Most parents find it painful and upsetting when a relationship with their adult child is strained. Feelings of frustration and helplessness arise when the offspring's choices or attitudes are not your own, and when offers of support or advice are rebuffed. "Parents generally are more bothered (than the adult children) by the tensions -- and the older the child, the greater the bother," notes Diane Swanbrow in an article on Medical News Today. Strained parent/child relationships are a natural part of the individuation process as young adults struggle to form their own identity. How smooth or rocky the transition is depends on the personalities and family dynamics involved. There are a few steps that you can take to help quell animosity.
Set boundaries. A lack of healthy boundaries between a parent and the adult child adds fuel to the fire of tense family relations. If you have been doing a lot for your adult child, take a step back. It is easier to live with the guilt of saying no when you understand that your actions will be helping your adult child take responsibility for his own life and speed his maturity into healthy adulthood.
Respect your children's boundaries and their privacy. Avoid the temptation to ask prying questions about your adult children's relationships or other personal matters. Be open and willing to listen when and if they want to share with you, but let them take the initiative. As much as they may not show it, they care about what you think and do not want to disappoint you. At the same time, they want and need to make their own decisions. So let them. You can always be there to pick up the pieces.
If tensions mount, stay calm and walk away. Take several deep breaths and avoid saying anything you will regret later. Avoid venting or lashing out. This will only make things more difficult, and repairing the relationship later will be more difficult. If your adult child lashes out at you, do not engage. Explain that you will continue the conversation at a later time, when emotions have calmed.
Treat your children like the adults they are (even if they are not acting like adults). Begin by dropping childhood nicknames that your adult children no longer use and avoid telling stories about how cute or silly they were when they were small. Let their childhood go, at least when you are around them. Ask for their advice in areas where they are knowledgeable.
Develop the ability to laugh at yourself. Not only is this good for you, it's good for your adult children. Show them by example that something bad is not the end of the world. In the process, they may learn to laugh at themselves, a valuable life skill. Get in the habit of sharing jokes, or take in a comedy together. There are some wonderful stand-up comedians who appeal to multiple generations. Laughter is a great way to alleviate tension.
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- Seek the company of parents in a similar situation. They may offer you a different perspective or a good laugh when sharing war stories.
- If your family dynamics are in need of serious help, see a therapist. A therapeutic relationship is a safe place to work through your own issues and learn coping skills for dealing with your adult child.
- If your child has a substance abuse problem or serious emotional problems, seek the advice of a trained professional and consider joining a support group.
Dorothy Sander has been writing for the over 50 market since 2001. Author of two books and hundreds of articles, she writes on topics such as elder care, aging, empty nest, health and wellness, personal development, loss and more. She holds a B.A. in Economics and a M.Div.