THE BLOG

Empathy

04/27/2015 12:22 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

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"Somewhere between the overly intrusive parent and the parent who forgets about us after we're out of the house is the ideally empathetic parent who recognizes the relativity of choice, the errors of his or her own way... our need to find our own way, and who can stay with us at a respectful distance while we do it."--Roger Gould, U.S. psychotherapist and author Transformations, sec. 4, ch 2 (1978)

I've strived to be this type of parent throughout my sons' lives, not just since they've become adults. I tried to pull back enough to let their true selves emerge, not dominate or coerce them into my way of being. I tried to give them space and the courage to explore.

I think I knew to do this because it's how my mother raised me. She was (and is) present in my life, available, interested. But she is not intrusive with her opinions or way of being. She has always supported me and... gotten out of my way. She's never tried to change me.

That was the perfect parenting style for someone like me (and certainly my older son).

I'm a strong leader with a clear sense of who I am and how I want to live. Many things I can and wish to do myself.

I have found that parents' advice to adult children becomes criticism of who they are. What started out as a trait of a good parent -- giving advice and teaching -- becomes a negative when they reach adulthood.

With ever more ways of intruding (texting, cell phones with us constantly, Facebook friends), it takes discipline for us to pull back. It takes self-confidence to be quiet or wait for them to come to us.

It takes a willingness to listen to our kids emphatically, watch from afar, feel the pain of their mistakes made, but wait in the wings at a respectful distance and allow (and celebrate) their true selves.

I've tried.