Parenting Adult Children

Most of us are at an age when we have an adult child or children who have their own set of, friends, partners, careers, lifestyles and values. Their decisions may not be what we would have chosen for ourselves or for them. It is a complicated dance.

Seth Meyers shared his experience recently, related to an instance when his father offered him suggestions on improving his show he told him to support, not advice.

Author Jane Isay talks about navigating the delicate relationship between adult children and parents in her book “Walking on Eggshells”:

“The kids want to establish a new relationship, one of greater equality, in which the parents’ anxiety is not so overwhelming, and in which their parents’ judgment is eased.”

Recently there was a focus on a group of parents, which the literature called the “snowplow parents”.

Snowplow parents are usually described as parents who clear their child’s way of every obstacle or shield their child from any stress or failure. As we have seen in the news recently, it can cross legal and ethical boundaries.

Many of us struggle with the knowledge that our kids are not going to be able to have the same lifestyle as we may enjoy or have enjoyed. In part, we want to help them with that, walking a fine line between helping them and overindulging them. This was evident also with snowplow parents. According to statistics, in the New York Times, a large percentage of us still advise our kids on their romantic lives and make medical or haircut appointments for them. Please give some thought to:

Our children are not an extension of us. They may not take the path we hoped them to choose.  On one hand you want to avoid arguments and create distance from your children. On the other hand we want to pass the wisdom and it is difficult to want our children make mistakes and let them live with those mistakes especially if that decision have financial ad psychological impact on the family.

Follow these tips to help transitioning your adult children in becoming “adult”

  • Letting go of worry – You are a parent so worrying about future of your children is inevitable but refrain from excessively verbalizing it.
  • Gradually shifting responsibility: It is always a sensible idea to shift the financial burden on your children gradually.
  • Letting go of giving advice – Generally, adults children want support rather than advice. Keeping your mouth shut and door open seems to be a golden rule.
  • Get to Know Them as Adults: Once you get the realization that your children are not kids anymore, it brings your relationship with them in equal footing where you can see them as a person capable of taking their own decisions.
  • Don’t interfere in their personal relationships: Whether it is their partner, spouse or kids, let them take the decisions for their family. Unless they ask for your advice specifically, it is always better for both of you to let them straighten out the things themselves.
  • Set out some ground rules: If the rules are set in the beginning, issues can be solved in a better and easier way afterwards. Whether it is deciding the payment terms on the loan given by you or deciding the frequency of your get-togethers.
  • Career advice: Don’t push your children to choose a career or to take a job in a field that doesn’t interest them.
  • End of life discussion: Though taking about end of life decisions can be hard on you and your children, but they should have a clear picture of how the things should be when you are no longer to decide for yourself.
  • Letting go of guilt-tripping – There is no positive outcome of guilt-tripping yourself for the choices made by your adult children.

Help vs Enabling

  • If your child has a job interview, providing financial help for an interview coach is help but calling all your friends to help them getting the job, writing their cover letters or CVs, paying for relatively minor things would be enabling
  • Giving them support which at times can be financial in those life milestones that would otherwise be difficult to achieve without parental help.
  • Providing a helping hand with your grandkids if any. But telling your adult children on how to raise kids would not likely be acceptable to them. However, if the debate is something like vaccinating or not vaccinating their kids, you can provide your opinion if they are taking a wrong direction.
  • It might be a good idea to phase out the responsibilities.
  • One also has to accept that the frequency of meetings with the adult children not living at home is going to be much lesser and they should be thoughtful of their children’s schedules too.
  • It is fine to give large gifts to adult children on an occasion specially when they make no demands.
  • Enabling is if you have a housekeeper and she/he takes care of your adult child’s mundane tasks as well. Helping is to teach your adult children responsibility by letting them take care of their laundry and their general life around you when they live with you.

Don’t give them advice and don’t be invested in their day to day life. Things like taking decisions about their professional life may warrant your help in terms of providing them financial stability.  Loving and accepting while letting go of worrying is difficult but not unattainable.

To conclude, the transformation of your children in to adults can be much easier if both the parents and children are able to contribute and combine their efforts towards this goal.

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