Adult children also need love and support. At the same time, they build their own lives and develop further. What is the best way for parents to behave? Seven tips for a successful relationship between parents and children.
1. Adult children need parents who are aware of their emotional power
It often doesn’t feel like it at all. Instead, parents make us feel vulnerable – at the latest when young children get angry with them, shut down or judge their parents harshly. And one day they leave their parents.
The parents have to let go. Many – like my wife and I right now – also stay behind sad and think about what fills life now. But emotionally, we unconsciously wield more power than we think.
When children react violently, it is because they oppose our parental power. We imprinted ourselves deep into her soul, with valuable and also with burdensome things. The emotional life, the conscience and the spontaneous thoughts of our children will always be influenced by us, even if fortunately new imprints are added.
That is why adult children continue to detach themselves from their parents. In order to be able to develop what is in them, the children still have to shed one or the other.
What follows? First, a wide heart for overreactions. Our adult children can and should get angry. They can and should close themselves off or be overly critical. For every reaction to today may contain a reaction to past experiences. Parents who don’t put such reactions on the gold scales make it easier for their children to feel as equals. Then the overreactions subside over the years.
2. Grown children appreciate parents who are good at dealing with guilt
Parents are guilty of their children. The more mature parents are with this fact, the easier they make it for their children. Exaggerated feelings of guilt are not helpful, because then the message would get through: “I failed you. You’re screwed up.”
It would also be of little help to seek absolution from our children: “Can you forgive me for what I did wrong?” Children cannot relieve parents of guilt. Fundamental forgiveness might also make it harder to at some point specifically address what went wrong in the past. After all, are children still allowed to do this when they have already forgiven “everything”?
When parents are concerned with the question of their own guilt, I advise them: “Just be open, attentive and inviting if you find that your child is preoccupied with something from the past. If something comes up, you can admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness. But maybe what you’re feeling guilty about right now isn’t a problem for your child.”
3. Adult children are amazed at parents who are willing to correct
Whether we can deal with mistakes of the past in a relaxed manner is also shown by how we react today when children show us with their reactions that we were careless, unfair, too critical, not sensitive enough and other things.
Of course, children are not saints either. Nevertheless, when dealing with them, I encourage them to be willing to make corrections – if necessary also one-sidedly: “You’re right, I was just really … I’m sorry about that. You must have felt…”
I have seen and heard many examples where a situation relaxes and the grown-up children then admit: “Thank you. I also have …” Sometimes parents need a little patience. In certain detachment phases, it is simply important for children not to always be the ones with whom something is wrong, who are insufficient or who do something wrong.
4. Adult children appreciate discretion
Our children are our big project. We would be lying if we said that in our pride in our children there is not some pride in ourselves. At the same time, our children’s well-being is our most vulnerable point.
What threatens them worries us. What hurts her, gets to our kidneys. All of this makes our children an obvious topic of conversation. But who should find out about what is happening in the lives of our children? Who is allowed to know about them what they confide in only a few people? This should be based on what our children feel comfortable with. Those who opt for discretion will sometimes bite their tongue. But it’s worth it. Children sense the level of our intimacy and that determines the level of their trust.
In the case of sensitive topics, I would even say: Not everything that a father’s ear hears is also intended for the mother’s ear and vice versa. And there are topics that you prefer to discuss with someone who has some distance to things. On other issues, anything but an emotional response would be hurtful. You’re more likely to look for that in the more emotional parent. Sometimes children crave a clear benchmark to keep them on track. Sometimes they need a counterpart who doesn’t give up. Depending on the topic, children sometimes open up to one parent, sometimes to the other.
Grown children would feel awkward if they asked, “Don’t tell Mommy/Daddy.” But that may be the case. The other parent can then perhaps be included: “We talked about how Pia is doing in training.”
I would still recommend one or two hidden places to all parents. There are things that would be too difficult to bear alone and that have to be said. Suitable for this are people who are not too close to the adult children and who keep to themselves what is entrusted to them.
5. Grown children need happy parents
Did parents make sacrifices for their children? Hopefully not. Because the exertion, the lack of sleep, the pausing of personal freedoms and a material sacrifice are more than outweighed by the happiness that we have experienced on and with our children.
Still, it’s possible, depending on your life and family history, that parenting was a struggle that left wounds and scars. Then it is all the more important that parents reconcile with their story. You can be proud of the wounds and scars. Because they contracted it while doing something valuable. Parents should not rest until they are happy with it. Perhaps this requires places of regeneration, support or a time in which healing self-care is the priority.
As soon as we have mastered our task as parents, the phase of life comes that can attack our happiness: signs of age, illness, breaking up relationships, losses, dreams that you will no longer realize. But that should not burden our adult children. You should start your life happy and unencumbered. May I go so far as to argue that it is our advanced parenting duty to be happy?
Happiness does not depend on good living conditions. Discovering this challenges your own development and perhaps your own beliefs. Only a few understand happiness in midlife as a life without burdens. Rather, it means: outweigh the burdens with valuable things until happiness is on top.
6. Of course children need what parents do anyway
There is so much support when parents help, are interested, give gifts, cook, invite people to do something… You can’t appreciate it enough. Precisely because parents always retain an emotional power, what comes from us goes to the heart. Knowing we can be counted on gives our children strength when situations call for extra courage.
At the same time, parental support guards against false strengths that might be found in accumulating money, in success, or in a need-no-one mentality. Life succeeds only when the ability to make oneself vulnerable is combined with courage. That is only possible with support. You can find it in others too. But it’s nice to have him with his parents.
7. Adult children appreciate a second home
Children-in-law often find a second home with their “new parents”. They experience a belonging and a love that is unconditional. You can enjoy something that your parents may not have been so good at and satisfy a need to catch up.
Where one’s own parents were perhaps serious and responsible, one enjoys humor and relaxation in the family-in-law. Where parents could not show their love so openly, the warmth of the family-in-law fills the emotional tank. It can be very motivating for in-laws to feel how important they are to their daughters-in-law and son-in-law.
This also helps to open up to the unfamiliar things that come into the family with children-in-law. Sooner or later you will have to settle a conflict with children-in-law. But that can be determined by the love you have for your own children and the tact you show towards guests.
Incidentally, our emotional brain does not know any “in-law”. It doesn’t have a category for that. Where our mind thinks “parents-in-law”, our heart feels: “parents”. Parents-in-law can therefore also apply the first theses to their children-in-law. In a way, it’s even easier. Because a tolerance for overreactions and a willingness to self-correct then compensate for what other parents have missed.
Joerg Berger works as a psychotherapist and couples therapist in his own practice in Heidelberg (epaartherapie.de). You can find more on the subject in his book “Prickly Parents and Parents-in-Law. How to make peace and live reconciled” (Francke).