MY PHILOSOPHY OF MULTIGENERATIONAL AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
I am fascinated with the unique interpersonal relationships within families, as well as what makes those relationships work. I have walked the road with clients dealing with all sorts of family relationship issues that take up a great deal of emotional space and energy in their lives.
With that in mind, it’s essential that we unravel the complicated nature of these relationships so that we can increase awareness, reduce confusion, make sensible choices and reap the meaningful rewards of these relationships with an open heart.
Parents and Children with Special Needs
People have come to me for many years with concerns about their children, especially children who have special needs. Once these children have grown into adulthood, a different kind of parenting is needed: not the direct involvement that was once called for, but some kind of involvement nonetheless. When we accept our adult children with special needs for who they are, just as we accepted them when they were younger for who they were, we can support them as they learn to manage, create and live their lives. Even when our children are not doing things the way we would prefer, we can recognize that they are doing the best they can as they continue to grow and learn.
Sometimes when we try to “fix” our children, they feel as though they’ve disappointed us. However, when we try to relate to our children in a positive light, expressing our feelings constructively, they feel accepted and appreciated. This type of parenting enables our children to let their defenses down so that a loving relationship can take center stage. From this place of acceptance, our children tend to be more open to hearing and taking in our selected pieces of wisdom.
Parents and Adult Children
Relationships between parents and their adult children can be challenging. Parents may struggle with relinquishing their instinct to guide, while adult children may struggle with their sense of autonomy and ability to find their own way. When this happens, the lack of understanding and appreciation from each generation’s point of view can cause strife and close doors. Hence the generation gap!
With therapy, these doors can be reopened, and parents can make peace with their revised roles in their adult children’s lives. Adult children can set boundaries that say “thank you” to their parents for their good intentions and let them know that they, as young adults, have the self-responsibility to act in a way that feels right for them. With individual or family therapy, parents and their adult children can let their guards down so that there is healing, acceptance, peace of mind, mutual respect and true enjoyment with one another.
Adults and Their Aging Parents
When parents become the middle generation, they can get caught between the needs of their aging parents and the demands of their children. Roles change, sometimes complicated by sickness, and we have a great deal of new information to learn as we navigate the landscape of aging. Our parents now need to lean on us for certain things, while they retain as much independence as possible. As the dynamics of the relationship change, sorting through the emotions, as well as the practical details, can be overwhelming.
Complicated and unresolved feelings such as guilt, anger, hurt and inadequacy from childhood can be reactivated. With therapy, we can recognize and clarify what feelings are reactivated, as well as what to expect as we gradually assume new caretaker responsibilities. During these delicate times, we can learn to see our elderly parents as people with strengths and limitations, while still respecting who they were and are as parents. In this way, we hold both realities and feel more peace in the process.
In-laws and Grandchildren
Families become blended from different beliefs, cultures and backgrounds. The reality of being an in-law becomes part of the picture. Often this conjures a negative connotation of interference and meddling, as well as distance and triangulation, which can result in anger and hurt. When we pay attention and work through these issues, we can reduce the conflict and competition inherent when our adult children make new families.
Having grandchildren is incredibly rewarding, yet complex. Mostly, it is joy without much responsibility. Hopefully we learn to respect our adult children and their spouses in their parenting roles and can see that there is more than one way to parent. We can remember that we, too, needed to learn from our parenting mistakes and that they will need to learn the same way. We can also discover when and how to make suggestions without being overbearing. With a sense of clarity of what’s truly important, we can relish what’s good and relax into the joy of these most precious relationships.
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