July 8, 2012

Relating to Your Adult Children

I am on vacation in Oregon for another few days enjoying my satisfying retirement so I'm recycling a post from almost two years ago. If you haven't been a regular reader since the beginning this will be new for you. If you have a better memory than I do and remember this the first time around, I'd appreciate any fresh comments and insight.

This is an important topic for anyone who has grown children.. Our kids are our kids forever. Being a parent is a job without end. But, just like retirement creates major changes, there should be a definite shift in how you and your adult kids relate to each other.

Not surprisingly, parents and their adult children often experience some problems in their relationships. For the parents, the change from being the primary influence to something less in the child's life isn't easy. For the adult child, the roles become blurred. Are my parents still authority figures? Friends? Something in between? What about how they interact with my children? My in-laws?

Various studies have highlighted several areas in a parent-adult child relationship that could cause problems:

*Differences in communication styles

*Lifestyle choices of the adult child

*The way grandkids are being raised

*Political and religious differences

*The employment status of the adult child

*How the household is run and maintained

Parents wouldn't be parents if they didn't compare what they see happening in these areas with how the child was raised. The child wouldn't be considered a mature adult if he or she hadn't developed some differences from the parents. There may be a shared DNA, but each of us is unique and each responds differently to situations and what life throws at us.

It is a given that there will be some rough spots between parents and their adult child. But, a blog reader asked that I look at some ways that may help parents improve this important relationship. My research to prepare for this post lead me to several sources that were remarkably consistent in their advice. Not all of these suggestions will apply in your situation or even be workable. But, it would be wise to think about each point listed below and determine if a particular answer fits your situation.

Accept differences. This is probably the most important suggestion and the toughest. Your adult child is not you. As he or she grows life experiences will result in changes that you may not fully approve of. At this stage of the game it isn't your job to approve. It's your responsibility to accept them.

Don't judge. At least not out loud. Obviously, this closely follows the first suggestion. You are no longer judge and jury. The child is looking for approval, acceptance, or at least tolerance for what they have done. They are not looking for you to tell them what they are doing wrong.

Timing is not under your control. While the child may still need and solicit your input and guidance, it will be less frequently than you may want or think necessary. Interactions of this sort should not be initiated by you. You may not see your grown child as often as you'd like. Remember, he has his own schedule and life.

Respect new traditions and ways of doing things. The way your adult child and his significant other or family celebrate a holiday, decorate the house, plan their vacations, even dress themselves may not be your way. Remember, it is their way and deserving of your acceptance.

Blending two families can be tricky. If married your child is now part of two families. He or she must attempt to keep two sets of parents happy. That can be quite difficult. Take the high road and don't insist on a perfect balance of time and attention. That will only make things tougher on your child.

Respond to questions or pleas for help like you would any other adult, not your child. When I read this in more than one study it struck me as a crucial part of having a healthy relationship. Do you talk with your adult child like you would a co-worker, or a friend? Or, do you talk at him? Unsolicited advice-giving or lecturing won't work on another adult. Why would you think it would work on your grown-up child?

Learn good listening skills. This is something that can improve all our relationships, not just with an adult child. Most of us, myself included, are thinking about our answer while the other person is talking. We aren't truly listening to what they have to say. I made reference to a particular skill called reflective listening in an earlier post. It is a way of listening that will instantly improve any relationship in which you apply it. Click here if you'd like to know more.

Decide that a healthy relationship is more important than the disagreements. Do you want to score points and win the argument while losing the war? Accept that your adult child is not under your control anymore. Accept that he or she is an adult with opinions, ideas, and beliefs that may differ from yours....like most of the rest of the adult world. That acceptance will gain you a much better shot at having the healthy, nurturing, and loving relationship you desire.

Personally, I can report that these suggestions work. In the case of our grown daughters my wife and I have been extremely fortunate. Areas of conflict and differences have been very minor. Nothing has taken place to harm a tremendously close bond between parents and kids. In fact, both girls moved back to Phoenix to be close to us (and other friends & extended family).

I can't tell you exactly why we have escaped any problems so far or claim we never will. We have tried to keep most of our opinions to ourselves. We have respected their choices and allowed them to build their own lives. While we may question some things that occur, we only do that in the privacy of our home, not in front of them. One thing we do is actively look for things we can do together. Picnics, watching football or sporting events together, movies at a theater or at a home or apartment, seeing plays and musicals together, meals out...any excuse to spend quality time together in a relaxed and enjoyable setting goes a long way to smoothing over the bumps that are going to occur.

Thanks to the reader who asked that I explore this topic. It is important and worthy of our thoughtful consideration. It has been helpful to me to look at all the pitfalls and problem areas that can arise. I sincerely hope that something in this post helps you make your relationship with your adult child all it can be. If you an are adult child attempting to improve the relationship with your parents, much of this can be helpful to you, too.

Comment time. Did I gloss over or miss any important areas in this type of relationship? Have you struggled to build a meaningful bond with an adult child? What if the parents and adult child live in separate parts of the country...does that create special challenges? I encourage your sharing thoughts and ideas. A solid relationship with an adult child can make your satisfying retirement much more pleasant.

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  1. Being a long distant parent/friend is a pain. My kids each live on a coast and we live in the middle. I wish, daily, to be in a place where they both are.
    You know me- always something to add. If they have married.... We work hard to support our "new" son and daughter. They are both good people, but it is natural to have spats- even BAD spats. We listen, nod our heads and then, after the steam is off, help to move forward. We never call names- or permit them to be called in front of us. If asked- we give suggestions of counseling or use humor- poking fun at our own marriage to show that we all go through the point of "marrying the prince and waking up to a toad". So far, so good.

  2. So far so good.....can't ask for more than that, can we Janette! Living apart from your kids makes it more difficult but your description of the balancing act required is a good one.

  3. We have only one child, a daughter, and she and her husband live about 18 hours drive from us. We will be visiting them in a week, and have flown them down to our place on average 2-3 times per year. As you might guess, we have an excellent relationship, and she is the joy of both Deb and my lives. Both she and her husband have a great sense of humor so when we are together, we share a lot of laughs and fun times, giving us a lot of memories. Our only regret is that they are a distance away, which was something very foreign to us for our daughter's first 28 years. A parent-child relationship can certainly be managed from a distance, but it is not as much fun as if both parent and child are close by. Fortunately technology has made it easier than ever to stay close, which we do. And for anyone wondering, the distance does get easier with time, and you tend to cherish the times you do get together that much more.

    1. Betty and I are thinking seriously of being away from Scottsdale for at least a month or two every summer. The hard part of that will be the separation from our children and grandkids, plus my dad. I'm glad to learn that the distance gets easier with time. Thanks, Chuck.

  4. As a divorced parent, I've had to accept that my daughter has become closer to her father than to me. When things get really tough though she calls mom. She's craved out a pretty good life for herself, but I would like to see her happily married and with children. She's in her mid-thirties so I'm not so sure I'll be a grandmother, but it's her choice. I don't push her to live the life I think she should live. As long as she's happy, I'm happy.

    1. You always hope your kids will follow a "normal" path in job and family. But, darn them, they turn out to be different from us! Our youngest daughter is likely to remain single but seems quite content with that decision and how she is living her life. We fully accept that choice and do whatever we can to help her be happy.

  5. Enjoyed this post very much. Excellent suggestions. We have two children and the one farthest away is only 13 miles. Some of the things you mentioned, I feel we do fairly well with....some of the others, we really need to be more cognizant of and practice, practice,practice. I like to "fix things" and am a very poor listener. We love the kids, in-laws, and grandkids and we all just keep forgiving and moving forward. Thanks for the great list and I will keep trying to "come up higher:)".

    1. Thanks, Linda. It is a constant learning process, isn't it? Practice doesn't make perfect, but it certainly helps.

  6. I am blessed to have one grown daughter, and 4 grown step-daughters. They are all so different, and so great. Also, 4 sons-in-law, and 6 grandchildren. I am growing as the parent of adult children, and as step-parent who didn't raise my step-daughters. The most conflicts are with the daughter I did raise -- naturally I think. But deep profound acceptance, listening, restraint, and speaking critically only when I deem the risk worth the possible consequences. That way, she is more likely to hear me out. All in all, I simply love having these five wonderful daughters who enrich my life, although unfortunately none live nearby.

    1. Having a good relationship with your kids is the goal. However it is achieved then success has happened. Your statement about speaking critically after assessing the risk to the relationship is important. We continue to have responsibilities as parents that never end, but how we implement them makes all the difference in the world.

  7. My son and his wife moved in with us a year and a half ago when he started graduate school and she was learning English and going to the tech school to get a Certified Nursing Assistant license. They were quite dependent on us financially, and it didn't seem to bother them until my husband insisted that we claim them on our taxes because the advantage was so much greater than if they claimed themselves. Shortly thereafter, they started apartment hunting. He has landed an assistantship at the university which will pay his tuition and give him a stipend, and she is working now, so while it will be a struggle, it's time for them to leave the nest again. I worried about facing the empty nest syndrome a second time, but the timing is right and we are avoiding having our relationships (all the way around!) start degrading. A lot of the things you talked about in your article are very pertinent to us to keep the relationships positive.

    1. We have an adult daughter who moved back home a year ago after a job situation turned bad. Now she is going back to school and will probably be with us for another 9 months or so. Actually we have come to enjoy her presence and it will feel a little odd when she finally moves back out again.

  8. Hi Bob, I found this post in Maturity Matters awhile back when I googled the topic. I saved a copy to my computer. I found it to be an excellent article and assumed it was written by someone with a psychology background. I am an adult child with parents,especially mom, who I think would benefit from your advice. She is overly critical, a worry wart and opinionated. Often times, I don't even think she intends to be negative or critical...she thinks she is helping. I've told her this in the past, but her response was...if your own mother can't tell you the "truth" who will? "Others are too polite to criticize you." I tend to brush off her comments, though inside it bothers me. I think it is tougher for my wife. If you watched "Everybody Loves Raymond," my mom shares many similarities to Marie. What do you think is a good way for an adult child to change this type of behavior in his parents who are set in their ways?

    1. I am glad you found the article and thought it useful. I do not have a psychology background but spent enough time in both consulting and lay ministry training to have a decent grasp of some of the challenges we face in this regard.

      In your situation, often there is no way to change the behavior unless you are willing to confront it head on. When someone does what your mom is doing, that person is feeling insignificant or feels a lack of control. They want to be heard and their thoughts respected. The way they do that is to "force" themselves to the foreground of discussions or issues.

      I'd suggest you have a few choices: nod politely and go on with your life, listen to what she says (since she is really pleading to be heard), ask her to tell you why she feels that way and what would she suggest you do, and then thank her and do what you are going to do. Or, confront her the next time she does something like this. Tell her you appreciate her concern but you disagree and would rather she not continue with those types of comments. If she pulls the mother guilt trip, repeat that you love her and the fact that she is trying to help, but she raised you to be a responsible adult and to do what you believe is best. She will probably be hurt, but eventually will respect your honesty with her.

      The bottom line: she is crying out to be listened to. You may try engaging her in conversations that have nothing to do with a hot button issue for her, ask for her thoughts on something and show you are listening. That may satisfy her need to be heard and respected and lessen her intrusion in other parts of your life.

      Older folks tend to become set in their ways. Change is uncomfortable.. The loss of significance is upsetting. You are no longer her little boy and she doesn't want to let go.

      Good luck. Let me know how things go.


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