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Staying close to adult children without stepping on toes

POSTED: June 8, 2014 9:00 a.m.

As parents of adult children, our goal is to remain close to them without interfering. The importance of maintaining appropriate boundaries that foster good relationships is never as important as it is when our children get married and have children of their own. This is the point where we need to learn to let go of our babies and redefine our relationships with our children, adult to adult.
Remember the salad tongs
When my son was engaged to be married, I came dangerously close to losing the budding affection of my soon to be daughter-in-law, Karry. The inciting incident happened over Thanksgiving dinner. In order to fully appreciate this story, you have to know that Karry is a fabulous cook while success for me in the kitchen is serving up a delectable pre-cooked meal from the deli. Needless to say, Karry was in charge of our meal. She cooked a succulent turkey, accompanied by homemade corn bread stuffing, mixed in with fresh ground sausage. When Karry offered a legitimate suggestion on how I might more easily toss our green salad, using salad tongs instead of two forks, I bristled, hurting her feelings. We were off to a bad start.
A few weeks later, I shared my still tender feelings with a good friend, as we sat talking in front of a roaring fire. He listened carefully, nodded a few times, and then said, "Susan, your goal is to gain a daughter, not lose your son." The obvious truth of his statement took my breath away. He was right. This wasn't about salad tongs. It was about my fear of being replaced, which is the way life is supposed to work, when it works well. My goal was to gain a new daughter, and it was up to me to make our relationship work.
Since then, I'd like to think I've become much smarter. Now whenever I feel like interfering in my adult children's lives, I try to say to myself: "Remember the salad tongs!" That reminder has saved me and my children more grief than they perhaps know.
Living Next Door
Jaci lives next door to her son Matt, wife Diedre, and baby Lydia. Living that close has the potential to generate lots of problems on both sides, and yet they all seem to be doing very well together. I asked Jaci to share the secrets of their success. She gave me four words: clear boundaries and frequent communication. Jaci never goes to Matt's home unannounced. She always calls before she goes over. She assumes nothing and asks about everything.
Matt does the same. Recently when his wife Diedre decided to work part time, Matt asked his mom about baby-sitting Lydia a few mornings a week. All three of them sat down together and discussed how this might work best for everyone. They also talked about contingency plans, in the event that Jaci had a day when she needed to do something else. Open communication plus clear boundaries equaled no hurt feelings.
Don't offer advice or criticism
When we were young parents, we had the opportunity to make our own mistakes with our children, which we all did. Allow your adult children the same opportunity. Pass the parenting torch on to the next generation. Don't try and do it for them. And don't criticize — anything. Not the way they keep the house, do their jobs or discipline their children. Your new role is just to love them and be a support in whatever way is comfortable for both of you. Always ask what you can do to help. Never just jump in and do something you think needs to be done. That can be experienced as intrusive.
Don't ask adult children why they haven't called
Your idea of how often you'd like to hear from your adult children may be very different from theirs. Sometimes, they just get really busy, and it's not about you. Be happy when you do hear from them, rather than disappointed when you don't. That will encourage them to call more often. You may also want to consider utilizing short texts, emails or Face Time. Or set up a day that works for everyone to connect and catch up.
Do build bonds with your grandchildren
An article on kidshealth.org titled "Bonding with grandparents," highlights the benefits to kids of establishing bonds with grandparents. "Grandparents can be great role models and influences, and they can provide a sense of cultural heritage and family history. Grandparents provide their grandkids with love, have their best interest at heart, and can make them feel safe."
Those are wonderful ways to be involved with our grandchildren. Note important key words from the article: be a role model, show love and provide safety. The relationship between us and our grandchildren can be one of the most rewarding relationships in our lives if we don't try to over-orchestrate it.
It may not be easy, but it will be worth it
Our natural inclination as parents is to want to an integral part of our children's lives, regardless of their ages. They can benefit from that arrangement as much as we do if we can be close to them without quashing their independence or interfering with their marriages. By learning to relax and slipping into the flow of our children's lives, we can build healthy bonds with our children and grandchildren that will last forever.
Read about the power of families to seek after the one in Susan's book: Coming Home: A Mormon's Return to Faith. Learn more at www.returntofaith.org You can reach Susan at: susanswann7@hotmail.com

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