Although the world is your oyster, you may need some help prying open the shell. Aside from being your friends and your primary caretakers, your parents can also be a great resource in times of emotional, mental, and financial need. Whether your parents are your closest friends or your relationship is a work in progress, in honor of Mother and Father’s Day, here are some tips on how to manage an effective conversation about your future plans with your parents that won’t leave anyone feeling awkward or underappreciated.
- Plan it out.
Okay, so you don’t have to bust out the datebook and pencil-in a physical appointment, but agreeing on a time to talk about your topic in advance will show your parents that you’re serious about the discussion. It also means that you won’t end up launching a sneak attack on them over dinner one night. Can you pass the peas, please? Oh yes, and I’ve decided to drop out of college. Springing important life decisions mid-meatloaf might not be the best way to go. You want to have your audience’s undivided attention. According to a study mentioned in an article on effective communication by the SANS Technology Institute, 74% of people multitask by typing or fiddling with technology while listening to a face-to-face conversation. Get your parents to set aside a time when the iPad is turned off and the focus is on you. You obviously know what you want to talk about. Prep your audience by getting them in the best condition to listen.
- Have a dialogue, not a diatribe.
If you’ve already made some informed decisions, you don’t have to nix your plans completely. However, keep an open mind and leave room in your conversation for your parents to jump in with questions or comments on what you’ve said. They’re your parents; they’re bound to have an opinion on the choices you make about your life path. And they can be pretty wise. You never know what perspective they might toss your way. Maybe they had a cousin who deferred. Maybe their college roommate took a gap year half way through. Your parents have more years of life experience than you do, so take a moment and listen up. Even if you think you know all there is to know about your decision, that’s not the point. The SANS study explains how, according to Mark Sanborn, a prominent leadership and team-building author, the objective in any relationship “is to achieve understanding.” Listening to what your parents have to say about your choices will give you a more rounded view of the situation and make them feel appreciated in the process. Everybody wins.
- Be willing to make sacrifices.
Nothing in this world goes perfectly according to plan. Think about the things you are willing to do in order to make your future plans your reality. In a study on effective communication conducted by the University of Maryland, the method proposed by self-help authors Roger Fisher and William Ury is explained as a give and take algorithm. According to Fisher and Ury, it helps to consider what both parties want and how to meet both of those needs. Your dream future might not be possible exactly the way you envision it. That’s okay. Maybe you can’t afford to pay rent right now. But perhaps your parents will leave your bedroom alone and fill your grocery list if you chip in and cook dinner once a week or volunteer to clean the bathroom and wash the cars. Finding a middle ground is a good way to satisfy everyone involved.
- Keep talking.
Your future is huge and filled with potential changes. Keep the conversation going as time goes by. When you think of something new or change your mind about a big decision, take the time to fill your folks in on the new development. As UNISON, the largest public service trade union in the UK, explains in a case study done on effective communication tactics, communication is an important pillar of relationships because it gives all parties involved a similar purpose or end goal. “According to the communication theory of Wilbur Schramm (1955), communication ‘is the process of establishing a commonness or oneness of thought between a sender and a receiver’.” Keeping your parents updated on your thought process along the way will make them feel like they are a part of a team instead of spectators on the sidelines watching the action unfold.
- Be confident.
Know what you want ahead of time and stick to your goals. Yes, it helps to be open-minded and flexible, but sometimes parents and big life changes can be so intimidating that we back down completely and settle for following in our parents or older siblings’ footsteps. According to an effective communication seminar hosted by the University Of Wisconsin-Madison, “a recent study at Stanford University determined that 80% of the population does not set goals.” Perhaps that’s why we often have such a difficult time going after what we really want. This is your life; ultimately you are in charge. Coming up with a life goal and telling your parents about it will show them it is time for you to practice standing alone and become your own person. The sooner they realize and accept this transition, the more they will start to see you as an adult.
So there you have it, five tips on how to have a more effective conversation with your parents about your future. Whether you know exactly where your life is headed or have absolutely no idea, your parents will undoubtedly be impressed by your ability to handle the conversation in a poised and respectful manner.
For more insight on your parents and how to communicate with them, check out this review on How To Raise An Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.