In the last few years I have created a new niche in my practice, counseling parents of adult “children.” Perhaps it is a result of the fact that people are living longer that my clients are often over 65 and are as frustrated over their relationships with their grown-up sons and daughters as they were when their offspring were toddlers or teens.
Although society has many rituals to celebrate the rites of passage into adulthood such as graduation from school, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, we have no way to demarcate the passage from “child” to adult within the family. Therefore, parents keep thinking of their progeny as if they were still under their care. My clients are usually dissatisfied with their “children’s” lifestyles, relationships, parenting skills, handling of money, housekeeping standards, sex life, weight, addictions, and more. Although the adult “children” are usually living independently and are often 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 the parent’s expectations or appreciating the wisdom they are trying to impart, I give them these rules to follow in hopes of healing disgruntled relationships and enhancing good feelings.
Rule #1 Bite Your Tongue
• Refrain from giving advice.
• Refrain from expressing what you think would be better for him or her, their spouse or children.
• Refrain from saying anything that could be interpreted as criticism.
• Refrain from any type of rescue by bailing him out, giving her money, saying yes when you want 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, simply listen and then ask the Magic Question, “Well Jane/John, what would you like to do about that?” I usually suggest that you write this question on a card and keep it next to your phone. Just keep listening and asking this question.
If your son or daughter insists that he/she doesn’t know what to do, ask this question: If your best friend had this problem what would you tell him? No matter what, do not offer any help. If he or she is still unwilling to take charge, ask her this: Can you think of anyone who can help you find a solution to this problem?”
Rule #3 Stay In the Now
When you are upset, stop and remind yourself that in this very moment you are OK, you are alive, you have money in your pocket, a bed to sleep on, food in the fridge, etc. and so does your son or daughter. Whatever you are worrying about is in the future and you are wasting your NOW when you live in the future.
Therefore, instead of aggravating about what your adult child does that causes you worry, do what they say in Alcoholics Anonymous: Give him to God. I once had a client who did a ritual every day where she lit a small candle, said a prayer and imagined the person she was upset about 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 being taken care of.
Rule #4 Take Responsibility for Your Behavior
Did you have parents who acted toward you the same way that you are acting toward your adult children? How did that make you feel? I bet you didn’t like it, but you may have turned into your dad or mom despite yourself. 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 to say to you? You might want to write it down and keep it handy when find yourself about to open your mouth and say something they don’t want to hear.
Follow these rules and your prickly relationships with your sons and daughters will improve.