How to avoid interfering in your adult children's lives

It may feel right to slather your grown kids with advice, but they may resent you; instead, have faith in your offspring and let them make their own choices

Special to The TribuneJuly 13, 2012 

JENNIFER WRIGHT

How much should parents intervene in their adult children’s lives? The answer in most cases is not much. Once adult kids are independent and paying their own bills, it’s time for Mom and Dad to gracefully bow out and stop giving them advice.

That’s easier said than done. When folks watch their grown children behave in ways that make them cringe, they’re tempted to offer helpful suggestions or tell them how to do things right.

Unfortunately, such interference seldom has the desired effect. Adult children and their spouses resent parental intrusion. They don’t want to be told what to do. They have contemporary viewpoints. They dislike being treated like kids.

Our children have a right to feel that way. They deserve the chance to take charge of their lives. Times have changed, and they are members of the current roster. Adult kids understand technology and modern mores far better than older folks. They’re ready to take their turn at bat. Parents must watch patiently from the sidelines.

Excessive parental advice also sends a destructive message. It tells adult kids that they’re making poor choices. We’re saying, “You’re not capable of taking care of yourself. You need us to intervene.”

It also implies that we somehow have all the answers or that we never struggled when we were starting out. The truth is that each of has made plenty of mistakes. We’d do many things differently if we had a second chance.

Of course, all bets are off if adult kids are still financially dependent or in some way relying heavily on their folks. When parents are providing free, daily child care, they have a say in the grandchildren’s discipline. And if they’re paying an adult child’s mortgage, they can squawk if he buys a new ski boat.

It’s equally important to step in if grandchildren are endangered or neglected by grown kids’ actions.

Fortunately, most adult children are doing a fine job of managing their affairs. They’re gainfully employed, raising their families and being functional members of society. We may not agree with all their choices, but it’s best we keep our opinions to ourselves.

HOW TO AVOID INTERFERING IN YOUR GROWN KIDS’ LIVES

• Trust that they’ll make good decisions. Have faith in your offspring. They won’t do everything as you did. They’re unique individuals raised in a different era. Believe that they’re competent men and women who’ll be able to call their own shots.

• Give asked-for advice sparingly. Even solicited input can be perceived as interference. Start with a supportive, “Oh, that’s a tough problem! I remember that same issue when I first started working.” Then offer, “Here’s what worked for me. It might be worth a try!” Give more only if requested.

• Let go of judgments. We’re seldom critical of just one issue. It tends to seep into all we say and do. It’s especially destructive when it’s directed toward our grown children. Catch yourself going judgmental. Replace critical thoughts with more accepting ones.

• Make positive observations. Your grown kids are doing many things right. Let them know that you approve. A heartfelt, “Wow! You guys keep the neatest house!” creates a positive atmosphere and sets the stage for a close relationship.

• Engage in earnest, informative discussions. If you’re concerned about something they’re doing, ask them to share their thoughts. Begin with an open invitation — “I’ve never heard about a family bed. Would you please educate me?” — to learn more and keep the dialogue open.

• Share books and articles carefully. Sending newspaper articles and Web links can be tempting. But they spell disaster if accompanied by an underlying here’s-how-you-should-be-doing-it message. Forward occasional items with an airy “Thought you might like this,” message that’s free of any ulterior motive.

• Watch your attitude and tone. Tone and attitude are subtle ways to express disapproval. You may say “That’s fine!” with your words and “I totally disapprove,” with your scowl. Scan yourself for hidden messages that contaminate your parent-child relationship. Do your best to delete them from your psychic hard drive.

• Zip your lips. If you can’t be pleasant, don’t say anything at all. Believe that your kids are doing their best. Behave as if they were.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

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