“I promise not to take credit for your accomplishments if you promise not to blame me for your failures.” ~Anonymous Parent
Being a parent is a forever endeavor. Active parenting, on the other hand, should not necessarily be. This brings me to the topic of today’s post, the downside to what I am calling, Perennial Parenting.
Most parents are somewhat well versed in the phases of child development. You would not relate to a seven-year-old in the same manner that you would a two-year-old, because it wouldn’t make sense and is not appropriate. This also applies to relating to your grown adult child in the same manner you would a teenager. Yet this is exactly how many parents do relate to their grown kids.
There is a cost for enabling your children to stay dependent on you, for all involved. If a parent is overly identified with their role as caregiver, problem fixer and the ‘responsible’ one, relating to grown kids in an age-appropriate and a mutually respectful way can be very challenging. There are many reasons people fall into the perennial parenting trap. The first is family of origin. If your parents taught you that perpetual parenting equaled love, it makes sense that you would consciously and unconsciously believe the same. Modeled behavior is a very powerful influencer of our behavior. Unless there is some kind of intervention or conscious decision to do it differently, we will naturally repeat what we’ve seen (even if we swore we wouldn’t!)
Another reason parents can’t give up parenting is if they have neglected their own life to the point of feeling that there is not much there. This puts a certain amount of pressure on grown kids to stay stuck in the child role. Unconsciously if a grown child knows you need them to need you, they will not want to let you down. On the other hand, when you expect and encourage independence you are providing permission for them to build their own lives. It seems that children, young or grown have a tendency to rise and fall to our expectations as parents.
Financial intertwinement with adult children also complicates the relationship. As all of us know, money is never just about money. Every family has their own norms and culture about money. Taking responsibility for an adult child’s bills or rent sends a message. It might convey that you don’t think they can do it without you. My father was emotionally limited in what he could offer me and showed his devotion through providing a college education and buying me a used car etc. After college and a few years of therapy I stopped taking money from my father altogether because I wanted a deeper relationship with him and believed that if I continued to let him ‘love’ me with cash, the emotional connection I craved would have no impetus to come into being. Although he did not understand why I was declining his generosity, that action did positively impact the depth of our relationship before he passed suddenly at the age of 61. I am grateful for the insight that therapy provided for me to change my part of that money dance which led to a transformation of our relationship. The unspoken message here was more about my father’s inability to be vulnerable emotionally than about what he thought about my capabilities. It is different for all families and can negatively impact your relationship especially if you lend money that is not returned or invest in a business that fails, etc.
There is a way to avoid resentment in all relationships through solid, transparent boundaries and agreements. You may decide to help a newly married adult child save for a first home by letting the newlyweds live with you rent free for six months. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help grown kids get started in the world or accomplish something specific as long as you don’t rob them of the opportunity to be truly empowered by becoming authentically independent. We all learn by trying and failing. We cannot protect adult children or young kids for that matter from all disappointment or pain in life and trying does a disservice to them. Remember, human beings are resilient and being self-determined in this life is priceless.
Below is a simple checklist of Do’s and Don’ts for building and maintaining healthy relationships with adult children:
Let deep listening replace reactive advice giving. According to the co-founder of the Grief Recovery Institute and a dear pal of mine, Russell Friedman, giving unsolicited advice or criticism robs the other person of their dignity.
Boundaries Boundaries Boundaries
Be clear and concise in expressing your expectations, negotiating terms of an agreement or letting your preferences be known. No one can read your mind and life is too short for petty resentments.
Be clear about which side of the street you’re trying to clean. You can only take responsibility for your own. Have faith that you did a good job and when there is a situation for an adult child to figure out, they will or they will learn whatever it is they need to learn from failing. They are not that fragile and neither are you.
Get a Life
Creating a fulfilling life of your own is the best way to ensure happy relationships with grown kids. And if your world revolves around adult children and you have an expectation that they are obligated to meet your emotional needs, you will become an obligation.
I will close with one of my favorite poems ‘On Children’ by Kahlil Gibran’s in his iconic book, ‘The Prophet’ (written in 1923):
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
I talk more about this topic in my video which you can watch HERE.
Now you have you a few ideas on how to NOT infantilize grown children. I hope that you found them useful and if you did, please share this episode with your friends and your family. And hey, you might want to share it with your parents.
I hope you guys have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.