toxic cycle all over again. How can we help our kids by doing less?

Recently, a wise friend, who has been a mentor to me in my journey as a parent, mentioned a phrase I had never heard before: “beneficial presence.”  My psychology background and eclectic spiritual study has introduced me to many profound concepts, but this was new to me. My friend drew this phrase from the teachings of metapsychiatrist Dr. Thomas Hora, excerpted below:

yinyang“Let us consider the meaning of a beneficial presence in the world. Beneficence is an activity, while beneficial is a quality… A ‘beneficial presence’ is a quality of consciousness. It may be difficult to conceive of an individual who can be a great blessing to a situation just by the quality of his consciousness. Some people have the best intentions to be helpful, and yet things go sour in their presence. Sometimes we may hear someone exclaim in exasperation, Please, don’t help me! This is the opposite of what we call a beneficial presence… In the presence of a beneficial presence, which is a loving consciousness, things have a tendency to work together for good in an almost mysterious way.”

tich_nhat_hanh_grossSimilarly, the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author and poet Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” It’s just like the ancient Aesop’s Fable about the contest between the Sun and the North Wind to decide which was the stronger of the two. The challenge was to make a passing traveler remove his cloak. However hard the North Wind blew, the traveler only wrapped his cloak tighter, but when the Sun shone, the traveler was overcome with heat and had to take his cloak off.

momlistensHave you ever known a person who offered a beneficial presence? You may have gone to that person to vent, and the friend did not say much, yet quietly offered a listening ear, a caring heart, and a safe space in which you could freely explore your feelings. And somehow, that healing exchange helped you find your way. The friend cared, but did not seem overly invested in the action you chose going forward. There was a loving detachment that made you feel unconditionally supported. And it really helped.

Wouldn’t it be great to give our children a gift like that? I, for one, am going to keep trying.