I recently gave a lecture for Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood entitled: Parenting Your Adult Children and How to be the Ideal Child In-Law. This 5-part series is an edited transcript of this talk and based on my newest book Seek Peace and Pursue It (Feldheim Publishers).Dovid Lieberman, Ph.D.
Part 1 of 5
We’re going to be speaking about understanding and strengthening the relationship between adult children and their parents. And we’ll see how, with the application of some basic strategies, you can ease the tension in these types of relationships, as well as increase your own emotional solvency.
Research shows that there are six the major hot buttons; the greatest areas of contention and stress that occur here; and we’ll look at the issues from both angles–from the perspective of the parent dealing with the child and child-in-law, and then we’ll flip it around and address things from the perspective of the adult child, and how he or she can best relate to, and navigate the challenges, with their parents and in-laws.
Hot Button # 1: Input and Advice
We can ask any parent about child-rearing’s two most difficult phases. The answer is invariably the “terrific twos” and the teenage years. (Parenthetically, I gave this talk once, and a woman wearily lifted her head and said, “The two most difficult times are morning and night,” and then put her head back down.) This pattern is easily understood in terms of control and respect. A two-year-old is gaining a sense of independence and freedom and wants to exercise this instinct. The teenager also wants to express his individuality. In both scenarios, the parents seek to dominate, and conflict ensues.
What do these two phases have in common? A sense of control, a sense of freedom; a newfound identity; The two-year-old’s focus on, “I, me, mine.” The toddler wants to get dress himself even though it may take two hours . . and for those with teenage girls, well, okay, let’s leave it at that.
The goal of a parent is to teach your child to walk and then you teach him to walk away—to instill in him, a sense of independence. But that doesn’t mean that the child does not want and crave your love and respect. In fact, as we will learn, that is the only way that he can become truly independent.
Children, then, need a lot of things; but there’s one thing they don’t want: advice. As well-meaning, and as well-intentioned as you are, they don’t want to hear it, they often resent it, and you’ve got to limit it. Let’s clarify that this does not apply to the times (or to the relationship) where a child invites, welcomes, and encourages a parents’ input.
A few months back, when I gave this talk, an elderly gentleman came up to me afterwards and said, “I’m having a problem with one of my adult children – he doesn’t take my advice and we get into an argument every time I try to tell him that he‘s making a mistake.”
I said, “Then stop giving advice.”
“I can’t do that, ” he answered reflexively.
“Why not?” I inquired.
He said, “Well, he does too many foolish things, and has these silly ideas and plans that never work out.”
I probed further. “Does he ever take your advice?”
“No,” he answered immediately and emphatically.
“How many years has this been going on?” I asked.
“Oh, I’d say about fifty years or so,” he said with a laugh. Recognizing that my window to help him was narrow and closing, I was blunt, “So, what is it that you’re hoping to accomplish other than continuing to damage the relationship?”
There was a long pause, a faint smile, and then an honest, “I don’t know.” I encouraged him experiment with the idea of not giving advice for a 30 day period, and then see what happens. “At the very least, your relationship will be improved,” I offered.
Let’s understand the deeper psychology here: When you constantly give advice to an adult child – particularly one who has low self-esteem, and that’s all of us from one degree to another— what is the unconscious message that you’re communicating? I don’t trust you, and I don’t respect your judgment. It should come as no surprise that this is simply going to cause the child to push back, and away.
It’s for this reason why so such problems develop in family run businesses–giving advice, input, and even orders, are necessary to the running of the company, but is often damaging for the personal relationship.
Copyright © 2011by Dovid Lieberman