Actions Speak Louder Than Words with Estranged Adult Children

In last month’s newsletter, I urged you not to be in a rush to apologize to your estranged adult child. This month’s topic builds on that idea, and provides a simple yet powerful blueprint for rejected parents.

If you’ve read my book, Reconnecting With Your Estranged Adult Child, you may remember the Rule of Ten. It’s a list of mindset shifts encouraging you to slow down, take your time, and allow the estrangement (and your child) room to breathe.

The idea is to imagine everything takes 10 times longer than you’d like. To listen 10 times more than you talk. To write one-tenth of what you want to say, and so on.

Something that wasn’t on the list is this: Behavior is ten times more convincing than words.

Show, Don’t Tell

Many Reconnection Club members are intent on finding ways to communicate effectively with their estranged adult children.

They’ve done so much reflecting about the estrangement, they want to share some of what they’re coming to understand.

However, in agonizing over the wording of a written message, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that true understanding is displayed through behavior.

While it may be good to say, “I want to respect your request for space/independence,” it’s even better to respect the request by not saying anything at all. Respecting a request means honoring it through your actions.

Another example where showing is better than telling is with criticism. I’ve seen beautiful and very heart-felt written apologies from parents who take full responsibility for being overly critical of their children.

To the extent that they they speak to the child’s hurt, those apologies are important. Yet apologies can’t bestow the enjoyable experience of receiving ongoing emotional support rather than criticism. Only behavior can do that.

Actions are Messages

There’s truth in the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Admiration inspires people to act differently. When someone tells you they admire you it be may be nice, but how true is it? With words alone, you can never be sure.

Similarly, what you convey to your child in words may be lovely to hear… But can she trust it?

Act your way back to your child. That’s the only way for both of you to know that future behavior will match intentions.

Remember when you’re struggling to communicate to your absent child, that your current behavior is the best evidence for what you’re trying to convey.

Don’t wait until they’re back in touch; it will be too late. Make any desired changes today. Get those changes firmly in place before even thinking about resuming regular contact.

Don’t worry that your child isn’t around to see the changes you’re making. Practice on others until the behavior is ingrained. Then keep it up.

Eventually new behavior will become second nature, and won’t fall apart under the stress of your child’s presence.

Your new ways of relating will only become more impressive with practice. Hence there’s no benefit to getting your child involved early in the process. They’ll only be privy to the inevitable backsliding that accompanies behavior change — which would be discouraging for both of you.

Everything you do — and even what you don’t do — communicates something. Trust your actions to have an impact on your child, even from afar. And don’t strain yourself trying to put into words what may be best conveyed through behavior.

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