Q: I greatly appreciate your columns about dealing with adult children and your advice on how to continue being a good parent at any stage in life.
I consider myself to be a fair father. In the past, I have been an advocate for my children, be it in relation to school, getting into sleepaway camp, or, in more recent years, helping to get jobs. At times, my wife was concerned that I might have been too pushy. But looking back, I can honestly say that there were no real negative repercussions to what I said and did in these areas.
If anything, my children were very grateful — when a fair mark was given to them in school, when my son got into a mesivta he really wanted to attend, etc. I didn’t twist anyone’s arms or get angry. I might have been emotional at times, but a person has to have passion to change things. Not everything I tried worked (obviously), and we would just “go with the flow” when my efforts didn’t seem to help. I’m not a person to hold grudges about these things. I see over and over again how Hashem runs the world, but I still need to do my hishtadlus.
I didn’t hear too many complaints about this issue in the past. But recently I started hearing from my adult children (both married and single) that I am too controlling and aggressive.
I don’t give unsolicited advice. I try to offer constructive criticism when I feel it’s necessary. After all, how can I just sit back and smile when my children make basic mistakes? When my son speaks of business issues yet doesn’t ask advice from seasoned business people, how am I supposed to react? If I show emotion, I’m told that I’m overreacting.
A: I can understand this difficult predicament. The same individuals who previously appreciated your advocacy and life wisdom are now rejecting your parental overtures.
I see that you are putting effort into attempting to give your children space. Once children reach a certain stage of adulthood, they view the role of their parents in a different light. The age differs with each child. In your case, your involvement is being viewed as over-involvement, and it affects your present relationship with them.
Clearly, it is not a parent’s goal to be overly concerned with every conversation they have with their adult children. However, if the end result involves seeing the children much less frequently, no one has gained from the relationship as it presently stands.
If you truly believe that Hashem runs the world, then you can focus on the idea of “Harbeh sheluchim laMakom” — Hashem has many messengers to get His work achieved.
If you feel a strong ethical obligation to let your ideas be known, you need to be more sensitive to the way your children perceive the way you initiate help. Sometimes creative methods need to be employed. If you will not be the one to get your desired message across, you can sometimes use “back-door methods” in which the necessary information is sent in another way. Using discretion, you should speak to a baal eitzah to think of alternative methods to impart helpful information.
As mentioned previously, the difficulty in smoothing over bumps in parent-child relationships only increases when adult children are no longer living at home, because these relationships are then nurtured only with limited time together, in specific situations in which clear communication is not always possible. That being said, it is definitely more of a challenge to be sure that all verbal communications are imparted in a positive manner, as with all time-limited relationships.
Your children may view your “passion” as possibly being aggressive (or controlling) if you exhibit great agitation in your verbal presentation. They may feel that you are questioning their competency. This is especially true in relation to the mother-daughter relationship (daughters who feel that their mother questions their ability to be capable mothers), and fathers and sons (in relation to work-related issues).
One needs to daven for siyatta diShmaya that our words are received in the spirit in which they were meant.