WHAT is our main purpose as parents but the most difficult? Letting go gradually in appropriate ways over our children’s growing years.
Different skills are required by parents at different stages of a child’s development.
The relationship changes as the child grows. It begins with a very hands-on approach and we do everything for them, make decisions on their behalf and even think for them.
We do this because we want to protect our children from harm and to ensure that their lives are as beautiful as possible.
It is not easy as a parent to ‘let go’ and trust that all will be fine without our involvement.
Our love for them makes us want to hold on but the tighter we try to hold on and the more we try to control and tell them what to do, the more they will resist, and the less likely they will learn the skills they will require for effective and successful independent living.
Letting go gradually does not mean abandonment, it means supplying a different kind of support and adjusting our roles and inputs.
Here are three tips for healthy relationships with your adult children:
Listen and talk less
An important parenting tool is that of listening more and talking less.
This is what is meant by support.
We often tend to respond by sharing our feelings and experiences or those of others, believing that this will help the person feel better.
People, including your children, don’t necessarily want to hear your or others’ stories.
They want you to listen to and acknowledge their feelings.
Your son tells you that his wife tends to nag a lot. Instead of saying something like ‘just ignore her’, listen instead and acknowledge what he may be feeling.
‘You could say something like, ‘That must be very frustrating for you.’
By validating your adult children’s feelings rather than attempting to solve their problems, you are showing that you support them and believe that they are capable of handling the various struggles that life may throw their way.
When you truly listen, the other person starts to feel better, his head clears, which enables him to think of possible solutions.
Avoid lecturing, especially if they come to you with decisions that you do not approve of
An important aspect of the parent-adult child relationship is recognising that being the parent of an adult is different to being the parent of a child or an adolescent.
It can be painful to watch as your adult children experience setbacks, make decisions that you don’t agree with, fall in love or lose jobs.
I remember feeling very anxious when my sons announced that they were changing jobs. What if the new company they planned to join folded and they got retrenched?
What if they were not going to be happy there?
Another possibility I fear is that they may decide to go for greener pastures in another province or even another country. How will they manage without extended family? How will their children adjust?
I know that change can be stressful and we, their parents, fear that we will not be there to assist. I have a lot of advice I can give them but is this a good idea? Sometimes advice can backfire.
We need to restrain ourselves and keep from giving too much unwelcome advice or asking too many questions.
This is difficult after years of hands-on parenting but if we jump in with solutions, we are not giving our children the space to make their own decisions, make mistakes and learn from them.
However, there may be times when you do have to voice your concerns and get involved if the behaviour that’s bothering you is serious, dangerous or simply unpleasant.
For example, if you suspect that your child is involved in harmful practices such as substance abuse, you need to address it directly and be ready with resources of outside professional help.
Embrace significant others in your child’s life
The day will come when your child marries and has children. Along with this comes the spouse’s extended family.
Accept that when your child does settle on a partner, it follows naturally for her or him to put that person first.
When it comes to big decisions, plans or handling hardships, even the most dutiful children will shift their primary attachment to their spouses.
This can be tricky, especially if you are not completely happy with their choices.
I feel it is important to accept your daughter- or son-in-law and learn to love the person because your child loves that person. Avoid criticising them and accept them for who they are.
There will be times when differences cause conflict.
Be careful how this is handled. Express your concerns to your son or daughter-in-law respectfully by using ‘I messages’ such as ‘I’m worried that…’
Avoid blaming and using ‘you-messages’ such as ‘You didn’t…’ or ‘You should have…’
As painful as it is to accept sometimes, our children are born to move away from us. Khalil Gibran’s poem says it beautifully. Gibran’s poem is presented for our pondering about the sweetness and pain of parenting.
Fouzia Ryklief is a social worker registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professionals (SACSSP).