parents to the end

Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations

Posted on November 21, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC “Great Expectations” Those words spring to mind as we enter the holiday season. Our expectations of ourselves and others may be too high or too low. Are you trying to be the perfect wife, parent, or child to your own parents? Do you think part of your job is to keep everyone happy in the family?

These are common expectations many of us have for ourselves or our loved ones. As we look at the covers of magazines at this time of year,  we see themes like, “Have the best Christmas ever!” “Deck your  halls for holiday joy!”  “Holiday recipes to WOW your loved ones!” “Wow” is right. Media invitations beckon us to celebrate and provide tips for doing so.

While inspiring to some readers, these cover stories are burdensome for others. Therapists know that this time of year is emotionally loaded. I see evidence of that in my practice annually. It is most challenging for parents whose children (or perhaps their elderly parents) are estranged from them. I thought it a good time to review the Twelve Truths  for Parents of Adult Children as I presented them in Parents to the End. There are 6 Fridays left in 2014, including today.  I will summarize two “Truths” per Friday for the next six weeks, as a gentle reminder that may help give a realistic balance to what the media gives us.

  1. Love does not conquer all.

Surely we have all heard the time-honored phrase “Love conquers all.”  When someone says it, we tend to think of kind acts, understanding, empathy,  gentle compassion. We equate loving behavior with kindness; we hope that by behaving in loving ways, hurts will be erased, resentments will fade, and mutual affection be restored. Oh, if only that were always true.


There are situations where parents are confronted with extremely angry adult children. These parents often fear contact over the holidays due to the unpredictability of their offspring. Parents may want to love their child, but be met with an onslaught of rejecting verbage.  A pattern may already have been established where the parents continue to offer “unconditional” acceptance regardless of the treatment they have received. They are still waiting for their love to conquer the hostility, but that is not happening.

As I state in my book, “…some children have profound psychological issues that prevent them from acknowledging or accepting love. If loving your child is tearing you apart or destroying your relationships with others, then  your notion of loving needs care re-examination. One-sided love, love that is rejected, discarded, or thrown back into a parent’s face is not healthy,. A more helpful form of loving may be to back off from helping or enabling your child, while allowing her to experience the consequences of her behavior. This gives her an opportunity to change and preserves your resources, be they emotional, physical or material.”

  1. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.

This “truth” dovetails #1 above.  Do you ever question the amount of “giving” that you do for others? Giving is not just material; we give gifts of time, attention, forgiveness, and various forms of assistance. We know that our giving is balanced when we have no resentment building up and we do not feel taken for granted.  We know that our style of giving is appreciated when the person on the receiving end does not end up angry or demanding with us.  There is a fine line, which when crossed, changes the perception of the “gift” to either the giver or the recipient. (Too much giving on the part of parents can actually make children feel uncomfortable or manipulated.)

In healthy giving, neither the giver nor recipient feels “injured”.  Parents of our generation have been able to do so much more materially than most of our own parents were able to do for us. Consequently, it has been more difficult for many baby boomers to stop “giving”, especially in the area of cash infusions. The data is pretty clear, and I recently addressed this in one of my blogs. For those grown children who get significant material help and do little for their parents, their expectation of continuing to get money after the parents’ death is high.  The adult children who have actually done more for the parents, have lower expectations (i.e. feelings of entitlement). Isn’t that interesting! Examine your own style of doing and giving. If you want love and respect, do not overdue the “giving” It can be a recipe for discomfort at the least, and downright resentment at the worst.

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