Four Things Parents Say that Drive Their Grown Kids Crazy

Familiarity, as the cliché has it, breeds contempt. It’s also why we say and do many of the things that turn our kids off, make them clam up or mutter something under their breath we’d just as soon not hear.

We do it because we’ve been managing their lives or even making their decisions for them for so long that it’s second nature, but by the time they’re young adults we need to break the habit.

Of course, it’s because we love them, because we’re older and have more experience than they do, and because we never stop thinking we can solve their problems better than they can.

The ‘CouldaWouldaShouldas

Fill in the words that follow this seemingly innocent sentence starter, which sounds like a question but your kids know really isn’t. Rather, it’s an unasked for opinion and/or an oblique comment on something you see as a bad decision, a misuse of their “potential,” or a  disapproving take on how they’re managing their life. You could have gone to college, you should have bought a cheaper house, you would have been happier if you hadn’t broken up with that nice man.

The Why Don’t ‘Yous’

As a chronic offender, I took it to heart when a client reported that her son told her he hated it when she said those words, which are another version of the couldawouldashouldas.  “He said it felt like I was still directing him, coaching him, second-guessing him,” she said.  Our suggestions, which is what this phrase really is, aren’t welcome unless they’re solicited; as her 26 year old elaborated, “I’m talking about problems with my job; if you’d said, ‘Have you talked it over with your manager,?’ or even, ‘Are you thinking about looking for another position?’ we could have a conversation, but those words just close it down.”

If I Were You…

Our adult kids don’t have to roll their eyes for us to realize they’re tuning us out, because what they hear when we say those words is, “I’d be doing a better job than you are.” Maybe we would, but so what? It’s their life, not ours. Just like “When I was your age…” this is a sentence-starter that’s sure to fall on deaf ears as soon as it’s uttered, because the bottom line is, we’re not them and although we were their age once, our experience is mostly irrelevant to the world they’re living in now.

And if by some chance it is pertinent, , they might hear it if we start by acknowledging that—for example, “Things are so different now that sticking with a company for as many years as I did may not be the smartest career move, but it was at a time in my life when stability and security were important to me. How do you feel about that?”

If I Could Solve Your Problems, I Would…

We don’t always say this, but they can practically hear us thinking it when it’s our first response to something that’s not going well in their lives. We don’t stop to ask them if they want rescuing or ask ourselves if we should.  Often they just want to vent, express disappointment, complain, and even whine. And what they want is for us to express our empathy, reassure them that they’re capable enough to deal with their predicament themselves, or remind them of other times they’ve succeeded in similar situations.

But other times they’re only looking for a general opinion when they float an idea or fantasy or even a goal, but before they can label it as such we get  caught up in shooting it down or trying to help them operationalize it instead of realizing  they’re not in the planning stage yet and may never be. It’s important to know the difference between venting and asking for help—and to double check if you’re not certain.

Grown kids can be as touchy and sensitive as teenagers and even more so when we treat them that way. Listening before speaking, hearing what they really want instead of assuming that it’s advice, and making it clear that they’re in charge of their own lives now is the best way to keep the lines of communication open.

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