November 19, 2018

Retirement Advice: Relating To Your Adult Children


After the post about dealing with difficult parents, let's flip the view and consider parents dealing with adult children. 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. A blog reader asked that I look at some ways that may help parents improve this important relationship. My research in preparing 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 may be 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. 

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, several years ago 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 rewarding.


25 comments:

  1. It's all good advice but it works better with some than others. We have 2 daughters and each has a completely different personality. Our older daughter, as she was growing up, would always listen to what we had to say and then make her own decisions (often she'd take our advice but not always). Now married with 2 children she's still the same, we see her and her family frequently and if she has a sticky situation to deal with, she asks our advice. Just like before she listens and then makes her own decision which we totally support either way.

    Our younger daughter when she was growing up seemed to take the position that any advice we gave was to be actively ignored, certainly from about age 13 into her late 20s. As a result, she's had a tough go of it in life but in the last few years she has come to see that we weren't just blowing smoke. After a stint with homelessness, precarious unemployment, and bankruptcy (so you know who had to step in to pick up the pieces) at least some of what we said makes sense to her now. At 33 she's still the rebel and always wants to "do it herself" and keeps us at an emotional distance. We, and especially my wife, have had to learn that regardless of any obvious pitfalls she's going to do it her way and let her get on with it whatever the outcome. Our youngest daughter finally seems to be getting a handle on things and now lives in a nice apartment and has a steady job. She'll be fine but it's been a bumpy ride.

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    1. Being a parent is a tough job: one with no guarantees of success and no end date. Your youngest daughter is the type of child that causes grey hairs in her parents, but ultimately shows the depths of human love and compassion that being a parent exposes. You and your wife wouldn't give up on her, even while allowing her to make her own way, flawed though it may be. That she is finally finding her footing is a testament to your commitment and her internal strength.

      Thanks for sharing, David.

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    2. Yes, I firmly agree with DDavidson. It all sounds so easy when nothing is going wrong in your own family. We have a son who, eight years ago, decided to become so offended with a conversation between his wife and us, that he has all but thrown us completely away.

      No invitations to anything, have never been to a birthday party for his children. It has absolutely broken our hearts and changed our retirement years. We had practically dedicated our lives to our children beforehand. Nice holidays, family vacations, constantly helped them financially, only to have this happen. Honestly, eight years later we are still stunned.

      Lots of things in life are completely beyond our control.

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    3. I am very sorry to hear this, Anne. I can think of few things more hurtful than the type of separation you are being forced to endure.

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  2. Like ddavidson there were a few bumps in the road with our only child, but she largely has been a great daughter. Sure she went her own way against our advice at times and may have had to learn from it, but she is her own person and has largely succeeded. When we moved to TN from NY it was a struggle for both us and her, but she then moved to NC for work and is only five hours away. We meet up at various times of the year, mainly when Deb and I are on the road for travels, and always enjoy the get-togethers very much.

    I remember when she got married (since divorced from him, thankfully) at the reception the then husband did something a little risque with the garter belt that Deb did not like with her conservative values Italian family in attendance. She turned to me and said to "do something about it". I told her Jess was a married woman now and she had to make her own decisions. I think that was somewhat of a turning point that stated to both of us that she was no longer a child and we could no longer treat her as such. Bottom line, we never got heavily into her business, give advice when it is required, and in general support her emotionally (and sometimes financially, of course, even though she is doing well in that area). Because of that she is comfortable in asking us anything and knows that we will give her our best response. We are very happy how things turned out, and much of it is due to many of the same points you raised, Bob, which required more attention from the people who were adults throughout the time, namely us.

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    1. It really goes against our human nature to see a "mistake" and not want to fix it, especially when it it being committed by someone we love deeply. One of the toughest part of being a parent is to accept that your grown child is not you. Accepting his or her choices is part of the bargain when you raise another human being.

      Much as you may think you want a clone of you, you really don't. There are few things more satisfying than watching a child become a fully functioning adult who continues to enjoy your company.

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  3. Excellent article and very pertinent to my wife and me. Our son and his wife just moved from OK to CA for a job, almost on a whim. This hit me hard. They sold everything and only took what they could fit into two cars. I was unnerved by this seemingly (to me) irresponsible action, but my daughter set me straight. She said that her brother does things differently from what the rest of us would do, but she said, "Dad, it's not wrong. It's just different." I had to take several giant steps back and agree with her. Our son and his sweet wife are self-supporting, have never asked for money, and are quite independent yet loving towards us.
    I just told our daughter that I hope that we treated her well during her growing up years since it looks like she'll be our caregiver someday. She just laughed about this. Hope that is a good sign!
    Jeff

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    1. "Dad, it's not wrong. It's just different" is the core of this post, and of many of the disputes between parents and grown children. It is so hard to shift gears from being a parent to being an adult friend, confidant, and supporter who accepts and doesn't constantly pass judgement.

      She laughed? How's your long term care insurance? (just kidding!)

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  4. I strive to hold the words of Kahlil Gibran in my heart when it comes to my adult son -
    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you...
    I often reminded young parents that in the end, they would spend less time with their children than without them. When the kids are little, there's often one "tugging on your shirt sleeve or pant leg" for attention. That role often reverses as the child grows!

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    1. Excellent perspective. We give birth but that doesn't grant us ownership, just a few years to offer guidance, lessons, and love. Than, that human's life force will take over and we are just along for the ride.

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  5. We have also been blessed with a great son who hasn't done much to worry us over the years. A miracle in these times!! In fact,Ken and I can tend to be overly emotional in decision making, and Andrew is calmer than us! He sits us down and gives US advice from time to time and we listen!! LOL!! There have been times he's asked our opinions, and we all support one another as we pursue our individual lives.. The greatest thing is when your grown kids actually enjoy spending time with you-- like all the fun relaxed times together you mention.

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    1. Our two daughters are not hesitant to give mom and dad "suggestions" on certain topics. And, as you note, we enjoy each others' company so the whole process is pleasant.

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  6. We have everything on the spectrum with our five kids: those who are successful and interact with us all the time, those who we only hear from on holidays or birthdays, those who live far away and mostly visit via FaceTime and even one with serious addiction problems. As a couple who married later in life and each brought adult kids to the union, we have had many, many conversations about each of them - alone and with a therapist - and how they do or don't interact with us. Some are heartbreaking and some fill our lives with uplifting, happy times. Every bullet point above is spot on in my experience, and dealing with each of them where they are and accepting their adult decisions is key in having a happy life ourselves as well as the best relationship we can have with each one and their families.

    My mom always quoted the Kahlil Gibran poem that Mona shared above and as I've aged, it's been a touchpoint for me.

    Great post, Bob!

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    1. I'm glad the points I made in this post resonated with you, Hope. You have had a full range of situations to live through and learn from. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I've always appreciated the point of view of Erma Bombeck on having adult children. As a parent of an adult child you must transition from being a "supervisor" in their younger years to a "spectator" now that they are grown. I think that sums up the relationship quite tidily. Now actually DOING that has a bit of a learning curve attached but is doable and probably best in the long run!

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    1. Erma always cut to the chase. I like the spectator label, though I'd modify it to an "involved" spectator. No parent I know can just sit back and idly watch their kids' lives unfold.

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  8. One thing that made me appreciate how we must accept our children for who they are and how they may be different from us, their parents, is how different they are from each other. If the kids have different personalities, interests, temperaments, etc., from each other, how can we possibly expect they'd be like us?

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    1. Excellent point. My two daughters view certain subjects and ways of approaching life quite differently, even though they are only 17 months apart and grew up side-by-side.

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  9. This is so true! I'm always amazed how siblings can turn out so different from one another even though they grow up in the same home. I see this in my own siblings as well as my kids.

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    1. Just as siblings that grow up together can be so temperamentally different, it's said that no two siblings ever have the same set of parents either. I think about how much more careful and uptight we were with our first child compared to how much more relaxed we felt about parenting our youngest. We had learned a few things over the years, our lives and responsibilities changed as well, as well as the number of children with all their differences, so each of our children got a different set of parents in a sense. It's no wonder, ourside of temperament, that they're so different. Anyway, our kids have all agreed on my husband's and my parenting has been consistent in some ways, but they disagree about other aspects just because different things were going for them.

      Each one of our children has their own story and their own struggles, and it's been a joy over the years to watch them grow and spread their wings. Like others, these days some communicate with us more than others, some ask for advice but others don't or won't, but we know for the most part when to step in and when to let them make the first move. And, they all seem to be doing OK, knock on wood, and I treasure our relationships with them.

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    2. One way your point about parents changing is often demonstrated is in the number of photos taken. The first child...every moment and everything. The second child....important events. The third child...what camera?

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    3. I am being a spectator on this part. We had two. Each of our two have three. The differences between two and three and how they are cared for are astounding. One DIL says: First one did not get a pacifier, second one got one only if it was sterilized after it hit the ground, third one- a bit of "Mommy spit" and back in the mouth.
      My daughter had the sweet, verbal child first. She lost two between her first and second. My mission is to keep the second child from being a criminal. LOL. Lots of movement to keep up. Her third is so funny- draws on any surface available. "Oh well, we were going to paint at year ten in this house anyway."
      Parenting the adult- I have slowly moved to being a non opinion person on parenting. It is hard and I complain to my husband (sometimes a lot), but the families are completely different and absolutely lovely. We did move out East to be of help---but the time is coming to move West again. We both wonder if we will be terribly lonely without them.

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    4. Yes, Laura, my parents were quite different from me (the oldest) to my youngest brother, which I now understand having been a parent. I'm also a believer in birth order. The books I've read pretty much nail the personalities of quite a few in our family.

      And you're right on the pictures, Bob. My first's baby book has a lot of detail and info. The next one less and the last one - well, let's just say it's looking fairly new. :)

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  10. This is a great topic to write about, Bob. I am fortunate to have a close loving relationship with my three adult children, a very good relationship with my step daughter, and a somewhat distant but still cordial relationship with my stepson. However, that is not to say everything is always easy. Although the two that have children and their husbands are wonderful parents, nevertheless there are some parenting decisions that I find very hard to witness. But I am learning to stay silent, not interfere, and not give advice unless asked. I am not the parent! It is also hard to see my children who I love so much experience difficult things. I want to rush in and protect them! But I have to let them find their own way through. I can listen and let them know that I love them and that I am proud of them. But it is not my job to solve their problems. Easy to say, hard to do.

    Jude

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    1. A child is a child forever, in our minds and hearts. As you note, it is very hard to not intervene when we see something developing that will spell trouble. But, that must be our course.

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