14. The Laws of In-Laws
Parenting doesn’t end when your children grow up. Not even when they get married. But from the day your child is born, you are losing control.
This transition is natural and healthy. Control is supposed to be exchanged for a healthy relationship. As the child ages, your control diminishes but hopefully your relationship grows stronger, your children will love and respect you, value your opinion and continue to seek your guidance and even your approval.
Releasing your control in the right increments and at the right times is more of an art than a science, one that depends on your judgement and how well your children handle responsibility and independence. Ultimately if you try to hold on to the control too long, you sacrifice the relationship and you lose what you’ve been building with your children.
Find a Good Balance
Like any other relationship you have deposits and withdrawals. Chances are if your children are still talking to you, you made more deposits than withdrawals as a parent. And that you have a positive balance. It’s important to keep making deposits for the health of the relationship in order to keep it healthy.
Top 3 Ways to Make Deposits
Remind them that you love them and that you’re proud of them
Invite the whole family on trips, to get-together, etc
Surprise them with gifts.
It’s best not make the withdrawal of criticizing your adult children’s decisions unless you are in the habit of complimenting the good ones. That way you can always be sure that you’re offsetting the “damage” done with healthy contributions to your relationship.
Understand Your Child’s Position
With married children extra consideration must be taken. Because if their significant other wants A and you tell them B, you place your child in a lose-lose situation; one where they have to choose between you and their spouse. This is one reason why it’s so important to constantly and consistently make those deposits into your relationship account: if your children feel close to you and know that you will love them no matter what, this will help them trust and understand that you only want the best for them.
What if Your Advice Doesn’t Work?
How many times have you told your child exactly what to do and they follow your advice to a T? It happens once in a blue moon even for the best parents. After all, our children are just as human as we are. And giving advice to our adult children can get us into trouble.
If you tell your adult children what to do and it doesn’t work out, they will have a hard time moving on and growing from the experience. Instead, they will feel like a victim and blame you for their pain.
There are safer, subtler ways of guiding your children that protect you from blame:
When You Approve, Open Your Mouth and Your Wallet
The best way to show your support for a decision that your kids make is to support them! Now that they’re out on their own, you don’t quite have the same obligation to provide for them that you once did. But of course, if you still have the capacity and desire to provide for them, the best time to do so is when you catch them doing something right.
Just like positive reinforcement benefits children, it also benefits adults. Trusting you for guidance is a habit your children specifically have developed over the course of their lives and continues into adulthood so long as you continue to nurture it in the right way.
When You Disapprove, Close Your Mouth… and Your Wallet!
On the other hand, when you disapprove of their decisions, saying as much can be the fastest way to find yourself in an argument. Giving unsolicited advice often makes people defensive, no matter how you sugarcoat it. But there are still subtle ways to communicate your disapproval of certain decisions or behavior.
One of the most effective is to simply not support them. If they ask why, you can begin the conversation with openness and honesty rather than with one side or the other feeling attacked.
Control Is Temporary, Love is Forever
Sometimes as we watch our adult children fly from the nest, we feel like the relationship is slipping from our grasp. We worry about them. We want don’t want to lose our ability to protect them and guide them and nurture them. But now is still the time to nurture the relationship, and more often than not, the parents will continue to take the lead in doing so.
Learn their love language so that you can continue to nurture the relationship!