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The Cardinal Rule of Parenting Adults

Parenting Adults

So, what is the cardinal rule of parenting adults? Nod and smile.

Yes, that’s right: nod, smile and support your children in the same way you support and encourage the other adults in your life. This may sound like glib advice, but as a psychotherapist and a parent of four adult children, I know there are few exceptions to this rule.

Of course, there will be times when, as a parent of a child of any age, we will go to extraordinary lengths to help them – but such times should be the exception and not the rule.

In working with many young adults, it has become clear to me that too many parents forget their children’s formative years are over and that they are now independent adults who need to be treated as such. Raising children does not entitle parents to a lifelong ability to critique and assess them, or to make demands on them to do certain things or be a certain way.

In many sessions with adult children, I hear about the impact of judgmental parenting continuing into adulthood. It is not an exaggeration to say the continual expression of criticism from parents affects adult children’s ability to constructively address the issues they bring to therapy including anxiety and depression.

In speaking with parents of adult children, I often hear some variation of “Of course I love him, but what really matters is that ______”, with the blank filled in by something like “Work hard at whatever she decides to do”, “Apply for more jobs – at least 10 a day”, “Study like I used to study so he can have his pick of jobs”, and so on.

However, all of the phrases after the “but” extinguish the “I love him/her/them” part, full stop. When we know someone’s love, admiration and respect for us is conditional it is very difficult to have a complete sense of well-being.

If you are a parent to adults, I encourage you to really reflect on the type of relationship you have with them, and whether it is the relationship you want to have. If there is a gap between where it is and where you’d like it to be, ask yourself if you treat your children as the adults they now are, or as the minors they used to be.

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