Christian Living


Marriage 911 12/05/16

Relating to Adult Children

Mom and adult son

I remember when I turned 18 and thought I knew everything. With a false sense of assurance, I proceeded to hitchhike to California. Having a duffel bag packed with an extra change of clothes, a buddy and myself were on our way.

It was an incredibly exciting time as I faced the land of the unknown -- California -- land of endless dreams and possibilities.

My friend and I laughed and joked our way down the highway, when at Mile 25 reality came crashing in. I had enough money for a couple of days and no real way of earning more. I had no long-range plan.

At Mile 26, I said goodbye to my pal and headed back home, where I snuck back in to my parents home with only a bruised ego.

Fortunate for both my parents and myself, my stay would not be long as I soon headed off for a more reasonable destination -- college. Reality had positively impacted me.

Some children never really grow up. Or, so it seems. Some do grow up and move through life successfully. While they may not need our full and complete attention, and perhaps have even moved away emotionally and physically, some adult kids remain "children."

As an individual who not only is a grown "child," but has grown children as well, I'm qualified to talk about the challenges from both sides of the spectrum. I have two grown, married sons, with their own children (my grandchildren) and am a one of five grown children, relating to them as well as my aging father-in-law.

All of this creates unique challenges. All of them -- and I mean all of them -- have their own lifestyle, opinions and points of view. With strong thoughts and feelings of their own, each place of intersection can be a point of tension.

In this "in-between" place, where I relate to my adult siblings, their children as well as my own children, and their children, there are many opportunities for misunderstanding, miscommunication, indirect communication, as well as, hurtful comments.

Sadly, feelings get hurt. Opinions get rigidified. Factions erupt and divisions seem to flourish. Once close relationships become distanced. Attachments that once were such an important part of our lives, now are strained. This can create undue sadness and rifts.

Thankfully, it doesn't need to be this way. Relationships to aging parents can be cultivated to be even more vital than when we were young. Relationships with grown siblings can be fostered to be even more vibrant than the hierarchy in which we were raised. Relationships with our grown children can take on a new quality where they have developed their own lives, their own values, and their own life direction.

However, this will take work. Are you ready? Does this interest you? Let's begin by considering a few ideas we must keep in mind when it comes to aging parents, adults siblings, as well as, adult children.

1. It's not all about you.

While you may have felt quite important as a child, or perhaps enjoyed a positive position with your siblings, or undoubtedly you enjoyed a positive relationship with your children, things have changed. Your parents have their own lives, your siblings have developed their own lifestyle, perhaps quite different from yours, and your children are carving their own path. Your opinions and perceptions are no longer central, if even they once were. Give up any illusions that you know it all.

2. Tolerance will serve you well.

Given all the different personalities, all the different perspectives, all the different points of view and preferences, you must ‘go with the flow.' This will be tested again and again. You must learn to accept differences that will undoubtedly arise.

Scripture offers us wise counsel: "Be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing to one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2). It is very tempting, in family functioning, to see your point of view as the right one. It's tempting to think your way is best, your position is right. Don't go there. Let your behavior be marked by gentleness and humility.

3. Appreciate differences.

Assuming you want to get along with everyone, you will need to take note of the differences and smile. Your parents make choices that don't make sense to you. But, it's their lives. Your siblings make choices that confound you—it's OK. Allow for differences. Finally, your children will make choices that wouldn't meet your approval. It's OK. It's not all about you. They will figure it out and in fact need permission and acceptance as they struggle to do so.

4. Remember the importance of relationship.

Rigid points of view, hard lines, and strong opinions are divisive. Once you draw emotional lines, they are hard to erase. Hurt feelings can be hard to heal, though humility is your most powerful tool in keeping relationships strong. Remember that your ultimate goal is to have a relationship with your parents, siblings, and children. Relationships are built on acceptance, in spite of feelings that become ruffled.

5. Make choices about relationships.

There may be relationships that are so contentious that you will need to practice detachment. You can be in relationship without being too close. You can dance from a distance. You can choose to be close to certain people, while being a bit more detached from others. Step back, maintain perspective, and choose thoughtfully.

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