parents to the end

Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations, Part II

Posted on November 27, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part II

Therapists know that the holiday season is emotionally loaded for many. They see the joyous commercials on TV, only to think that their own lives are far from perfect.  This is sure to lead to letdown, especially for those whose relationships with family are either strained or estranged.  To offer some realistic balance to media hype, I am revisiting my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children on Fridays through the end of the year.

In the first of a series of six blogs beginning last week, I wrote about two truths:  1. Love does not conquer all. 2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.

Today I share two more truths:

3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.

When our children were young, we might say to them on occasion, “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior.”   We all hoped that our kids got the message that we could unconditionally love them, and still have consequences for inappropriate behavior.  At times, parents have admitted to me actually not liking their child, when the behaviors or problems were very stressful.  Most of the time this is temporary.  All parents have looked forward to the day when  concerns are resolved and they can have an adult-to-adult relationship with a son or daughter.

When this happens it is a blessing, and we feel that the years of parenting have paid off. But not all young people follow that kind of path into adulthood.  Despite parents’ best efforts, some grown children, whether it be through personality clashing or troubling behaviors, are difficult to be around or to like. This may sound impossible to some of you, but it is not for parents whose adult children are abusive or engage in major social misconduct.

Do not rush to judge the parents who admit to disliking their (adult) child.  They want nothing more than to be able to love that child unconditionally. It may be in the parent’s  best interest, however, to pull back if their love is met with repeatedly abusive reactions, even if it is a holiday.

4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.

The holiday season is here and most of us take pains to treat our children equitably. We want to be fair, and that often that means spending equal amounts per child. Makes sense, right? But sometimes situations come up where that kind of decision isn’t as easily arrived at.

Just as our kids grow in understanding and insights in life, so do we.  A parent may decide she has overindulged her first child with “stuff” to the point that her young adult has an entitlement attitude. Along comes a younger brother who now wants the same goodies that his older sister received. What is the parent to do? Continue to spend unwisely on the sibling, or use her hard-won insight to stop doing what does not work?

What if your family’s circumstances have radically changed? Perhaps there has been a job loss or retirement that shrinks the family budget.  You may no longer have the resources to give as you have in the past.  Try to get past your guilt-if you are feeling bad—and recognize your limits.

Finally, there are children who, because of severe behaviors, have alienated their families.  Do you continue giving to them at the same level you give to others? Use your best judgment here. You surely  don’t want to send the message that they can behave terribly and you will overlook it forever.

It is easy to enjoy the holidays when the love and respect between family members or friends is reciprocal.  I hope that you have been able to spend Thanksgiving with those you appreciate, and who appreciate you as well.

2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations, Part II”

  1. Troubled in San Diego says:

    I stumbled across your blog tonight after an internet search of verbally abusive adult children. Our son lives with us as he suffers from severe anxiety, depression, and has bouts with suicidal ideation. He has lived out on his own (only with our help) a few times, always failing. I know he loves us, but his narcissistic behavior results in frequent conflict. After today’s conflict, my husband left the house, and says that at 59 years old this is not how he wants to live, and definitely not in retirement. Your blog is what I needed to read tonight. I am feeling so terribly guilty about telling him that he cannot continue to live with us. He could qualify for permanent disability, but that takes years to process! We almost lost him in April, and after begging and coaxing him out of bed, we finally got him back. Each time I think it’s going to change and be different, but it never does. It’s Christmastime, and here I am faced with all of this. I love my son to death, but so much of the time, I really don’t like who he is. I am so sad, but writing to you, a stranger, tonight has felt somewhat comforting. I’ll check your blog again. Thank you.

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