Communication Between Parents and Adult Children

As the mother of four adult children, I have endeavored to define the ongoing future relationships between these once small beings who are now my equals, and who will be adults for many years longer than they were children.  How do you transition into adult relationship with your adult children?  Should you do so?  Why – what are the benefits?  And what is their role in this shifting world?

There are many adults today in the “sandwich” generation dealing with elderly parents, who have reverted to becoming the children of their children (or are being treated the way).  When this happens it is a clear case of not addressing the transition into adult relationship with their adult children many years before.  Who thought that they needed to do so?  They were always the stronger, older, wiser parent – until suddenly they weren’t.

Rather than face the new reality, they spent years fighting their diminishing ability, power, independence so that life became simply a matter of holding on.  This holding on can take the form of feisty, cantankerous, willful old person or the other extreme – placid, meek, whatever-you-say-dear, muddled mind.  In either case, with few cases falling in between the two extremes, the parent has lost much respect and all influence over their children, who must now parent them.

What’s a parent to do?  The smart parent doesn’t turn a blind eye and notices when their well accomplished adult children need them in a different capacity.  The adult friendship that the relationship turns into is one-sided, as the adult child, who deserves respect as an adult, still regards the parent as a parent.  His or her turn will necessarily come with the next generation.

I made the mistake of thinking that this relationship was two-sided.  It took a long heated battle, primarily internal on my part, to realize that I needed to change my view of this child as now a 30-something adult, but to this adult I am and will always be the mother, with all the expectations and trappings of that role built-in.  I am never just another adult, and if I try to be, I greatly disappoint.

The disappointments of adult children can cut deep and may last longer (all those adult years seething) than childhood injuries.  And so parental responsibilities continue on until the end.  So you must walk the tightrope of treating them like adults but maintaining your role as parent.  It’s an interesting balance to maintain – a whole new world that no one talks about.  But at least you maintain the respect of your children through your golden years when you really need.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  If you have adult children (adult = 30 years and older in today’s late bloomer world) you would be well served to consider transitioning into a one-way adult relationship with them, treating them like the adults that they are, not the children that they were.  Which means earning respect versus demanding it as a parent, changing your expectations of what is due you for raising them, waiting to be asked for your advice not telling them to do.  Sometimes the medicine is hard to swallow, but it’s worth it when you don’t get infected later.

QUESTION:  Are you dealing now with parents that fit one of the profiles?  Do you fear becoming that person?

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