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Why Won't They Listen?

College kids have the strangest ideas sometimes, right? Influenced by their professors, their peers, and society at-large, they can surprise us with the new rapidly evolving philosophies they eagerly embrace in college. Parents, caught off guard by the vigor with which they share what they're learning, find themselves sad and frustrated as they watch their kids stray from long-held and beloved family core values. So... we argue, we pester, we insist on reinforcing the truth, and they shut down. They stop calling. The don't share. And we feel doubly betrayed. What a quandary.

Good news! There's a way to communicate our feelings and feel respected when we find that our kids hold opposing viewpoints. We may not persuade them to agree with us, but we maximize our changes by staying closely and lovingly connected to them.

Step 1: Do the remote work. If every conversation with our kids away at college is in some way contentious, it's no wonder they stop calling. Since we love them, it should be easy enough to reach out cheerfully and often hear what's going on in their lives. Psychologists recommend that there be five pleasant, non-confrontational, affirming interactions for every "serious" one. In other words, we don't want to ask our child if they're going to mass every time we speak with them. Instead, after 5 or more complete conversations on other topics, we might share something we loved about the most recent mass experience we had and invite them to comment.

Step 2: When the time comes to talk about opposing viewpoints, as parents, we take the high ground and enter the conversation with intellectual humility and an open mind. We listen, ask open ended, non-threatening questions, and listen some more. We give our full attention --no cell phones in sight-- and by our body language we show them we care about what they're sharing (if only because they seem to deeply care about it).

Step 3: When they've finished explaining their viewpoint and we have no more questions for them, it's our turn to talk. In making our case, we avoid all critical language, eye-rolling, or otherwise demeaning signals and speak slowly, calmly and lovingly. Is this difficult? Sometimes very much so...

Step 4: If they're enlightened and persuaded, well done! But more often, they'll be so sure of their position that they'll not waver. What's next? As parents, we can't twist their arm, and we don't want to. No one is persuaded by force. Instead, we turn it over to someone with infinite powers of persuasion!

““The vocation of all parents after their children have grown [is] to become more spiritual and contemplative, and less active in how they care for their children…They must become more contemplative, learn to rely more on prayer, and trust that God in his providence will take care of everyone we love, now and at the hour of their death." First Things, 9/2022

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