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Adult Children Have Feelings Too

The Answer Mom, Helen Oxenberg, MSW, tackles thorny topics: whiny adult children, wedding troubles, and grandchildren’s eating habits.

 Dear Answer Mom: My adult son called me recently and told me how angry he felt because a mutual acquaintance didn’t thank him for a small favor he did. I told my son he was wrong to feel that way and now he’s angry at me. His wife says I treated him like a child. If he didn’t want my opinion, why did he tell me about it?  –Right or Wrong?

Dear Wrong: He didn’t want your opinion (or your criticism). He wanted your understanding and empathy. You told him he was “wrong to feel that way,” but feelings are neither right nor wrong – they have a life of their own. It’s how you act on them that makes the difference. What people in general, and adult children in particular, want most is for someone to tune in to their feelings, not to lecture them. Now, having lectured you, I understand how frustrated you must feel. Communicating with adult children isn’t easy. Next time identify with his feelings first, then, if he wants, you can discuss the issues.

Dear Answer Mom: My son is engaged to the niece of a friend of mine. I hear now that my friend is very annoyed with me.  Evidently, in her mind, I have done something that has made her angry. I honestly, even after much self examination, have no idea what I may have done to offend her. The only thing I can think of is I know she doesn’t want her niece, who she helped to raise, to marry so young and wanted me to talk my son out of it. (He and his girlfriend are both in their early twenties but my son is a responsible adult with a promising job and this is what he wants). When I ask her she refuses to talk about it or to talk to me at all at this point. I’m feeling puzzled and hurt. How do you handle someone’s anger when they won’t talk about it?–Herta

Dear Herta: You don’t. Since she refuses to talk about it and therefore keeps you from dealing with it you don’t handle it. It’s her anger. She owns it and she’ll have to deal with it. You’ve done your best. She obviously is a very controlling person. By refusing to talk to you or tell you what this is about she feels all powerful and in complete control. It’s sad. Don’t waste your energy. The ball is in her court and she evidently thinks of herself as the queen in that court. If she ever wants to restart the friendship the gesture will have to come from her. You can then decide whether this friendship is something you still want. So move on.  It takes two to tango, but it only takes one to tangle a relationship.

Dear Answer Mom: I’ve raised four children so I think I know a little about children’s needs. I have a four-year old-granddaughter and when I visited for dinner she ate cereal as her meal. When I asked why my daughter-in-law said because my granddaughter loves cereal. I told her I think the child is not being fed properly.  My daughter-in-law got angry and said that’s what my granddaughter likes to eat; it’s her favorite food. Don’t you think she should take my advice about something like this instead of snapping at me?–The Grandma

Dear Grandma: Did she snap, crackle and pop at you or am I being too corny and flaky? You have to understand two things: 1. Children often get into food obsessions and only want the same food over and over. It doesn’t last forever and they usually get other nutrients as their bodies need it. 2. You may have raised four children but not this one! Stay the grandma and ever-supportive mother-in-law. Until she asks for your suggestions remember my motto for communicating with grown children: “Don’t advise without their consent.”

Problems? Find the Answer. Write to Helen Oxenberg at helox72@comcast.net.

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