Writing in Psychology Today online, parent coach Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein discusses three troublesome family scenarios and the best ways to handle them. Wouldn’t it have been great to have a “parent coach” from the day our children were born!
3 Ways To Get Closer To Your Adult Child
By Jeffrey Bernstein, PhD
Many parents of adult children yearn to feel more connected to them. In the following examples (names changed to protect confidentiality) from my parent coaching work, you will find tips to feel closer to your adult child:
1. Think Less is More. Barbara made the mistake of thinking her newly graduated, twenty-three-year-old son, Kyle, was willing to be as available as he had previously been, to speak on the phone or respond to her texts. Much to her dismay, his text response time and phone availability became less upon graduating college and moving on with a new job.
Barbara longed for the days when Kyle lived at home and they'd have those cool, "What's the meaning of life?" conversations on the deck. She always felt like a close, connected mom, and prided herself on Kyle's past quick responses to her texts and calls. Once Kyle had moved away to take his new job, Barbara wrongly anticipated that he'd lean on her and she'd get frequent updates how he was doing.
Solution: It helped Barbara to realize that "less is more.” In other words, she became aware that not having daily contact was okay. Less contact did not mean Kyle was detached. Interestingly, as Barbara let go and backed off, she began hearing more from Kyle.
2. Don't Go Guilting. Alice, had some strong feelings about where her adult son, Larry, should spend his time for the holidays. Breaking with past years of every Christmas spent at home, Larry enthusiastically opted to go to his girlfriend's family home for the holiday. Alice initially tried to leverage Larry with guilt. ("We never get to see you, why can't you and your girlfriend come out our way. Grandma will be with us and she may not be around much longer.") As you can imagine, Barbara's coaxing did not go over well.
Solution: Alice subsequently reflected on her overstep, owned it, and apologized to Larry. She had wisely realized that Larry did not have to be at her home for Christmas. She further saw that supporting Larry's happiness at his girlfriend's house could give her a deep sense of fulfillment.
Larry felt relieved of guilt from Barbara after she apologized to him and then made plans to stop by and see her the day after Christmas. This example shows that slinging guilt when you expect your adult children to be available will be interpreted as an unfair burden. But when your happiness doesn’t entirely depend on your children having to be with you, you will not likely fall into the guilting trap.
3. Remember Your Child is a Grown-up. Unless your advice is solicited, try not to impose it on your grown child. If you say infantilizing things like, “Why are you still eating candy?" it may be taken as you being too intrusive. The bottom line: Gently expose your concerns without imposing them.
Solution: What you could say in the above example is, "You certainly get to make your own decisions about what to eat. I know you enjoy it, but you may want to consider, if you have not already, eating that candy in moderation. But that is up to you. I appreciate you hearing me on this." Some parents may feel this type of response is weak. If you do that is okay. But I never have adult children complain to me about sensitively delivered caring messages from their parents!
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