Not long ago I was eating a meal at the table of a friend together with his newly married son and wife.  Partway thru the meal I realized there was something different about the interaction at the table but couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Later, in thinking it over, I realized that the interaction between my friend and his son was different than I remembered it in the years I’d known them.  Normally the father would gently correct his son when he was behaving inappropriately or talk to him in a manner that a father looking to raise his son to be a man might.  At this meal, however, none of that was present and the father interacted with his newly married son in the way one might interact with an equal.

Awareness of What Changed is the Difference-Maker

In thinking about this more and mentally comparing it to other parent-adult child relationships I’ve observed, it is clear that this situation is an anomaly.  In most situations I think it is fair to say that there can often be a fair amount of friction that surfaces between a parent and their adult child as the parent falls back into old parenting patterns and applies child parenting techniques to their adult child.  The result is friction, frustration and ultimately a distance that is created between parent and adult child.

What is it, therefore, that really demarcates the difference between most situations where the parent creates friction and distance by parenting the child with child rather than adult methods, and the approach my friend took in shifting to interfacing with his son as an equal?

What differentiates my friend from others in the same situation is the awareness that something has changed.  When his son got married, a light bulb went off in my friends head that said “Things have changed.  My son is now married and is his own man and I can no longer parent him in the same manner.”

This can sometimes be difficult to do because it can be hard to be sure whether a particular occurrence announces a major change or whether something else is happening.  To help with the identification process I like to concretize the change by seeing myself going thru a gate and visualizing the environment on the other side as different.  On one side I am a father parenting a young son.  On the other I am a father relating to my son as a colleague, allowing him to live his life together with his wife.   Without the awareness that something has changed, however, I have no chance of changing my behaviors.gate

Awareness of Change Extends Beyond the Interpersonal

This awareness that something has changed has far reaching implications beyond the interpersonal example we cited.  In business for example, the roads are littered with examples of companies who failed to realize ‘something has changed’ and spiraled into obsolescence.  Blackberry and Nokia, for example, failed to recognize the shift to smartphones in the mobile space and it remains unclear if their late efforts will save them from ultimate bankruptcy.

Likewise it has implications in politics, career, etc—in nearly every aspect of life.

Developing Awareness of Change and What It Implies

At the end of the day, we know we are not always going to immediately recognize when things have changed.  Sometimes we’ll be blind as bats when it comes to recognizing, what, in hindsight will have seemed to be a clear change that we completely missed.

It is important to continuously improve, though, because missing the signs that something has changed in a substantial way can lead to difficulty.  Indeed, an argument can be made that the root of much of the suffering we experience, is at its core, a lack of recognition that something has changed and the reason we are suffering is because we have failed to take appropriate action that acknowledges we are now on the other side of the gate and are acting as though we remain on the other side of the threshold.

I think we can increase our chances of maintaining our equilibrium and respond appropriately to what life throws at us with this two-step process:

  1. When encountering anything of any significance in life, big or small (life cycle occurrences, career or business events, family changes…) ask yourself “What Changed?” (‘my son is now a married man…’).
  2. Next, take it a step further and ask ‘What does the change mean for me?’
    (If I am interested in maintaining a good relationship with my son, I can no longer interface with him as I did when he was child’).Crucially, even if we get step 1 right and recognize that something has changed, all too often we miss out on step 2 and fail to ask and answer the question ‘what does this change really mean for me?’ What behaviors, strategies or approaches must I implement/change/stop as a result of this change?

Alternatively, if you find that something is just not going ask yourself:  “what change did I miss?”

If we can get good at a. recognizing that ‘something has changed’ and b. executing on what that change means we can continuously improve on rolling with, rather than fighting against the tide of life.


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