So many of us boomers and beyond struggle with our relationships with our adult children. The issues range from dealing with in-laws to our children’s marital discord to our distress about their child-rearing practices.
On my noon chat tomorrow, I will be joined by psychologist Janet Berson, a family therapist in South Jersey, and by the letter writer below.
I need some guidance about dealing with adult children. When I look for books on the subject, most of what I find concerns children with addiction, mental illness, etc. My adult children are quite successful by society standards. Both are highly respected professionals in high-powered jobs.
They live such intense lives professionally and with their own families and friends that there is little room for anyone else. The other in-laws feel the same exclusion. Yes, I have my own life, work, and friends and I live away from them, but I would like a better relationship.
They live by multitasking. Even a phone conversation is shared with their being on a computer. I would appreciate any suggestions.
– Worried in West Chester
Just this week, a friend told me how concerned she was about her 20-year-old daughter who seemed to be acting out in college. Another friend told me that his 30-year-old son was getting a divorce. And a former colleague told me that her physician son cut off all communication with her because he found her to be intrusive. And that was just this week!
There are lots of books about raising children and dealing with aging parents. But you are right. We have little guidance about how to be parents of adult children.
So here are some generalizations. When children are very young, they need us to manage every bit of their lives, and the more we anticipate and care for their needs, the safer they are.
As they become school-age, we must loosen our management and allow them more freedom. We still need to anticipate their needs, but if we continue to protect them from all adversity, we deprive them of the opportunity to build resilience.
And so the process continues. The older they get, the more we must release our grasp. In high school, our children no longer need managers but guidance counselors. And as they get older, they need cheerleaders.
In many families, parents do not grow with their children, which sets up a conflict down the pike. Children will fight in whatever way they can for autonomy, and sometimes, when they move out of the house, a door closes.
Now I am not suggesting this is necessarily the case with your children, but it might be helpful to review the history of your relationship with them. I wonder why they find making time for you an added stress rather than seeing you as a resource. My rule is that whenever there is a conflict in any relationship, look inside first. That’s not to find blame, but to help you see the conflict differently.
What you seem to suggest is that the problem is about your children’s lifestyle. And that is something many of us can relate to.
Your frustration reminds me of the 1974 folk song by Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” in which a young boy begged his busy father for more time, but the father was too busy. Then the father aged and begged his adult son for more time, but now the son was too busy.
That was more than 30 years ago, and now the pace of life is many times faster.
So I see two major issues here. One is, how do we and our loved ones stop this racing lifestyle and recalibrate our lives? There are ways of doing it, but like any life change, they require devotion and courage. The first step is not to make a dramatic change in one’s life, but to make the small one of sitting quietly every day and simply experiencing your life moment by moment. This helps time slow down, and will help you think about what’s important in your life.
The other issue is, how can we do this for our loved ones? Gandhi said “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” So it must begin with us. Our urgency to change our children is partly about our children and partly about our anxiety. If we can approach them with an open heart filled with love and compassion and without an agenda, that might change the context of the discussion.
Remember, as our children age, they don’t need our management and they don’t even need our advice unless they ask for it. What they do need is our unyielding faith in their goodness and their ability to deal with whatever adversity may lie in their future.