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Question: Dear Stacy, How do I show support to my adult child(ren) without it coming out as controlling or critical?
Answer: Dear parent(s) of adult children, since I do not have children of my own, this column will be from the perspective of being an adult child myself.
I'll share a story. I was talking with my mom on the phone one time many years ago (she had moved to Florida) and I just wanted to vent, but I guess it was not clear to her and I just started venting about... I don't even remember exactly what it was…work, relationships, financial stuff, it could have been any of those topics.
I just remember that I got very angry because she started giving me advice and I literally screamed at her and said “I didn't call you for advice, I called you just to listen,” then I hung up on her. My mom was shocked, but she said it made her stop and think. Of course we made up because my mom is my best friend, my confidant, my advisor and fortunately, we were able to talk about it.
My mom later stated that she pondered on the situation and realized that she should not have made assumptions or just started giving advice, but that she now understood that she needed to ask questions and ask permission.
From this experience, I would definitely say those are my top suggestions when showing support to your adult children. Ask questions and/or ask for permission BEFORE offering any suggestions or advice. Even though I don't have children of my own, I have many friends who have children who are now young adults and going into college, who will be making "adult" decisions.
I have a niece and nephew who are young adults, I've worked with many young adults and their families in therapy, Treatment Foster Care, and in a variety of other settings, so I believe as a Social Worker I am capable of seeing both perspectives. I've learned over the years, even in my interactions with people in general, that those two things: asking questions and asking for permission will get you far in building and maintaining relationships.
You can say things like "can I share something with you" or "would you like to know/hear some suggestions,” “are you looking for solutions to that problem,” or “do you want me to help you brainstorm ideas?” Of course your wording should be diplomatic and caring, and it does take practice. There are lots of resources that you can use, even creating a script for yourself. You also need to realize that each child has different needs and will respond differently.
Even though we don't like to discuss it, we do treat our children differently based on personality, based on temperament, whatever it might be, so you need to understand your child and how they may respond. The other thing that I would say is that you have to be authentic and genuine with each other because as a parent you may hear things that you don't agree with and it may be hard not to react or jump to conclusions. Give your child(ren) time to explain their side of the story, and let their voice be heard before you jump in!
“With grown children, we can look back at both our mistakes and what we did well in our parenting, having conversations with a greater degree of honesty than was possible before. In getting older themselves, our adult children may begin to comprehend the burdens and strengths we carried from our own parents.” – Wendy Lustbader
Here are some resources on the topic.