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It’s Hard to Shut Up

by on Nov.12, 2012, under Communication, Parenting, Relationships

I finally figured it out. I have found the magic key for getting along with your adult children. Whatever comes into your head to say, don’t say it.  This is especially true when those adult children become parents.

Relationships are evolutionary. Parent-child is no exception. It starts in one place and over time ends up in quite another, or it should anyway.  Parents’ roles adapt and shift with every change in the child’s development, keeping step with his need to sprout wings and fly competently and safely.  Each player must see the other in a new role. Throughout a child’s growing years, steadfastly you remain MOM (or DAD), and that position comes with clout and responsibilities. Laying down the law, voicing an opinion, giving suggestions, making course corrections, taking care of business— are all part of that role.  You are the mom, the big kahuna, the nurturer, the knower of all kinds of stuff—from laundry to correct grammar to curing ills.  You welcome and act on the calls for help, and your boundaries, perspective, and opinion are necessary and have weight. Your kids need you to be that brand of parent.

Then you turn around, and in a blink that child is an adult. Parent and child must learn a new dance.    Both need to develop new steps, predicated on seeing one another differently.  Your old roles no longer work. The child, whose developmental task has been to grow up and away, is now an adult, separate from you.  He establishes himself, marks his own territory, and crafts his persona.  His choices, taste, and direction are a compilation of his own experiences, his place in life, his peer group, and his chosen partner. And it may not mesh with Mom’s and Dad’s goals or choices for him. He must tackle life his way.  There’s new kid on the block, and a different kind of parent is needed.

The adult child, however, carries vestiges of childhood. (Are we ever all grown up, really?)  Even as an adult, she cares what her parents think. She still enjoys their approval and basks in her parents’ pride in her.

And therein lies the rub. It is often through that filter that our adult children sometimes hear innocent comments and suggestions as judgmental.  Parents says, “Why don’t you try this?” The adult child hears, “You aren’t doing it right.” (Truth be told, sometimes a parent is judging her child. But that is for another blog.)

At the same time, parents carry vestiges of parenting the younger child.  They still jump in to direct, evaluate, and advise. Her way, as parent, is the best way; she think she knows it all. It’s a role parents are accustomed to playing.  Old dogs have trouble with new tricks.

And for me, a child development and behavior specialist and now a grandmother, it is particularly tricky. It’s true that I know a whole lot about parenting and raising kids of all ages. But that reality is trumped by a different role that I have always played in my children’s lives:  mom. The mother and grandmother in me loves unconditionally. My professional eyes will see parenting behaviors ripe for comment.    While many who flock to me for advice say, “Your kids are so lucky to have you.” I’m not so sure my kids will agree. How could they not feel some apprehension about my judging their parenting skills?  Talk about thin ice!

I recently had an ah ha moment. And maybe I am slow to this show, but I get it now.  It all comes down to communication. Sometimes your adult child may actually want to know your opinion or seek advice; but many times he will not. Maybe he wants to share or he needs to vent. Just like when he was growing up, you are the receptacle for it all. He knows you will love him no matter what. Thank goodness. So, don’t blow it!   Look before you leap, and check it out by asking, “Are you asking for my opinion, looking for advice, or do you want to share (or vent)? I am good either way.” Yes, it is hard to insert that speed bump in your throat, but that control is a crucial part of the new role you play with your adult child.

And, if that fails, I offer this timeless, powerful, and difficult advice:   Just shut up!



7 Comments for this entry

  • Michelle T.

    Thanks for this Betsy! Just in time for the holidays!

  • Jennifer Gimsberg

    Great post and so true! But what does an adult child do when they see their parents making poor choices? Hah! I often have to bite my tongue too:)
    What I loved about this piece is that much of it also pertains to younger kids. I know I cut off communication and create frustration when I jump
    In with “helpful suggestions” when my kids just want to be heard. I always say that 99%. of my relationship problems would be solved if I just shut up!

  • Ivy Greene

    Thanks Betsy. As a serious Mama’s girl who still talks to “Mommy” everyday, I’ve learned to expect either no comments or enthusiastic responses. So hard to do the same with teenagers! xoxo

  • Betsy BB

    I thought this blog might generate some discussion. At the very least, I hope it generates some introspection on all sides! Relationships are just plain tricky and should be handled with care.

  • Roslyn

    Thanks, you always put the right words to the situation. The speed bump of “Are you asking for my opinion, looking for advice, or do you want to share (or vent)? I am good either way.” is very necessary so you BOTH recognize your roles. Communication hopefully become clearer and better received. Love your blogs!

  • tc

    My *amazing* mother is a marriage and family therapist and my bff. Our trick is to frame our conversation. “I’m calling to vent.” or “Here’s what’s up with the kids – what do I do? What options am I not seeing?” or “My husband is an idiot today. Just roll around in my righteous indignation with me.”

    And since I live in a different household, I don’t have to hear what she relays to Dad when I hang up the phone. A win-win!

  • Betsy BB

    Wow! You, TC, and your mom have really figured it out in such a productive way. I love your way of relating. So healthy and so right. Way to go! (I especially love your framing words.)
    Hope others see your post and follow your lead.

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