Having children is overrated. People think that you raise your kids until they’re 18 and then it’s over. No, it isn’t. It’s never over because your kids eventually become your parents.
My children are all grown up and I’d love to get over them. I can’t. They’re my children, but I don’t understand them any more than I understand the man I married.
I look at my boys and wonder how they actually grew up without me. They claim I didn’t cook or take them to Hawaii at Christmas. They say they were latchkey kids. Most of the time I can’t even talk to my adult children.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting one of my sons, Jonathan, and his three boys in Las Vegas. The weekend assault was over and he was driving me to the airport. I was exhausted.
“You were really good this weekend, mom,” he said. I was thinking how often I put tape over my mouth and didn’t say what I was thinking over the last few days. The whining, thumb sucking, coddling, candy and sugar were difficult to ignore.
“Really, I was good?” I asked him, like one of his boys desperately wanting approval. “Did I get an A this visit? Usually, I’m pulling Ds or even Fs.”
Adult children get to confront their parents no matter their age. Mine tell me that I overstepped my boundaries if I say what I think. Yet, it’s perfectly okay for them to attack me. Family management is not necessarily a democracy.
I would not have dreamed of talking to my parents the way my boys talk to me. I didn’t respond to my mother, even as an adult, when she criticized me for just about everything I did.
On her deathbed, she still had to comment on what I was wearing. “Why are you wearing a T-shirt in the middle of winter?” she asked. She had no idea that it was 105 degrees in the house. She was bundled up like a snow bunny.
I spent a year in therapy to sort out the complicated nuances of being a parent to adult children. I was curious as to why my adult children – and maybe others in the boomer generation – felt the need to parent or criticize their parents.
My therapist said: “It has nothing to do with you. It’s their adult issues that come out and spill onto you, your behavior, activities and lifestyle, which they may or may not approve of. Your sons have issues. Probably you ex-husband is even complicit and influences your sons in a variety of unconscious ways.”
When we attempt to sort out family issues involving our adult children, we walk a fine line. We certainly have to practice mindfulness in all aspects of the family dynamic. And parents have to practice not speaking the first thought that comes to mind. After all, the first thought comes from judgment and it usually becomes the subject of confrontation.
It’s approaching summer now and we will all soon be encountering family outings and vacations – hopefully. Let’s see how the parents of adult children can better understand and emotionally cope with the energetic dynamic of family communication.
Here are a few suggestions to think about:
Make sure you understand the dynamic of the environment before you speak. Note who is controlling the conversation, who is adversarial and who is amenable or conciliatory.
Steer clear of the angriest person or the person who always must be right and win the argument.
Everyone judges – constantly – as in all the time. It’s human nature to judge and, when it comes to our families, we judge more than ever.
Step back and try to understand the innuendos and subtleties of the argument. Or, better yet, be aware of the underlying meaning or subtext of what is being said. It’s possible that the object of the attack is not necessarily the one you think it is.
In the years since my adult children got married and had children, I can’t possibly count the number of squirmishes and outright brawls we’ve had. Of course, they pale in significance compared to the joys we have experienced together. When family times are good, they are truly amazing.
I have finally learned to reduce the quick – and sometimes destructive – responses that I have when my emotions flare up. Now, finally, it feels good not to engage in the situation. Of course, one or the other son usually elicits my opinion. That’s when I leave the room.
Working on adult children and parental problems is not easy or simple. It takes a strong dose of mindfulness to create an atmosphere in which everyone feels respected and loved.
What do you think? What have your experiences been with being a parent to adult children? Please join the conversation.
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