In the last few years, I have created a new niche in my psychotherapy practice: counseling parents of adult "children". Perhaps this is a result of the fact that people are living longer: my clients are often over 60 and are as frustrated about their relationships with their grown-up sons and daughters as they were when they were toddlers or teens! (Find out more about managing difficult relationships in my eBook EFT Tapping: 64 Quick & Easy Tips).
Although society has many rituals to celebrate the rites of passage into adulthood such as graduations, bar mitzvahs and weddings, we have no way to demarcate the passage from child to adult within the family. As a result, parents keep thinking of their progeny as if they were still under their care. My clients are usually dissatisfied with their adult children's lifestyles, relationships, parenting skills, handling of money, housekeeping standards, sex life, weight, addictions and more.
More from YourTango: PTSD: It Can Happen To You
Although these adult children are usually living independently, are happily married and self sufficient with children of their own, Mom doesn't see it that way. After an exasperated parent has finished venting about how his or her child is not living up to expectations, I give them these rules to follow. If you feel your child isn't listening to the wisdom you impart, or falls short of your expectations, you can heal disgruntled relationships and enhance good feelings — all around.
Rule #1: Bite Your Tongue
- Refrain from giving advice. Slap your hand any time you hear yourself say: "Why don't you..." or "You should or shouldn't..." and mentally order yourself to bite your tongue!
- Stop suggesting what you think would be better for him or her, their spouse or children. Don't offer solutions unless you are asked for them.
- Avoid saying anything they could interpret as criticism. By this time, you already know the subjects your son or daughter is most sensitive about. Some topics that may be off limits include: money, addictive behaviors, parenting styles, success, or the shortcomings of your children's spouse or significant other.
- Discontinue any type of rescue operation, such as bailing him out, giving her money that will not be paid back, or helping out in any way that leads you to feel resentment because you said "yes" when you wanted to say "no".
Rule #2: Use The Magic Question
When your offspring is crying on your shoulder and seems to be helpless, do not try to save him or solve her problem. Instead, listen politely and then ask what I call The Magic Question, "Well Jane/John, what would you like to do about that?" I strongly urge you to write this question on an index card and keep it next to your phone. As the conversation goes on, just keep listening and asking this question each time you're tempted to offer a solution.
If your son or daughter insists that he or she doesn't know what to do, ask this question next: "If your best friend had this problem what would you tell him to do?" No matter what, do not offer any of your own suggestions at this point! If he or she is still unwilling to take charge, ask her this final question using your most concerned voice: "Can you think of anyone who can help you find a solution to this problem?" You may be hoping that she will think of her doctor, lawyer, plumber, minister, or therapist.
If your child is still unwilling or unable to find any answer, refrain from doing their work for them because, most likely, they are people who have the smarts to find their own answers at work or in other life situations. In that case, take a few deep breaths and calm your own frustration before ending the conversation like this: "It sounds as if you are really stuck. I know that you will come up with solution to this problem if you continue to think about it."
Rule #3: Stay In The Now
If you feel upset or frustrated after having a difficult meeting or phone call with your child, is it because you are afraid that something awful will happen to him or her? If so, take a moment to remind yourself that in this very instant you are OK, you are alive, you have money in your pocket, a bed to sleep in, food in the fridge, and so does your son or daughter. When you scare yourself about the future, you are wasting your now.
Instead of stewing over what your adult child does that causes you worry, do as they suggest in Alcoholics Anonymous: Give him to God. I once had a client who did a ritual every day in which she lit a small candle, said a prayer and imagined the difficult person she was over whom she was distressed drifting up into God's protection. Every time she began to take her worry back, she reminded herself that just for today, her loved one was under the care of the Supreme Parent.
Rule #4: Take Responsibility for Your Behavior
Did you have parents who acted toward you the same way that you have been acting toward your adult children? How did that make you feel? Did they criticize you or rescue you in ways that made you feel angry or guilty? I bet you didn't like it, but you may have turned into your dad or mom despite your best efforts. Perhaps it drove a wedge between you, or even caused you to move away emotionally or physically. Think back to those days: what would you have preferred your parents have said to you? Write it down and keep it handy for when find yourself about to say something your adult children won't really want to hear.
Follow these rules and your prickly relationships with your adult sons and daughters will improve.
More from YourTango: Get Off the Perfection Merry-Go-Round
More parenting advice from YourTango: