Senior Wire News Service, September 2016
By Amy Abbott
Shakespeare chronicled the seven ages of man from infancy to old age in “As You Like It.” Anyone with adult children knows the Bard of Avon left out a critical stage – the stage when you zip your lip around your adult child, fearful of your words pushing them away.
You don’t have to be a poet or a researcher to understand that parents and adult children experience tension long after the child’s emancipation.
A few caveats from a University of Michigan Institute for Social Research study which examined adult children over age 22 who lived within 50 miles of parents.
- Tensions erupted for various topics, including personality differences, money, lifestyle, and frequency of interaction. (As I write this, I’m awaiting word on whether my adult son is Skyping with us this evening.)
- Parents may have more intense emotions with concern about their child’s success in adulthood.
- Parents with daughters reported more tension, likely because of increased contact between parent and child.
- The mother is often the guilty party with unsolicited advice.
The conventional wisdom is that we, as parents, shut our collective mouths and smile when our children make purchases they likely cannot afford or our grandchildren go without sunscreen. Weren’t we annoyed when our parents commented on our choices?
Author Ruth Nemzoff, Resident Scholar at Brandeis Women’s Research Center, Waltham, Mass., challenges what most of us have accepted.
Dr. Nemzoff is the mother of four adult children. For years, she’s listened to people complaining about their adult children. The familiar theme was “I bite my tongue,” when it comes to concern about adult children’s lives and choices.
“I started asking people about how they deal with their adult children,” Dr. Nemzoff told Senior Wire News Service. “No matter their social class, people said the same thing.”
“I thought about all the wisdom we’re losing,” she said, “That’s not good.”
Dr. Nemzoff wrote the book Don’t Bite Your Tongue. Her premise, she wrote, “ counters the popular belief that parents must let go of their adult children and silence themselves.”
Her message is what to say, how to say it, and possibly most important, when to say it.
Dr. Nemzoff offered suggestions for the parent wanting to improve communication with an adult child.
- Use “I” statements. “You might want to say to your child, there’s something I want to say, I want to tell you how I’m viewing the situation. You don’t have to take my opinion, but I want you to know how I am feeling. I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention what I’m seeing.”Dr. Nemzoff added, “That’s very different than saying, You are an idiot.”
- Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. The Brandeis scholar gave an example, “I know you are spending much time with John or Susie or Suki and you seem to enjoy them. What do you like about the person? Alternatively, tell me what you don’t like about the person.”
- Share your observations. “I noticed you are very quiet when you are with this person.”
- Choose to be silent. “Sometimes, we might not decide to say anything at all, because sometimes a person has to discover things themselves. I may be uncertain that I am correct. I may not want to tackle a particular subject. The timing is wrong. That’s very different from saying my tongue is bloody from biting, because I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. I choose to remain silent.”
- Choose the appropriate venue. The old landline phone just isn’t what it used to be. Dr. Nemzoff, who has 10 grandchildren, learned to text because her grandchildren did not want to talk on the phone. She said, “Technology is not something to be feared.”
Using these techniques have helped Dr. Nemzoff learn more about her offspring. “Often when I question my children’s decisions, they have very good reasons for making a different decision than I expect. I didn’t have all the variables. They may have put more emphasis on something about which I didn’t know.”
While the 50‑mile range in the study cited at the article’s beginning has value, our world becomes more global and less local every day. Conflict can erupt between generations simply because of nomadic lifestyles. Grandma is in Ohio, and the adult children and grandchildren may live in California, multiple time zones apart. Considering context when communicating with adult children is also important.
Dr. Nemzoff talked about a bi‑continental relationship of which she is aware. The adult son, who lives overseas, calls his father while having his morning coffee. His father, the grandfather, entertains the toddler with songs and smiles via modern technology. Three generations thousands of miles apart have family time on a daily basis via FaceTime.
She continued, “The aim of building solid relationships with our adult children is interdependence, and keeping the relationship.”