Family gatherings over the holidays are something most look forward to. But they also come with potential conflict between parents and married kids. Unsolicited advice—no matter how well-intentioned, overstepping by doing things your way, etc.
This is actually on ongoing risk, not just during the holidays, and one each family needs to learn how to navigate.
For the majority of the years that we were raising our children, our parents lived twenty hours away from us. It wasn’t something we’d planned on or preferred. It was simply the result of where our career led us.
Being busy pastors, our trips to visit our parents were infrequent. As a result, we mostly had phone contact with our parents, all of whom were busy with our siblings still living at home.
When the first of our children married and established their own homes, we were blessed to be living in the same town as them. But because we hadn’t experienced this when we got married, we had to recalibrate for this new relationship territory.
Here are some things we’ve learned about keeping the relationship with our adult children strong even though we live in close proximity:
- Respect their marriage. Once your children are married, you no longer get to mandate how they live their lives. Their main responsibility is to their spouse, and being in agreement with each other on life decisions. We may not always agree with their decisions, but they are the ones who must live with the consequences of those decisions, not you. So let them make their own mistakes, as you did when you were younger. And when they are discussing matters in front of you, only give advice if asked.
Respect their privacy. Living in the same town as your married children offers so many benefits, especially when grandchildren come on the scene. There are untold benefits to having the chance to be involved in their lives and support them more closely. But it is important to remember that these “children” of yours now have their own lives and their own home (hopefully). It’s best to respect that by calling before visiting (not just stopping in), making plans ahead of time if you need their help, and asking rather than making assumptions about obligatory get-togethers. Treating them like adults is key to keeping an amiable relationship.
Respect their parenthood. Even though we have been through the experience of parenting, telling our children how to raise their kids will not give you the relationship you desire. Each couple needs to agree on their own style and methods of rearing their children. You did when you had children; now allow your children to do the same when they reach that point in life. We hope that a few of the techniques we used will be repeated, but if not, so be it. We didn’t do everything right with our children, and they won’t with theirs. The important point is to respect their roles as parents. In doing this, the chances of them coming to you for advice will increase.
Respect their home. Coming into the home of an adult child should be handled as though you are visiting a friend. Just because you are comfortable entering any area of their home doesn’t mean they are comfortable with it. And respecting the way they like to keep their home is paramount. When at their home for any reason, even babysitting, leave it in better condition than when you came, and follow their ways of doing things. This shows a respect for who they are as a individuals.
Respect their need for help. Remember what it was like when your children were all young. The housework, repairs, and needs of children seem endless. Whether you had help from family or not, see this as an opportunity to sow into your adult children and their families. Notice what may need fixed, folded, cleaned, put away, or given attention to. There’s a good chance if you offer to help, your children will accept your assistance gladly. Don’t infringe on their territory without asking, but if they don’t mind you lending a hand with laundry or dishes, jump in every chance you get.
Reaching the stage of life with your married adult children can be challenging, especially if you live in the same area. But with some intentional respect for them and their new roles, you can look forward to an even closer relationship through the changing years ahead.
And if you don’t have married children yet, perhaps slip this post to your parents. 🙂
Question: What has helped you navigate a healthy relationship with your married children? Share your answer in the comments below.