What makes someone a bad parent
When the children leave the house: About the relationship with adult children and children-in-law
Completely different from your time?
How did you feel when you were eighteen or twenty-one and finally of legal age? Mature and grown up, I guess. No more reason to let your parents patronize you. Rather, the parents didn't seem quite up to date at times, didn't they?
And today? Is the young people of the same age now much less mature, less serious, less fit for life than we were then? Or are we old people just imagining it? It must make us think that generations of parents at all times - going back to the ancient Romans - were convinced that “today's youth” are no longer good and that they do not meet their own standards in any way.
Your child is no longer a child
As early as puberty, bringing up children has to take a back seat to accompanying them. Raising means as a picture: the adult goes first, the child follows, the child follows. Accompanying means: two people walk next to each other, one just leans a little on the other.
When the children grow up, the relationship must be a friendly coexistence of equal partners - with both sides taking and giving. The children are eagerly awaiting this point in time - finally grown up! It also has advantages for parents: They no longer have to be strong and considerate, they no longer have to be a role model. You can expect the grown up children and their weaknesses. More like letting go, sometimes falling out of character.
The children too must stop making one-sided claims. Leave mom to do the laundry and expect regular meals? Only if the son or daughter takes on other parts of the household chores, the shopping and part of the kitchen service, for example. At the latest when living together among adults, claims and obligations must be evenly distributed.
Parents no longer need to feel responsible for the well-being of their adult children. The children now have to bear this responsibility themselves. Do you think this can't go well? Without your interference, would the son or daughter fail hopelessly? You behave like the clever Else. Do you remember Grimm’s fairy tale? One day Else goes into the cellar to draw beer. Then she found a pick stuck above the stool in the wall that the craftsmen had forgotten there. And now she is sitting there and moaning because the child she will one day have, possibly one day, if he is also sitting here to draw beer, could be killed by this hoe. And everyone who comes to see her - one after the other - hears her grief and wails along with it.
Perhaps your son is only pretending to be dependent on himself because in this way he can get you to continue doing things for him that are very uncomfortable to do yourself. When adult children leave important decisions to their parents, they can hold them responsible for the consequences. That is also very convenient. If you keep patting your son so excessively because you consider him too dependent, then one day he will be as dependent as you now estimate him to be. Your demeanor helps make it so!
Trust your son or daughter to do something! Everyone grows with their tasks. Certainly not everything will go dead straight as you imagine in the future. Can't do it either. It's not your life, it's his or hers. He / she has to design it, not you!
There is nothing to prevent you from continuing to guess when you are asked for advice, but the young people now have to decide and take responsibility alone (unless they are really extremely immature and not yet of legal age).
If the son (or daughter) has his own apartment, this is no longer automatically your area, into which you can freely influence. You have to respect boundaries. Do not come unannounced and suddenly find yourself in the apartment. Don't clean the kitchen, tidy up the room or paint the doors without asking. Otherwise one day you will be very offended by his “ungrateful” behavior. Not only does he not thank you for your help - he may even claim to have felt more comfortable in his old mess or blame you for the fact that a document that was well sorted under the armchair can no longer be found.
Sometimes criticism hurts
It is important for a young person to think about the influences that have shaped their own character. Especially when he has children himself and wants to draw practical conclusions from these insights.
It is difficult for parents to accept critical statements from adult children. “You never had time when I needed something” or: “You never let me do anything alone, you always interfered in everything”. Such sentences hurt. And formulated in such a general way, they are certainly not correct. But taken more precisely and concretely without resentment, they probably contain a portion of truth.
The parents' criticism of their own upbringing behavior appears like sheer ingratitude. What have you got through and put up with for the sake of the children! The many disturbed nights, always short of money, hardly any time for yourself ... And now you should have done it wrong, should be to blame for all sorts of things!
You have undoubtedly done your best to do what you think is best for your children. But what was best, what was good or bad for them, is often only noticed afterwards, in the more or less clear consequences. Or you can only guess, see it one way or another, because what would have happened if ... nobody can know.
And nobody is perfect. No one can do such a complex task as raising a child without doing things that afterwards you think would have been better. So why turn a blind eye to this hindsight? Isn't it nice if the grandchildren can benefit from it?
If you can manage to talk about such different points of view without blaming each other, it can be mutually beneficial. The relationship can be freed from old ballast - from insults perhaps that have never been expressed before.
Discard old ballast
Older children often believe that they should not openly express their own reservations or accusations in order not to offend their parents. Because they also see that they have tried their best. But the parents feel these hidden conflicts - in irritations, in quarrels about trifles. They too often prefer not to hear what's smoldering, because then they would have to deal with it - and that can hurt.
First of all, it takes courage to say things that may have been kept under the covers for decades. The first impulse is likely to be aggressive, perhaps with counter-allegations, to defend yourself against allegations. But that doesn't lead any further. It is not about determining who is to blame for something that cannot be changed.
If a daughter explains to her father that she has suffered from his expectations, which are often too high, then that is the case. Nor does it change when the father tries to prove to her that his claims were not excessive. One is his view of things, the other is yours. But he can tell her of his disappointment that she - from his point of view - showed so little interest in things that were very important to him. And from his conviction that she needs his constant incentive in order to be able to develop her full potential.
This way, one can better understand the other's reactions afterwards. Everyone can regret that their behavior had effects on others that they did not want. This can ultimately be very relieving for both of them, it can lead to both finding a better understanding for each other on a new level as adults.
Sometimes experiences from a bygone era may have stuck in the memory that seem so ridiculous that one hardly dares to share them with the other person. But the fact that they have stuck for so long shows that there is more behind them. They are probably symbolic of what was the real offense.
I remember the report of a young woman who still resents her mother for not giving her the promised pink slippers with the large pompons as a child. For the mother this was insignificant, for the daughter it was a symbol of a lack of understanding and disregard for the siblings. It is by no means a trivial matter to talk about the pink slippers again today under these conditions.
A temporary separation is not a catastrophe
In the middle of puberty, the child often starts to independently shape their own path of life, disregarding almost all parental advice, and is only guided by their own head. It has to be! In most families this is a time of worry, of more or less heated arguments. In the eyes of the concerned parents, one disaster after another occurs which they try to prevent. The children, on the other hand, resist what they see as unreasonable paternalism.
Many young people therefore move out of the house as quickly as possible - they have to have their own booth where they can finally be their own boss. Or it is the parents who are fed up with the eternal quarrel and who more or less rudely put their son or daughter out of the door. This is not a catastrophe at all. Such a separation, a temporary alienation, can help everyone to find themselves, to be clear about what they want and what not. Often the relationship soon improves again when everyone no longer “crouches” so close together, only seeing each other now and then.
Sometimes, however, children or parents break off contact completely for a few years. It even seems as if it is sometimes the particularly cared for children who break out of the close relationship with a leap and want to get by on their own first. Even if this was a break in anger, it doesn't have to be permanent. Perhaps the birth of a grandchild is a welcome occasion to try again under new conditions ...
The children's partners are mostly the wrong ones
The partner that their own child chooses is rarely exactly the right one in the parents' eyes. Mostly they imagined it differently. Everyone who raises a child has bold hopes for its future: happiness, contentment, harmony, a good livelihood, a respected profession. The child should have it better for once. Perhaps it should also realize some of the dreams that the parents fell by the wayside.
If this child, now grown up, chooses someone without the assistance of their parents with whom they would like to live for the next few years, the parents feel cheated of part of their efforts and their bold hopes, even though it is the dream partner they imagine, probably not even there. “What, such a slipped mouse for my masterpiece by son? Is she even able to cope with him intellectually? " “A locksmith of all people? If at least he were an engineer! " “What, an artist? And what do you want to live on? "
There is also a good deal of jealousy between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. For many daughters, the father is first and foremost the ideal of a man. She adores him and he is at his best with her. Or at least that's what he imagines. And suddenly a “linnet with puberty pimples” competes with him! At least that's his point of view. Perhaps, precisely because he is so jealous, he does not even notice that this young man is clever, sensitive and loving. When a young person senses that he is having reservations in his counterpart, he is often provocative or clumsy.
And who is to blame that an apparently completely unsuitable liaison has come about? Of course the other one! Turned his own child's head, got her around, fooled him. Tries to sit down in the nest that has been made ... If there is a quarrel between parents and child over the choice of partner or if the young people develop a completely different lifestyle than the parents had imagined, then it was definitely the other, who tries to negatively influence their own child and alienate them from their parents. It has to be the other, it can't be your own child. How did Ringelnatz put it so nicely? “So he concluded with razor sharpness that what cannot be cannot be”.
So it is difficult for prospective daughters-in-law and sons-in-law: They have to take an exam and have a bad chance of passing it right from the start. But since today hardly anyone expects that this will be their partner for the rest of their lives, the pressure is probably not as great as it is today. Do you remember your first visits to your in-laws?
Most young people today do long, repeated, and thorough tests before becoming more attached to someone. And many parents are not inclined to want to get to know each new “flame” more than superficially - if only to save themselves the aforementioned emotional “spin tours”. First of all, wait and see ... But when a child comes, things get serious.
For most, the birth of a grandchild is an opportunity to come closer to each other, to accept each other as belonging to the same family. But the reservations, the jealousy, the prejudices and misunderstandings are not off the table. They can be swept under the carpet temporarily for the sake of peace, but there they are likely to remain unchanged and form ugly bumps. And you will stumble over them again and again when dealing with your grandchild ...
You may think there is just disagreement about whether the two-year-old should be put on the pot or when he belongs in bed. In reality, all of this disagreement is fueled by a fundamental mistrust between you and your daughter-in-law. When she has a certain opinion, you itches to think the opposite is correct. And you feel the same way with your views. It can go on forever if you don't try to "clean up" your relationship. You don't have to love each other terribly right away. You should not make this claim on yourself or your daughter-in-law or son-in-law. Something like this has to grow (and sometimes it may not grow).
But you have to pay attention, accept and tolerate one another! Don't always just look at the flaws that the new family member has in your eyes. Rather, pay attention to lovable idiosyncrasies. Everyone has it - this person has to have it too, otherwise your own child would not have got involved with him. Besides, you shouldn't be happy with him, but your son or daughter. That is not the same! Talk to each other. Say it openly when something pleases you, but also when something annoys or worries you. This is the only way to get to know the other better.
The partner now plays first fiddle
When one's own child gets together with a partner, his or her standards for living together become more important than those of the parents. Suddenly the son or daughter develop different preferences and different habits. The daughter may go to dance classes with her husband, which she has previously rejected as “super bourgeois”. The son no longer comes for coffee on Sundays because he has recently started playing tennis. Even the tone of voice can suddenly change. You can then easily get the impression that the newcomer is alienating you from your child because he or she suddenly shows behaviors that he or she would never have otherwise.
But whoever adjusts to a new partner must always go a bit towards them in terms of behavior and preferences. How else should something common come about? The intimate interaction with another person, the entry into new groups of friends and areas of interest therefore always results in changes in character. New things become important, what was previously essential takes a back seat. That doesn't have to be a disadvantage at all, even if it may seem like it to you. Your child should live in these new circumstances, not you! Above all, it is important that your son or daughter feels comfortable with it. And he or she has to try it out for himself.
About the meaning of the honeymoon
When a young couple has found each other, according to old custom, they first go on a journey for a not too short period of time. That means it breaks free from all previous ties and habits.It leaves behind what previously determined its life, concentrating entirely on building something new and common.
You can also view the first few years of such a relationship as an ongoing honeymoon - certainly not so carefree and enjoyable, but as unencumbered as possible by old obligations. You save your child from emotional conflicts if you do not insist that everything between you remains as it was before. If you step into the background without reproach and do not maneuver your son or daughter into a competitive battle according to the motto: "Who is more important to you, to this woman or to us?" You can only lose!
The more calmly you react to a temporary alienation, the greater the likelihood that later - when the relationship between the two has consolidated - the relationship with you will become closer and more intimate again. Do not place the responsibility for the alienation one-sided on the new partner, following the motto: “We had such a good relationship with our daughter, but since she has known this man, she has been transformed. It has a bad influence on them. "
It is also unfair to want to discuss the dark side of your partner with your son or daughter. If the two are serious about each other, they have to defend each other on important matters against third parties. And in this case parents are a third party! It may well be that your new son-in-law is much more relaxed with the money than is usual with you. But maybe your daughter will find this very appealing after she has always learned that you have to turn every penny three times before you spend it. Even if she basically agrees with you, saying that in a conversation with you would appear to be treason. So she will defend his way and thus approach his view of things more than if the parents hadn't said anything about it.
The more parents undertake to compete with their son-in-law or daughter-in-law, the more likely they are to contribute to their own child moving further away from them. Remember, if you ever feel like having a new family your child has become unbearably far removed from you - the young people are probably still on their honeymoon inside. Be patient!
Your child has become a father or a mother
To accept this right down to the ramifications of the subconscious is sometimes not that easy. Your son or daughter suddenly expresses his or her own views on bringing up children, although you understand more about it, after all, you have raised one or more children yourself. Sometimes that stimulates a certain arrogance. Or to worry about what will become of the poor child if it is left to two such “greenhorns”. But you were such a greenhorn when you had your first child! And didn't you react irritably at the time when parents or in-laws did not take you for granted when dealing with the baby?
It's just like this: When a child is born, its parents take responsibility for its care and upbringing. You play first fiddle in everything that has to be decided. Grandparents have to accept that. Even if they do some things completely differently than parents or in-laws find it right - who can actually say what is right or wrong? The young parents may be dragging the baby around with them all the time, while the grandparents think it needs more rest. You bring the two-year-old a water bottle several times a night or get him used to being able to fall asleep only carried on his arm. But the more grandparents get involved in a know-it-all way, the sooner the young people will forbid themselves to do so out of spite, and criticism, however justified, will fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, the more the young parents feel recognized in their new role, the freer they are to think about good advice.
Old piece on a new stage
Many a conflict that breaks out between young parents and a grandmother or grandfather is basically the continuation of an old conflict from childhood. Young people who have passed puberty get a more differentiated, balanced view of their parents as they mature. They no longer consider them to be the greatest, like most of their childhood, but also no longer “the last”, as in the often violent arguments of puberty. They can see more clearly what the parents did well, but also what was bad, what is responsible for some peculiarities that they can no longer get rid of, even for some wounds that still hurt.
If, for example, a mother as a child and adolescent always suffered from being held too “under the thumb” by her parents, then her own children will now be a very welcome opportunity for her to finally enforce that she now determines where to go, and no longer their parents. And so there is constant friction over little things - whether the child has to put on a hat or not, whether they have eaten enough, whether they should go to the playground or not.
Grandparents often find it difficult to acknowledge that their children now have the say in raising their grandchildren. They secretly resist by not taking wishes seriously or by simply circumventing educational measures, in any case more according to their own head. If you push the little one with a chocolate egg shortly before they eat, even though you know very well that mom disapproves of it, then mom's anger is not only directed against the contribution to an unreasonable diet, but even more against the disregard and disregard she feels in the process . She feels herself treated again like the child who is not taken very seriously.
Parents and grandparents often vie for the greater affection of the children - if need be with bribery too - in order to prove to one another who is the more lovable, the more pedagogically capable. And so some treats given at the wrong time or in excess also convey the message: "Am I not particularly nice to you?"
The young parents want to prove to the grandparents that they are more successful with their upbringing methods and that they do better justice to the child than the grandparents. If the children then take the side of their grandparents, the parents experience it as treason, become irritable and unjust.
Parents sometimes have to give in, grudgingly, because they cannot do without the support of their grandparents. Grandparents experience this as a triumph and play this trump card: "Oh yes, but we're good to look after children again!"
Some arguments about pampering or bad manners among children are more of a power struggle among adults than a difference of opinion about educational methods. The children are, so to speak, only the medium through which parents and grandparents resolve their conflicts. Understanding such relationships is the first step in tackling the problem where it really exists.
What was it like for you when you were with your in-laws for the first time for a long time in everyday life? I am sure you will soon have encountered habits that were different there from those at home. Nothingness, maybe - the bed linen was turned inside out on the line and in the closet, but yours turned it inside out before it was stowed away. The meatballs were perhaps called meatballs and were shaped small and round - not bigger and flat like yours.
All unimportant, not worth discussing. But haven't there been conflicts in this regard anyway? Weren't you defending your ties to your family with your domestic habits, resisting being taken over by the new family? Wasn't the irritation about the name and size of the meatballs also a competition for recognition and authority? Didn't you compare your mother-in-law to your mother, your father-in-law to your father, and wanted your own parents to do better?
Or was it different for you? Did you approach your in-laws with open arms, perhaps because you weren't very happy with your own parents? And do you now expect the same from your daughter-in-law?
In any case, it is worth looking for such backgrounds if the cause for irritation, or a violent exchange of words, seems too silly. What is actually behind it? What are you wrestling with your daughter-in-law about today? Is it about the optimal loading of the dishwasher, about locking the garage or the right school sandwich for the children? Is it really just about these questions or is it more?
How did you address your in-laws? Mum, Dad, Mum, Dad, Fritz, Grete? Just like your parents or different? Young people who have a loving relationship with their own parents often find it difficult to initially address strangers in the same way. They prefer to avoid any direct form of address for a long time. But that seems unfriendly and at some point offensive. It is much better to talk openly about it soon after getting to know each other and to agree on a new, not yet “occupied” form of address. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
Different families, different customs
It is none of your business how young people organize their lives and homes, organize their money and spend their free time. Does your daughter-in-law expect your son to clean the windows and iron his shirts himself? Or has he only worn unpressed shirts since he was married? Before you begin to feel sorry for the poor boy, to iron his shirts yourself again, or to make nasty remarks about your neglected daughter-in-law: Wouldn't you have liked a man to clean windows and iron shirts too? Have you not complained often enough that men are so fond of avoiding unpleasant necessities that you have drawn the worse fortune as a woman? Isn't it a reason to be happy when something slowly changes? If your son is okay with this, what does it concern you anyway? And if he's not, when he's complaining - can't it also be because you've spoiled him too much? Isn't it high time you supported your daughter-in-law to make him change his habits?
The ways in which people organize their lives are very diverse today. Some take out large loans to set up a stylish apartment, others live in an occupied house and sleep on the floor. Some get married first and then have children, others have children first and don't get married at all. For many, differences in religion, culture and social origin hardly play a role. In any case, the likelihood that your son or daughter will arrange life exactly the way you think is right is very small.
Do you remember your reaction when your father-in-law criticized your eating habits, your mother-in-law mocked the lack of order or poor upbringing of the children? How did you find that? Weren't you really mad? Didn't you agree that it was none of their business? Please keep this in mind the next time you find it “impossible” with your children and children-in-law. It's always a question of perspective!
The connection with someone of a different nationality and culture can also be full of interesting experiences for the parents. With personal examples you will get a much more vivid insight into another culture, another religion, into eating habits and lifestyle, music and dance than you would ever get on a vacation trip. Suddenly they have relatives in Turkey, Portugal or India whom they would otherwise never have met.
Sure, the two of them will have a few things that are quite unusual at home - half their culture, half his. With the necessary open-mindedness on all sides, a very interesting mixture: Perhaps you like the foreign food and you will be encouraged to add ginger, cinnamon or mint to the meat. But if German cuisine is more important to you, it is better to stick to your habits. The main thing is that you don't claim that this is the only sensible kitchen - the weird stuff that your son-in-law or daughter-in-law cook is not edible. As you know, tastes are quite different.
"The parents of my daughter-in-law"
If your son or daughter starts their own family, you have to deal with another “addition to the family”: the other set of parents. We take this so little seriously that there is no separate name for this type of relationship. It is often different in other cultures.
You basically have so much in common with these people. All of the concerns and caring efforts for the young couple are on their side too. Nevertheless, the relationship between you and the other pair of parents is often characterized by fierce competition. If your son and daughter-in-law live very differently from what was customary at home, then this influence, which you probably consider negative, must come from the other parental home. But please remember: the other parents also want the best for their child. You now think that what was normal at home is right and normal again, you may meet with the same reservations as you do them. If you feel you need to change the household or the habits of the young people in your favor, the other parents have every right to try. Isn't it better if both pairs of parents stay out of the way as much as possible and let the young people find their own, third way?
Jealousy often arises when children and grandchildren deal with two pairs of grandparents. Why do they visit the other grandparents again, why me or us less often? Do the grandchildren like the other grandma better? She'll probably let them get away with anything or bribe them with gifts. Are you serious?
The less the grandparents know each other, the easier it is for such prejudices to arise. Should you perhaps meet a little more often, even once without the children and outside of large family celebrations?
However, it is also possible that, despite your goodwill, you simply cannot get along with these people. Then you have to avoid them, but also refrain from hurtful criticism if possible. Because it inevitably puts a strain on the young couple's relationship when they constantly have to juggle between the jealousies of their parents and in-laws. And even the grandchildren may have to learn what they are not allowed to say about the others with which grandparents so that they are not angry. That's a shame.
Find the optimal distance
There are cultures where the generations of a family live very closely together. In our culture, the opposite is more the rule. Young couples in particular are often determined to first prove to themselves and others that they can get along well on their own.
If you have your own house with an attic that can be expanded, the chances are that the young people will stay there than if you live in a rented apartment. If you can't find a job in the country, you might move to the big city. The student moves to the vicinity of the university where she can study and finds her life partner there. Young parents move to the country because of the children. These and a few other conditions often determine how close together or how far apart grandparents and grandchildren live.
In addition, personal idiosyncrasies also play a role in how closely the generations link their lives with one another. Some take grandma with them on family vacation, of course, others definitely don't want to. One grandma likes to go with you, the other insists on enjoying her childlessness, especially on vacation. Some find it ideal when old and young live in the same house; others prefer to have a few streets, a few places apart. Some would like to see each other daily, others weekly and still others find that once a month is enough. If these perspectives are the same for young and old, then both can (hopefully) arrange their lives accordingly:
- Do you have the same ideas about distance and closeness as your children? Have you even thought about it?
- Is one looking for more closeness than is right for the other?
- How much sympathy is desired from both sides, what is experienced as interference?
It is by no means always the case that the older generation seeks more closeness than the younger generation. Sometimes even the younger ones think that they have to look after the older ones more than they would like. Try to find and maintain the optimal closeness between each other, then everyone is best off. There are no patent remedies for this. What is best for others doesn't have to be for you.
You are not a worse grandmother or a worse grandfather if it is enough for you to see your grandchildren once a month or less. They are not the best who are constantly crouching together, although they are not at all comfortable with it. Don't say, "Come back tomorrow" if you don't mean it. It is better to invite less often, but then from the heart. And ask the young people to do the same. Then you mustn't be offended by an honest word - "Tomorrow it doesn't suit me so well, come on next week" - either!
Helga Gürtler (2000): Children love grandparents, Kösel Verlag, Munich
More articles by the author here in our family handbook
Helga Gürtler is a qualified psychologist. She writes books and magazine articles on educational topics, gives lectures, works with parent groups and in the training of educators.
Telephone: 030/833 67 10
Created on July 17, 2003, last changed on September 9, 2013
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