Grown-up kids need accolades

Adults still want parental approval — sometimes, though, they don’t get it

Special to The TribuneJuly 2, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT

Long after grown kids leave home, they still like getting kudos from Mom and Dad. They beam when their folks say, “You make us proud.” They know they’re on the right track when they receive an occasional “attaboy” from home.

But sometimes those accolades are notably absent. Parents don’t express pleasure about their adult offspring’s achievements. They may even go so far as to be overly critical of the lifestyles and decisions their kids choose.

Sometimes that displeasure is understandable. A daughter marries a convicted felon, then has to leave him because he physically abuses her and their young child. Or a son is unable to hold a job because of recurring struggles with drug abuse.

At other times, adult children function at a perfectly normal level, but their folks still express disapproval. The grown kids are gainfully employed and contributing to their communities. They’re tending to their families. They’re staying out of debt. But the parents overlook the pluses, focusing only on perceived flaws.

Even when mature children are overachievers or working overtime to gain parental recognition, they can still fall short in their folks’ eyes. The family bar can be set to such to unreachable heights that nobody passes muster.

In other clans the accolades are distributed willy nilly.

One grown child is randomly considered successful, while another is labeled a flop. The criterion for such differentiation is inexplicable. Yet it dictates who is praised and who is scolded.

The results of undue parental criticism can be devastating. Adult kids feel unloved and unappreciated. They question, “What’s wrong with me?” They try fruitlessly to make things better. Parent-child relationships are strained.

Of course, parents aren’t always pleased with their grown offspring. It’s natural that at times they harbor sadness or concern for their kids’ actions. Occasionally, they’ll be able to assist with the problem. Most times, it’s best to remain silent and simply reaffirm their underlying love.

It’s also possible that mature offspring are hypersensitive about their folks’ opinions. They feel unloved or unaccepted even though the parents are pleased as punch.

Grown children realize they’re adults and that they don’t need approval from Mom or Dad. They recognize it’s time to write their own life scripts, regardless of what others in the family say. Still, close family bonds require a steady influx of love and appreciation to thrive. When that’s blocked by condemnation and disfavor, relationships shrivel and die.

HOW TO DEAL WITH ONGOING PARENTAL CRITICISM

Tune it out. Learn to ignore negative comments. They can’t get under your skin unless you let them. Sure, you wish things were different. But this may be the relationship you have with your folks.

Focus on parental strengths. Even if your parents are overly critical, they’re probably doing some things right. Did they provide you with a good moral compass? Do they travel to interesting places? Decide what you love and appreciate about them. That puts a positive spin on your relationship.

Keep your relationship lighthearted. Steer clear of heavy discussions. They’re apt to turn sour at a moment’s notice. Instead, identify safe topics that leave you both feeling emotionally content. If mom or dad brings up something unpleasant you can breezily say, “Let’s not go there,” then quickly change the conversational channel.

Limit contact with your disapproving parent. Notice how long you can interact before the criticism rears its ugly head. Keep your conversations within that time frame. You can even keep a timer by the telephone and wrap things up before they start to spiral downward.

Put your life in order. Parents may seem disapproving of your lifestyle because there’s an issue that’s seriously out of whack. Perhaps you’ve racked up debt because of your gambling or lost custody of your kids because you were dealing drugs. The problem in these instances isn’t your parents. You’ve got work to do on yourself.

Find avenues of support. Some parents will still be critical no matter how well you’re doing in your life. That’s the signal to build a network of friends, neighbors and co-workers who adore you just as you are.

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

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