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Newsletter Dated: 8/1/2012 6:23:18 PM
Subject: Happiness Tips from Tina: How to Heal a Rift with an Adult Child
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Happiness Tip: How to Heal a Rift with an Adult Child
Frequently I help my clients work through problems with their grown children. Sometimes, an offspring is angry about something, and the parent is at a loss for what is wrong or what to do about it. These struggles often have their seeds in things that happened long ago, when the child was young. Even parents who love their children and try to do the right thing can make mistakes, and some parents let their issues -- struggles with spouses, stresses of single parenting, fears about money or social disapproval Ė skew their child-related decisions.
Although it sometimes takes some time, almost all these rifts can be healed, especially if the parent doesnít get defensive or upset. This, of course, is not easy, but it is well worth the struggle.
First, you have to understand what the cause of the rift is. Rifts between parents and adult children can be caused by several things:
1. A divorce which the child blames you for, or has sided with the other parent. If your family was split up while the child was living at home, your child may have had a difficult time, and blamed you for it; whether or not it was actually your doing. Children's loyalties are split in a split household, and they may feel, or be told, they have to choose sides; so they carry the resentment, hurt and anger into adulthood, and often distance themselves from one or both parents as a result.
2. Dysfunctional family dynamics: If there was a lot of drama in the family when the child grew up, including induced guilt, fighting, violence, verbal abuse, or other dysfunction, the child may feel it's necessary to create distance as an adult, to protect him or herself from the drama.
3. Fights about something that happened after the children grew up, such as hurt feelings, money or sibling issues (you like/treat my sibling better), struggles with the spouse of your adult child, smothering behavior on your part, neglect or avoidance by you or your child. If you have not behaved in a mature manner around your adult child's friends, family or in-laws, have behaved in a manner your adult child(ren) perceive as unfair, or been perceived as unsupportive in some way, your adult child may be punishing you by keeping an angry silence. If you have been perceived as too clingy or smothering, the adult child may withdraw to get some breathing room.
No matter what the issue is, it's important that you allow your child to grow up and become independent of you. Don't look to your child to fill your life after they grow up, as they did when they were little. Don't view your child's partner or spouse as an enemy; or your child may choose them instead of you. Back, off, give your adult child some space, and make sure you have a life of your own. With space, your child will have a chance to see you as a person, not just their disappointing parent.
Itís also important to listen and acknowledge your offspringís experience, feelings and point of view, even if itís not very flattering or kind toward you. If you let your child know youíre willing to try to understand, he or she will be more willing to hear your side. Once you two can have a good discussion (and sometimes it helps to do this in writing instead of face to face Ė email can give each of you a chance to say your full piece, and absorb what each other is saying.)
Use the guidelines below to help move from the parent/child dynamic to a more friendly one.
It's not easy to let go of adult children. As you see it, they're still your babies. However, you'll do much better interacting with them if you help them grow into friends. Stop seeing them as people you should take care of, and see them more like your other adult relatives: siblings, cousins, etc. Of course, you'll always have the honorific of Parent, but it's really not your job any more, and if you try to hang on to it, you'll either wind up feeling used, or your adult children will avoid you. Here are some guidelines to help.
Guidelines for Helping Your Adult Children Grow Into Friends
1. Call your grown children by their given names, rather than childish nicknames. If you have teenagers, they may already have asked you to do this. ďSuzie QĒ type nicknames are fine for small children, but as children begin to grow up, they feel more respected when called by their given names. By doing so, you also remind yourself to treat your children as young adults.
2.Discuss adult topics. As your children grow, donít limit your conversation strictly to family topics or questions about their personal life. Involve them in discussions of current events and the like, just as you would with a friend. Take a minute to think of ďadultĒ topics youíd like to talk about with them. Politics, events, sports, work issues (just facts and events -- avoid complaining) political or local neighborhood issues are all suitable topics. Nagging and constant reminders are ineffective with young children and inappropriate with grown children. Of course, you should set limits and make sure that irresponsibility and bad behavior have consequences, but you neednít patronize your children. If they want something from you, donít respond unless they ask you in a polite, adult manner. Include them in your planning discussions and expect that they will take appropriate responsibility for family issues.
3. Share with your children on a parent - to parent basis. If your children have children of their own you have expertise they can benefit from, but be willing to learn from them as well. If theyíre reading books or taking courses on parenting, discuss the information as you would with another parent your own age. If they parent their children differently than you did, donít take it as a personal affront, and donít interfere unless youíre asked to.
4. Donít react if your grown child does or says something annoying. Just ignore it and change the subject. Treat your adult children as politely as you would the grown children of a friend. If they are doing something to annoy you, and you donít react, they will stop. After all, if you were with a friendís family, and someone did something odd, youíd just ignore it, and you wouldnít let yourself be drawn into family squabbles. Youíd just be polite and pleasant, for your friendís sake.
5. Ask your children for opinions and advice. Even in early childhood, children can be encouraged to develop their own opinions about events and decisions you face as a family, as they get older, you can ask for their ideas about what to do. When your children become adults, you can request advice about work issues, investments or other concerns. Sharing advice as friends and equals will create the friendly connection you want.
6. Pay attention to the balance of your interaction. As a parent, the role of nurturer and caretaker is familiar, and perhaps comfortable, for both you and your children. But you donít want to foster that relationship when your children are grown. Donít let your part in the relationship slide into all giving (or all receiving). Remember, the objective is to create a friendship with your children. If your children always seem ready to take from you, make some suggestions of what they can do in return.
I wish you warm and loving family relationships, with your children, their children, and all your extended family.
© 2012 Tina B. Tessina adapted from:
It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page) ISBN 1-56414-469-9
If you want more, here are some related articles you can download from my website at http://tinatessina.com/monthly_column.html
Apology and Forgiveness
Asking for What you Want
Attitude: From Negative to Gratitude
Coping with Critics
Creating Connections: Draw Them In
Creating Family Acceptance
Detox Your Life
The Family of the Heart
The Freedom of Maturity
Getting to Yes
Gratitude, Kindness and Happiness
How to Write a Love Letter
The Importance of Humor
Into Every Life
Kindness and Happiness
Less Talk, More Action
Letting Go Takes Love
Living Outside The Box
The Magic of Reassurance
Make New Friends, Keep Good Friends
The Meaning of Life
Mirrors and Teachers
The Nail in the Fence: Healing Wounds
No Cooperation? Solve it Yourself!
Patterns of Change
Peace Begins at Home
The Power of Politeness
Relating With Love
Setting Boundaries and Saying No
To Help An Addicted Friend
Turn on Your Charm
Turning Poison Into Medicine
Weaving The Web
What Is A Dysfunctional Relationship?
When Love is Kind: Mutuality in Relationships
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Wishing you joy,
Tina B. Tessina, PhD
Re: Less Talk, More Action (See this past article at http://www.tinatessina.com/monthly_column.html )
Thanks Tina, I needed this. Love John
Iím glad it was helpful, John. Thanks for letting me know.
I needed this advice badly when I was 17 but had to learn the hard way. I am sure I would not have listened anyway. Way too hard headed. Fortune just smiled on me when Gary came into my life! Love, Marion
Thanks for this, Marion -- I know we are the lucky ones -- just trying to forestall someone else's pain, if I can.
In terms of this topic - there are "haters" everywhere. It is much easier to be yourself then to pretend to be something or be an ideal of what you think others expect you to be like around you. Marc
Thank you, Marc: I agree that there are "haters" everywhere, and that it's important not to let hate be the most powerful thing. thanks for writing,
Tina, Great advice, so how come I didn't know you 30-40 years ago ?? ha ha !!
Sorry Iím late, Becky -- maybe I can help some young women.. Thanks for writing.
Dear Dr. Romance, First, I'd like to say I love reading your articles. I read them through Divine Caroline, and I always look forward to the new ones. Jocelia
Thanks for telling me, Jocelia. Iím so glad theyíre helpful.