Managing Relationships With Your Adult Children
By Roma Khetarpal
When Children Become Adults: Parenting Challenges
My sister-in-law called the other day and said that she, along with her fiancé, would be making an overnight stop at our home on her way to San Francisco. With my daughter, Nitasha, off to graduate school, we have an empty room, so I was not at all concerned about space. What did cross my mind was how my very modern, yet very desi mother-in-law would handle this situation.
You see, my sister-in-law and her fiancé are both in their early fifties, and their upcoming wedding is a second marriage for both. They are mature adults, with young adult children and have shared a common space for over a year. I have no little kids at home, so I didn’t need to worry about the impression an unmarried couple would leave on them, but the big question was about Mom. I chuckled to myself as I imagined all her possible responses. I decided to wait and see how things would roll.
Not surprisingly, my husband brought this up the night before my sister-in-law was supposed to arrive. “You know, mom is not okay with them sharing a room,” he said.
“I didn’t think so,” I responded. “So now what?”
“Let her handle it.” he suggested.
He was right. I already knew that it was not my business to step in between mother and daughter in what was probably an uncomfortable situation. Consciously and with good intent, I stayed out of it. I really don’t know what conversation took place between my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law, but after a wonderful dinner and some pre-wedding planning, my sister-in-law told me, “I’ll sleep in Nitasha’s room, if that’s okay with you.”
“Of course,” I responded. “And Russell?” I asked politely.
“Well, he’s going to sleep in Mom’s family room on the couch.”
As soon as she said that, we both burst out laughing. I teased her that Mom was going to tie a string and a bell around Russell’s ankle to make sure he did not make his way upstairs to her room. She teased back that Mom would probably sleep with her bedroom door open or not sleep at all! Desi Moms—what would we do without them?!
As I dozed off that night, I couldn’t help but reflect: did I agree with Mom’s decision, which my sister-in-law respectfully accepted? What would I do if I were in Mom’s shoes? Honestly, I was quite conflicted.
I imagined different scenarios:
What if my kids were adults and in their early fifties? I would have to be okay with their staying together, right? If I weren’t okay with it, would my kids comply or just not spend the night?
What if I had young grandkids at home? I know that the modern-yet-conservative desi in me would probably not be okay with that! I would really have to stretch my personal boundaries to change my mind. Would that cause a rift between my child and his or her partner? Or between my child and me?
I’m not exactly sure what I would do if I were in mom’s shoes, but I can point to a few ground rules that I suggest any and every parent and grandparent can follow, if and when boundaries are stretched:
- Put love first. That is the only way to showcase the unconditional love that we all have for our children. No matter what age your children are, put your own feelings aside, and celebrate their special moments with them. Reminding yourself to do that will set the stage.
- Be open-minded and open-hearted. Our kids—especially adult kids—are going to lead their lives based on their own likes and dislikes. It’s what we have prepared them for — to be independent. Entertain their decisions or requests, and open up the topic for discussion. Hear them out with an open mind and an open heart, and seriously entertain their thoughts on the subject, without judgment. If you’re conflicted, be honest with them; let them know that. Be true to your feelings as well, and know that you don’t have to respond right away. Let them know that you need to think about it.
- Buy yourself some time. Think through your stance. Now that you’ve opened the topic up for discussion, consider their rebuttal. If you feel there is room for flexibility, come up with a happy medium that might work for both, you and your child. You might also reach out to a mindful friend—one whose opinion you trust and value—and share your well thought-out response. Be prepared to incorporate the friend’s point of view if it makes sense.
- Be kind, whether or not you’re standing your ground. Set up an uninterrupted time to speak with your child, and let him or her know how you feel about their decision (or request, as in this case), kindly. Don’t shove your opinion down their throat, and avoid the usual parental emotional rebuttals, “Because this is my house,” or “Because I said so.” These are reactions to heated emotions and not well thought-out, open-minded, responses. This is not an opening for you to display power or get territorial, but an opportunity to simply express your opinion. Basically, very kindly, share your decision, and stand your ground. You might say, “I’m so sorry you disagree, sweetheart, but I felt it was important for me to be honest with you. You know I love you regardless.”
- Accept and respect. Regardless of whether or not you can come to a shared and agreeable plan of action, accept and respect the outcome and your child’s individuality. Take pride in the fact that you are able to have an open discussion with your child—which truly is a great reflection of the communication skills that you advocate, the honest and open relationship that you have built thus far, and, most importantly, mutual respect.
- Let go. My mom always says, “When you let go, only good comes out of the situation.” After the decision has been made, promise yourself to let it go and not to bring it up again and again or as part of future issues. Keep in mind that disagreements allow us to build bridges to our children’s ways of thinking—especially where there is a generation gap. Good and lasting relationships are built by setting good examples for our children, for truth be told, life does come full circle. Mental health pioneer Milton Greenblatt put it best when he said, “First we are children to our parents, then parents to our children, then parents to our parents, then children to our children.” So, before we know it, in the blink of an eye, our children will be parenting us.
Would you let your daughter’s boyfriend sleep over?
More About Roma
Roma Khetarpal is Masalamommas parenting columnist. She is the founder and CEO of Tools of Growth, through which she helps parents raise kids to “Be Happy, Think Positive, and Do Good.” With parenting classes, community outreach, articles, reviews, and blog posts, Tools of Growth provides parents with simple, easy-to-remember, and effective communication tools that can help them build a strong foundation and relationship with their children. By synthesizing the themes and concepts of the personal growth and emotional intelligence fields, along with cutting-edge parenting research, Khetarpal delivers her message in an accessible, reassuring, and personally empowering way.
She is also the author of the “The ‘Perfect’ Parent: 5 Tools for Using Your Inner Perfection to Connect With Your Kids.” In “The ‘Perfect’ Parent,” Khetarpal writes that it’s the dynamic between parents and children that makes the difference. She writes that parents can draw on their inner resources — what she calls inner perfection — to enhance the way they connect with their children, building trust and thereby making it second nature for children to reach out to their parents, strengthening that bond for life.
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