Accepting Changes in Relationships With Adult Children

Q: I greatly appreciate your recent columns about being a parent to an older, married child. It is a complicated topic to discuss, and you are brave to try to tackle this issue.

So many mothers I speak to are disappointed in their married children — about how seldom they actually speak to them (a text is just not the same thing!) or how the parents are not considered in their children’s “plans.” I know of one woman who had to go to Lakewood for Sukkos (and find her own place to stay!) because all her married children were staying with their in-laws there, and she and her husband would have been all alone in Brooklyn. I’m not here to judge them (or tell anyone that they should have changed their plans), but did any of them even consider how their older parents would be affected in this situation? Even finding a place for their parents to stay (rather than letting them fend for themselves) would have shown some consideration and thought. We live in a generation in which what I’m suggesting seems to be more of the exception than the given response to such a situation.

Sharing information about grandchildren can also be an issue. I have had many years of experience which I could draw upon to help my children with what I’ve learned, but they barely ask me anything. One son-in-law, in particular, seems to be critical of the way we do things in our house, and I get the feeling that he’s not interested in having his wife hear my suggestions.

Any advice (or commiseration) would be appreciated!

A: As a child reaches adulthood, it is clearly not an easy task for his or her parents to accept the shifts within what used to be a working, positive parent/child relationship. If the child is married, s/he needs to focus primarily on the new husband/wife relationship, while single adult children should be developing a sense of independence and self-reliance.

As in all relationships, clear communication needs to be established in order to express one’s needs and desires. Utilizing a “cushion” method is a helpful way of non-confrontational communication: Begin a conversation with a positive or neutral statement, the first “cushion” in the conversation. Example: “I’ve been thinking ahead about Yom Tov. I’m not sure what your plans are, but it looks like most of the family would like to go to…” Your second comment deals with the direct need: “The difficulty is that Mommy and I would end up being by ourselves, if it works out this way.” Conclude with a second “cushion,” such as: “I’m sure there’s a way we can work this out.” In this way no one is blamed, but a parent’s needs are explained clearly.

Parents can’t possibly know all that is occurring in their children’s lives, and why their children are not being responsive to their parents’ needs. In this and all situations, giving the benefit of the doubt is necessary, rather than immediately taking things personally.

The developmental life task of a young adult is to create an independent and competent existence, and achieving this often fosters great pride. It is not necessarily a rejection of their parents or a desire to isolate themselves if children wish to be more private in disclosing details of their lives.

Some adult children are uncomfortable having their parents privy to their children’s medical, emotional or religious issues. They may be embarrassed that they have not had total parenting success. (Aren’t these the ones who mumbled that they would do a much different/better job “when they become parents”?) Some children do not want grandparents to worry about medical issues and avoid such topics for this reason.

If children desire not to share information with you, they can learn what they need to from other sources; harbei shluchim laMakom. Hashem will find other ways for them to gain the knowledge necessary for them. If one personalizes these issues and equates them with a sense of rejection by their children, the main results will be self-pity and sadness. As always, the choice of how to react to life’s events is in our hands.