Best if we had started when our kids were teens but it's never too late to remember that we have moved from being the boss of them to being consultants to our grown children--even as it's hard to act on that in the heat of a "moment."
This is what Amy Joyce wrote about in one of her On Parenting columns in the Washington Post. Her topic was more precise: It was about parenting teens and how to go about transitioning away from the boss model. She focused on the science-based research of Stixrud and Johnson in their book “What Do You Say? How to Talk With Kids to Build Motivation, Stress Tolerance and a Happy Home.”
Stixrud and Johnson underscore the importance of resisting the urge to solve a teen's problems. This holding back can help kids take responsibility for their decisions and thereby let them grow into independent adults. Those adults can in turn look to their parents for advice. They won't need us to tell them what to do. Stixrud and Johnson point out that the stakes during these teen years are high:
"We need to remind ourselves that we’re going to have a relationship with our kids when they are adults longer than we ever did when they were children."
Naturally, the same need to resist problem-solving goes for when our children are fully grown adults. Not that it's easy to keep our views and advice to ourselves, as suggested in this letter to Carolyn Hax from a mother about her 40-year-old son.
The son, who lives in a city 900 miles away from his parents, called to tell them that he is getting divorced. The writer is surprised that the marriage has turned sour and that her son (the father of two young children) is in love with someone other than his wife. The mother/grandmother is "horrified by his behavior" and wants to tell her son how far short he has fallen "in becoming the person" she raised him to be. She wants to, in effect, be the boss and let him know his decision is wrong, that she doesn't approve and he should make things right--or else. The "or else," is that she refuses to meet the "other" woman.
Hax's advice circles back to the ideas spelled out by Stixrud-Johnson. So if we needed one more reminder of the dangers of being bossy, here's how Hax puts it:
"At this stage in all your lives, "parent" is your title but not your job."
credit: painting by Picasso