I love listening to the musings and wisdom of Dennis Prager (Jewish talk-show host, columnist, and public speaker), especially his “Happy Hour” on Fridays where his topics focus on happiness & how to live a happy life. Nothing else I’ve ever heard ever breaches this topic of realistic attitudes and actions that contribute overall to a person’s own happiness.
So this last Friday, the topic was on being a parent to adult children – how should you act towards or with them in order to have happiness in your relationship with them?
Let me start out by saying my own thoughts in how, to me, parenting is never really “done.” You don’t just drop them once the child turns 18… a good parent that has worked to have a good relationship with their child, will cross over into the realm of trusted friend and advisor. Obviously, this is something that a “bad” parent doesn’t have the privilege of, since they often did not deliberately work to build a good relationship with their child over the course of them being in their own house and under their rules; they are then often not someone whom that child turns to later on for advice and support.
I don’t ever plan on being out of my sons’ lives, even when they are adults. I want to be there alongside them, having a good relationship, helping if I can in any way with their own children. Therefore establishing a good relationship with them right now, in childhood, is among one of the most important tasks for me.
Prager started off by saying that parents, once their children are adults, should focus on being easy to deal with for their adult children.
When their kids are young, of course having rules and expectations are expected in order to produce healthy, productive members of society; however, once they are adults and living on their own, the job of the parent is to back off and avoid being “difficult.”
You want to be a “joy” to your adult children & their spouses (or family), you want to bring them joy in having a relationship with them – the last thing you would want to do is be someone they dread spending time with. One would think this would be common sense, or easy to do for parents – but I suppose for many, it is FAR from easy…. When I was looking for an image on Google to go with this post, nearly everything I saw was inappropriate in-law humor and in-law bashing.
Clearly, relationships with one’s parents once you are an adult are not typically what anyone would describe as “easy.”
He mentioned that unsolicited advice is 95% of the time not going to be welcome… so as a parent of adult children, you should probably keep a lot of your opinions and well-meaning advice to yourself. I’m not kidding… it sounds harsh, but really, if they aren’t asking you directly for your opinion on their life decisions, they probably don’t want to hear it.
My husband and I have many many examples of times when we had received very unsolicited advice from family members. One in particular, really wasn’t so bad, and yet gives a perfect example of crossing a boundary in the relationship. When we were about 7 or 8 months pregnant with our first son (now 4), one of my husband’s aunts decided to send an email to us telling us to get rid of our 2 cats… cats we had raised since we rescued their litter of 5 just the summer before. We bottle-fed these cats, spent money taking them to vets for their shots, and greatly enjoyed them as almost part of our family. She told us that we were choosing our cats over our baby, implied that we were selfish and irresponsible, and kept on pushing us in the email to get rid of them before the baby came. She was not the only family member to bother us about having cats (there were a few others on my husband’s side), which led us to think that this was some kind of serious discussion among my husband’s family… whether or not we should have cats!
That was just a very minor interjection of unsolicited advice, one of many we received through either by email or relationship interaction, and yet it still was not something “pleasant” to see, if you caught what I said before, it was a “bother.” She put us in the unwanted situation to have to defend our decision – no matter what we said, we were not going to be able to convince her that it was going to be ok if we kept our cats. Fast forward 4 years, our son absolutely loves his cats – and they, especially our male cat, love him. The male cat is so bonded to him that he actually follows our son everywhere he goes. My son calls him his “baby.”
The point is to be easy on your adult children – to try to not be someone “difficult” to contend with – in order to have happiness in your life and in your relationship together as adults.
So why isn’t it easy to just be “easy?” I think its just human nature to want to interject, intervene, or “help out” even when that help is expressly not wanted or even sometimes “needed.” The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We heard many times that certain things said or done were done in “good faith,” and only because the person involved wanted to be helpful, in which, we’ve had to explain: it is not “helpful” anymore if we don’t actually think it is, or if it is hindering the relationship.
This takes a certain amount of respect that the parent needs to have for their adult children… they have to respect that, as an adult, they can decide what is “helpful” to them or not. When they are a child in your house, there are times when you do need to help them by setting boundaries, disciplining, etc. but once they are adults, there is no longer this need or parental responsibility for forced “helping” them in their adult decisions and adult life.
In order to do this, to be someone that brings “joy” to your adult children’s lives, one needs to be conscientious. As a parent, you need to think about how your adult child is going to feel if you say this or do that… you need to be conscious of their feelings. This also goes for a daughter-in-law or son-in-law… the goal should be to be a “joy” to them. Joy is a powerful word… it means to be a delight, to bring immense pleasure and happiness to, glee, euphoria, bliss even. You don’t want to be a pain or “bug them” about things, unless you don’t want happiness in your relationship.
I also need to add that parents of adult children shouldn’t be enablers – being “easy” does not coincide with being run-over or a doormat. You shouldn’t be helping them pay bills, or giving them expensive gifts, or paying for vacations – all things that tend to give you a feeling that you may have a right to interject into their life decisions. These are unhealthy practices and blur the lines of having a good, happy relationship.
Life is already full of hardship, crises, and difficulties… so why make it harder than it needs to be? Decide to be easy parents to your adult children. Decide to be careful in what comes out of your mouth, decide to be conscientious.