ATTENTION! PARENTS OF ADULT CHILDREN
(Setting Verbal, Emotional & Physical Boundaries)
By: Carol Clemans
Healthy communication is the key to all healthy relationships. Self-control is a key to healthy communication. As children, we were parented. Parents of children set guidelines, boundaries and rules for their children’s protection. As the child grows, communication skills need to change and grow with the child.
A young child needs to be listened to and that need grows as the child grows. Some parents do not have patience to listen to their children. Their most common statement is: “I’m the parent. You do as I say. Button up those lips!” This attitude does not lead to loving relationships between parents and children, especially in the pre-teen and teen years. Patience and self-control go hand in hand. It’s the job of the parent to be patient and display self-control in their communication skills.
The most effective parents are those who are willing to listen. The Bible tells us to ‘be swift to hear and slow to speak.’ Most of us are swift to speak and slow to hear. There is a major difference in ‘hearing’ and ‘listening.’ When we hear, we are receiving a sound. When we listen, we are paying attention and being attentive. If a parent does not listen to their child as they are growing up, it’s guaranteed the relationship between that parent and their adult child will not be healthy. As children grow, they need to be listened to. Parents need to desire to know the feelings of their children. Everyone has the need to be listened to – it’s called emotional validation. This validation equals affirmation saying, “I’m willing to listen to you because I love you and you are valuable to me.”
As long as the child lives in their parents’ home, they need to be respectful and abide by the parents’ house rules. When the child is an adult, there needs to be a transition in the relationship whether living at home or not. Since I cannot draw a chart in this article, I will try and describe an illustration. Put three sets of two circles under each other, you label the first set of circles at the bottom ‘child’ – the second set of circles ‘parent’ – the third set of circles on top ‘adult.’ We were all children. We were parented. Now we are adults. When a parent and an adult child communicate with each other, they must remain in their adult roles. Adult relationships should always be respectful. Uncontrolled anger, yelling and abusive language, should NEVER be used in ANY relationship, including between adults.
When a father/mother ‘talks down’ to their adult child with a ‘bossy’ attitude, the father/mother drops from their adult role in to the parent role. This makes the adult child drop down to the bottom circle of feeling like a young child and taps in to their feelings of insecurity, anger, and disrespect toward their father/mother because they both dropped out of their mutual adult roles. Then the parent starts arguing with the child just like another child and things get out of control.
Parents of adult children must understand they will always be the mother or father, but they are no longer the ‘parent.’ The parent role ends when a child becomes an adult. You may respond, “But my adult child makes stupid or bonehead decisions all the time! They are always getting in to trouble and are not responsible!” My response is, “Then let your adult child suffer the consequences of his/her own decisions. It’s not your job to continue to parent them in their adult life especially with condescending attitudes. Nor is it your responsibility to rescue them from their problems.”
If they are still living in your home, you need to set down with them and discuss the boundaries and rules of the household in a respectful manner. If the adult child is contemptuous about these, then respectfully inform him/her that they are free to move out on their own. This is setting healthy boundaries.
There is another aspect of parent and adult child relationships that we must address. Remember, parents will always be fathers and mothers, but when their child becomes an adult they must release their ‘rights’ of a parent. They no longer have the right to intrude into the lives of their adult children and be the boss. We told our children before they married that we would share all the wisdom we could with them about marriage, but after they married they would have to come to us and ask for advice because we would not interfere in their marriage. We have kept that promise. My parents displayed this same respectful attitude with me when I married.
Unfortunately, many parents with adult children become enmeshed in their children’s lives. They call their adult children multiple times a day. They put guilt on their adult children about their own misguided expectations. They physically intrude in to their adult children’s homes uninvited. This is absolutely wrong. When there is a resistance to their intrusion, then they have anger issues and claim they are being disrespected!
The truth is they are not respecting the autonomy of their adult children. Honoring your father and mother does NOT mean you have to allow them to control your adult life. Honoring means you do nothing to harm them or show disrespect by your angry response. BUT it does allow you to set healthy boundaries verbally, emotionally and physically.
Every adult child has the right to ask their father/mother to respect their privacy of their marriage and family. ‘Drop in’ visits should be the rare event. The healthy thing to do is call and ask if you can visit and refuse to show offense if the answer is, “No, it’s not convenient right now.” Now with cell phones, it’s real convenient to do so even if you are ‘driving through the neighborhood’ – call before you knock on the door.
The Bible teaches in Galatians the 5th chapter about the works of the flesh versus the Fruit of the Spirit. Wrath, quarreling, jealousy and out bursts of anger are listed as some of the works of the flesh and it says, “Those who do these things shall not have a part in the Kingdom of God!” WOW!! God sets strong boundaries for entering into Heaven. There is no excuse for uncontrolled anger. If we want to be right with God, we must allow the Fruit of the Spirit to manifest itself in our lives. If we want love, joy & peace, we must be patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and have self-control IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES!
We all are responsible to God for our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We cannot blame our anger or any other dysfunction on others or our heritage. We must take responsibility for our own actions. A SOFT ANSWER TURNS AWAY WRATH. We will stand before God and be judged for every idle word that comes out of our mouth. Yes, it takes a lot of HOLY GHOST CONTROL – “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” NLT Prov. 21:23.
Parents/grandparents must be respectful to their adult children/grandchildren. The Bible teaches we are to treat others the way we want to be treated. No wants to be belittled, disrespected or abused by angry outbursts. God does not give permission to parents/grandparents to abuse others with their uncontrolled anger and emotions. Words do kill or make alive – that means words can ‘kill’ relationships and sow discord in families. All of us must put ‘guards’ by our mouths.
From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If someone shows anger continually, they are showing the whole world the spiritual ‘sickness’ in their heart. If we have this problem, we need to confess to God our sin of destructive anger and repent. Then we must allow the Holy Ghost to control our hearts and tongues. Our actions are to reflect the glory of God, not our selfish ungodly spirit.
Be willing to submit fully to God and be the family member that makes the decision to stop the generational uncontrolled anger dysfunction. The Bible says, “Be angry, but sin not.” Anger is not the sin; it is what we do with it. When anger rises in a relationship, be the Godly responsible adult. Respect the other person. Approach them with humility and softly say, “I have a problem. We need to discuss _____________ (whatever it is).” When you allow the Fruit of the Spirit to be in control, there will be love, joy and peace in your relationships.
Learn how to set safe emotional boundaries for your family. You have the right to set physical, emotional & relational boundaries with your father/mother – as an adult to adult. Show respect to others. Speak the truth and do it in love. These same principles need to be active between spouses and in church families. No one in church leadership has the right to be a dictator that is controlled by anger. Jesus came as a servant leader. The Bible tells us as much as it lies within us, we are to live peaceably with all men. To please the Lord, we must be Holy Ghost controlled.
© Carol Clemans – September 2011
Recommend: “Boundaries” by Drs. Cloud & Townsend