Conflicts with adult children
Mary was in tears--“My 30-year-old daughter, Jane, is so angry with me. She won’t even return my phone calls”. Jane wrote her mother an angry email. In it, she detailed a wide range of offenses her mother committed over many years. I read the email and could see that Jane was deeply angry and disappointed with her mom.
Her story reminded me of my relationship with my father. When I was a young adult, even into my early 30’s, I was very disappointed with my dad. My parents divorced when I was 13 years old. I felt that my father had abandoned me when he remarried and adopted my stepmother’s kids. During my teen years, I had numerous conflicts with his wife, which I blamed on him. He wasn’t the father I would have picked out of the Sears catalogue.
It took me a long time to let go of those hurts and come to accept my father for the man he was, with his strengths and limitations. As I had children of my own, and experienced the challenges of parenthood, I grew more forgiving of my own father. I had the opportunity to take care of him at the end of his life. He told me what a good son I was. “You’re a good boy,” he said. Even though I was a middle aged adult, there is no greater compliment a son can hear from his father!
Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters have high expectations of each other. The bar is set high. It is easy for Moms and Dads to have clay feet in their children’s eyes. Some young adults struggle with resentments and disappointments that they have accumulated over the years of their growing up. These feelings can contaminate their relationship with their parents.
If you are having challenges with your adult children, here are a few points to remember:
History is viewed through your own lens. My father’s experience during the challenging years of his divorce, remarriage, and his mid 40’s was completely different than my own. I was a teenager and then young adult, struggling to find my place on the adult stage. I wanted a dad who would show me the way but also let me find my own way—two conflicting desires that resulted in unrealistic expectations. My father was going through his own life crisis. He didn’t have much to offer me at that time.
The generation gap is real. “Baby boomers”, “Generation X’ers” and “Millennials” see the world very differently. My parents were children of the Great Depression and World War II. I grew up in the 1960’s. It’s unrealistic for us to compare our parent’s lives with our own experience. We were brought up in very different times. These differences visit each new generation.
Don’t argue with your children about what happened. Our adult children want us to hear them, listen to them, and to acknowledge their experience even when our intentions were entirely different than they imagine. Explaining or justifying your choices will only intensify the conflict. Let them vent.
Be patient. That is easier said than done. It takes young adults time to work these issues out. They won’t be rushed just because we want to have a better relationship with them. Give them their space.
Let them know how much you love them, want them to be happy and have the causes of happiness, and how sorry you are if you hurt them. Let them know that you want to be in their lives. Acknowledging their pain, their disappointments, and their experience doesn’t mean that you have the same view of history. It just means that you are sorry if you caused them pain. No parent wants to bring his or her children sorrow. You may have to deliver this message many times over—in cards, in emails, or letters over many months, and sometimes years.
It’s a simple message of hope and reconciliation, but it says everything.
What challenges have you had with your adult children?