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Parenting adult children: The next step is developing the relationship

Tom and his daughter Ruth out dancing in Kansas City
Tom and his daughter Ruth out dancing in Kansas City
file photo

Once we've defined the relationship with our adult children we need to go about developing that relationship.  "But," you may say, "That's silly.  They're my children.  I changed their diapers.  I already have a relationship with them."  And so you do.

But are you happy with it?   If so, just keep on keepin' on.  But if that relationship leaves something to be desired perhaps there is room for some development.  And to focus on how to accomplish this let's use the acronym DR-A-MA (It just seems apropos), which stands for: Deepening Relationship, Adapt, and Make Amends. Each of these will be examined more closely at a later time but for now here is an overview.

Deepening Relationship:  If you and your child always seem to fight the same fights, skirt the same issues, or pretend all is rosy when it's not, now would be a good time to remember that classic definition:  Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  In other words, if we continue to act and react the way we always have why should we expect the relationship to get better?  We need to be intentional about this.  We have to focus on it, tinker with it , examine, it.  And when we identify an area that needs improvement we need to . . .

Adapt:  Say your daughter brings a reject from a police line-up to dinner (again). And you (again) say what a loser he is, or compare him to cousin Jenny's MD spouse, or, or, or whatever you normally do that stifles conversation, shortens the evening and lengthens the distance between you and your daughter.  Perhaps at this point some adaptation is in order?  But what can be done?  What if, rather than say anything you asked yourself, "Why?"  Why is she choosing these types of men?  What need is unmet in her life?  And then we must be willing to look not only at our children and their choices but ourselves and our past actions to find answers. At this point we become tested in our willingness to . . .

Make Amends:  Our children are like a mirror.  If we don't like what we see we need to realize that we helped put it there, either by modeling the behavior ourselves or failing to counteract the influences that did.  This makes parent/adult child relationships a psychological minefield, where we often tip-toe over what we know are safe zones and carefully avoid any step that might cause a blow up and expose hidden needs and hurts, both theirs and ours.  Part of the hard work of parenting adult children is recognizing where we missed it when they were young and helping them overcome the consequences we helped set them up for. 

If this sounds really scary, it is.  But the good news is that you love them and they love you and if we intentionally seek to deepen the relationship, can be adaptable and are willing to make amends, a healthy satisfying parent/adult child relationship can blossom and flourish.


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