Parenting the Adult Child: Yom Tov Visits

Q: As I look back over Yom Tov, I realize just how much brachah and simchah I was fortunate to experience. That being said, I’m not being non-appreciative when I think of negative occurrences; I’m just analyzing what I can do differently in order to feel less disappointed in my older children.

Our kids don’t always feel comfortable having us around. Some of our married children feel that my husband and I are judgmental and don’t want to hear differing opinions on certain subjects. What makes it so difficult is that even if we refrain from verbal comment, they claim they know what we are thinking, anyway. (It’s true that my husband sometimes rolls his eyes when displeased with what he hears, but I can’t control anyone’s actions other than my own.)

Some of our children are more respectful than others, but I don’t know what my realistic expectations should be. It was difficult to sit through some Yom Tov meals, at which the upcoming elections were animatedly discussed. This is not what my children went to yeshivah so many years for. It’s not that their hashkafos are so out-of-line; it’s just not the way I imagined they’d turn out. When some of them began to speak about business, my husband declared that no brachah will come from such talk. In the worst moments, I second-guessed our decision to come to them for Yom Tov altogether. I don’t want to feel like a principal in a school!

How can we plan ahead to make such visits more pleasant and less stressful for all?

A: Being a positive parent to a married child can be quite challenging. On the one hand, it is assumed that we “consented” for our child to marry, due to his/her ability to form a healthy interdependent relationship with another human being and to manage in this world. On the other hand, when we see that the emerging adult “product” isn’t totally to our liking, criticism and subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages we send their way can be exaggerated and misconstrued by our adult children. A question about a grandchild’s attire, for example, can be viewed as scathing criticism of a spouse’s sense of tznius or good taste. A married child can be ultra-sensitive to what s/he may view as unnecessary criticism. (“My shver/shvigger wouldn’t talk to me this way!” s/he might exclaim.)

In his/her earlier years, when a child lives at home, lack of communication and misunderstandings can be more easily spotted and resolved. But what can be said as a “joke” to a parent when living at home can be more easily viewed as chutzpah once the child is married and interpersonal interactions become less frequent.

You ask about realistic expectations. Do you expect your child to be an exact copy or even a more improved version of you, or else you see yourself as a failure as a parent? If the child’s hashkafos are not really problematic to you (as you say), where is this fine-tuning coming from?

If you truly desire a different atmosphere at your Yom Tov meals, you can plan in advance. Ask your child to say a dvar Torah, perhaps on a topic that is particularly special to you. A son can repeat a portion of Gemara that he learned with his father 10 years ago. Grandchildren can prepare a skit. If the quality of conversation at the seudah is a priority to you, there are ways to elevate the tone of the meal in a subtle fashion.

It is very questionable whether critical comments are helpful to adult children. Some may re-focus their speech and actions when negative behavior is pointed out to them. Many adult children, however, feel uncomfortable with criticism, even if offered privately.

If you continue to observe negative behavior on the part of your adult children, it would be helpful to speak to a baal eitzah about what to do.