Parenting Adult Children Part Two

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

The Art of Premium Parenting, Part 2:

Should You Keep Your Mouth Shut and Your Wallet Open?

In Part I of Premium Parenting, I promised you I’d suggest possible answers to the thorny issues facing Premium Parents. I’m here to deliver on my promise.

However, first, a little patience because I want to begin with a real story that happened to a friend of mine. It’s a great example of the kind of problem that anyone of us Premiums might encounter.

Joel, my friend, told me the following story, which hopefully will form the backdrop for a very interesting discussion about whether a Premium Parent should SHUT UP or STAND UP:

Joel’s oldest daughter and her three children were at his house, and the oldest, a 12-year-old boy, was mocking his younger sister, calling her a “fat, stupid, monkey face.” According to Joel, the bullying and shaming are daily occurrences, frequently bringing his sister to tears. While the boy was dumping on his sister, his mother and grandmother, in Joel’s words, “sat and did nothing while the little girl was crying.”

“I couldn’t take seeing my granddaughter being tortured like this, so I slammed my hand on the table and screamed at my grandson to stop.” The boy ran out of the room crying and Joel’s wife said to him, “You shouldn’t have done that. Now you’ve lost your grandson.” Joel told me that as soon as he intervened, he could tell that his abused granddaughter had a look of relief on her face. Meanwhile, when I asked how his daughter reacted, he told me that she just sat, frozen in silence.

Right or Wrong?

I asked three of my children and my wife if they thought Joel should have SHUT UP or STOOD UP. They all said he shouldn’t have confronted his grandson, but instead, he should have spoken to his daughter privately and tried to help her put a stop to the bullying.

Makes sense. As a rule, it’s not a good idea for a grandparent to undermine the parent by taking over the role of the disciplinarian. The first authority is the parent, not the grandparent. In almost every situation, our job as Premium Parents and Grandparents is to help empower our children, never to diminish them, especially in front of their children.

Isn’t that what Joel did? Didn’t he make the cardinal mistake of intervening with his grandson and thereby weakening his daughter in the eyes of her son? Joel would argue no. First, he’d say that both he and his wife have tried speaking to their daughter and son-in-law about the problem of bullying. “We’ve been politically correct and nothing’s changed. So, I decided on the spot to send a message that would shake everyone up – my daughter, my wife, my grandson, and my granddaughter. I wanted to them to understand that I won’t tolerate any bullying in my house.”

So, what do you think? Was Joel right or wrong?

I could argue both ways. Sometimes extraordinary circumstances, such as unrelenting bullying, demand disruptive interventions like a strong confrontation from a grandfather to a grandson. It did shake everyone up and what I haven’t told you is that it had a happy ending. The grandson apologized to his younger sister, Joel’s daughter and her husband decided to get help for their parenting challenges, and the bullied little girl started smiling.

Ten Commandments for Premium Parents

One of the things we Premiums understand is that very little in life is black and white. Most situations, like Joel’s, are nuanced, complex, and lacking clearly defined rules of behavior. However, having said that, I’m going to be very un-Premium-like and share my Ten Commandments for Premium Parents. Hopefully, these commandments/guidelines will answer the questions we raised in Part I.

Oh yeah! Even though there’s no fine print to any of these Commandments there is a caveat. “Be aware: for every commandment, there’s an exception.” Joel’s forceful response might be considered the exception.

  1. Never parent your grandchildren in front of their parents. It’s their parents’ responsibility. You already paid your dues. You’re free to spoil your  grandchildren, not to discipline them.
  2. Never offer unsolicited parenting advice or criticism to your children. If necessity demands that you must intervene, then preface your feedback by first asking permission to offer them advice. And do it in private.
  3. Never, ever say anything critical to your children about their spouses.
  4. Never, ever join your children in saying anything negative about their spouses.
  5. You have a right to say no to your children’s request for babysitting or any other demand on your time. It’s very simple. Just say no when you can’t or don’t want the  job.
  6. A parent’s job never ends, regardless of the age of your children. If you can, help. Of course, there are always limits and exceptions. You are allowed to have a life and your own commitments and interests, guilt-free.
  7. If you have the means and the need is genuine, then extend a helping financial hand to your children. Be happy that you’re in the position to help and that your help can make a difference.
  8. Marriage is a package deal, and, as parents of the husband or wife, you’re part of the package. Do everything you can (and more) to make sure your son or daughter-in-law feels loved and included.
  9. Never enable, either financially or emotionally, an irresponsible adult child. Tough love is far more effective than guilt-ridden giving.
  10. As a Premium, there’s great possibility that you have sensitive, smart, and wise children. Learn from them. You probably gave them the tools to be good teachers.

Commandment 11: Pray

I promised that I would share with you the Ten Commandments for Premium Parenting, so I’ll slip this one in as an afterthought. It’s actually not original, and you know it. It’s called the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.

And when it comes to your adult children, I’ll add another line to the prayer:

And the ability and sensitivity to know how.

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