Guidelines for Cheering from the Sidelines Rather Than from the Huddle
Various psychologists and authors have written about the stages of parenthood. Bob Hostetler calls these stages the Commander Phase (ages 1-5), the Coaching Phase (ages 5-12), the Counselor Phase (ages 13-18), and the Consultant Phase (ages 19 and beyond). Another resource refers to them as the Loving Discipline stage, the Training Stage, the Coaching Stage, and the Friendship Stage. Whichever labels you choose, they all agree that adult children fit into a category all their own. We go from coaching in the huddle to cheering on the sidelines.
As I said earlier, how to talk to adult children in ways to strengthen the relationship rather than weaken it can be complicated. While it’s not possible to delve into all the variables and possible scenarios, here is a list of eight common tendencies to avoid. As a caveat, these suggestions are for relatively healthy relationships, but do not apply to life-threatening situations.
I call this list:
Words that Make Adult Children Want to Run for the Hills (Don’t Say It!)
1. Don’t tell them how to raise their children. Those precious little ones are their children, not grandma’s.
2. Don’t remind them of the way you raised them, such as “That’s not the way I raised you” or “I would have never let you get away with that.” Believe me, they got it. If they choose a different route, then that’s their decision. This does not mean omitting funny stories about their childhood. My son loves to tell stories about how we raised him, especially the discipline variety.
3. Don’t be rude. Don’t allow a family connection to be an excuse for rudeness or lack of respect. Talk to your adult child with the respect you would any other adult. When speaking to him or her, ask yourself, Would I speak to a friend that way? If not, don’t say it, or say it in a different way.
4. Don’t jump in with solutions and ideas to try to solve his or her problems. Rather, be a sounding board and ask good questions. Allow the adult children to come to his or her own solutions, even if you don't think it is necessarily the best one.
5. It might take every bit of restraint you have in you, but don’t give advice unless you’re asked for it. Then reply with, “What I would do…” rather than “what you should do.” We all know that wisdom comes with age. But here’s a question to ponder: Where did that wisdom come from. I don’t know about you, but most of my wisdom came from trial and error, mostly error. Once adult children see that the parent is not going to give unsolicited advice, he or she will be more likely to ask for it.
6. Don’t share a private conversation that you’ve had with your adult child with someone else. This is true for any shared confidence, but it’s worth emphasizing in parent/adult child relationships.
7. Don’t take it personally if the adult child doesn’t have time for a long, drawn-out discussion on any particular day. Remember how busy your life was at that stage of life. And just because mom and dad have retired and have time on their hands doesn’t mean that their adult kids have time to suddenly fill the void.
8. Don’t forget you are a guest in their home. Mothers-in-law need to remember, once an adult child gets married, there is a new woman of the house…and it’s not mom. Whether it is a son taking a wife, or a daughter taking a husband, the wife is now the queen of her castle. The mother or mother-in-law, as well as the father-in-law, is a guest.
9. When adult children call on the phone, don’t say, “I was wondering when I was going to hear from you” or “I haven’t heard from you in a long time.” Avoid any statement that makes him or her feel guilty for not calling earlier.
The bottom line is that when children morph into young adults, a parent’s words need to morph right along with them. Failure to see and treat the grown child as an adult friend will ruin a relationship, sometimes beyond repair. While we aren’t to use our words to necessarily steer the adult child, we can use our words to steer the relationship between us.
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