I have never met a parent who didn’t want to be a good parent. Some want to more than others. Some are more successful than others. But most really want to succeed.
So, what does one do when they don’t succeed? Imagine what it would be like if your child who is now a grown adult tells you that you were not a good parent. We certainly don’t want to be the one who is being told they were a lousy, bad, or neglectful parent. No one wants to hear that kind of criticism, but we all know of some parents we don’t believe are doing a very good job.
Imagine what it would be like if the one who is being critical is your child. How would you handle this situation?
If your child is making the accusation, what should you do and what should you say?
To determine how you might handle this you need to first give some serious thought to what your adult child is saying. Is your child right? Were you what she or he is accusing you of? Did you divorce your husband without trying to make things better? Were you quick to use severe punishment too often?
Did you not give your child a chance to tell you what happened? Did you favor one of your child’s siblings? Did you seldom say positive things to your child? Did you lie to your child? Did you expect too much of your child? What else is your child saying that has caused him or her to feel you weren’t a good parent?
Your child who has now grown up into an adult and perhaps even is a parent to their own child may harbor some very negative thoughts about their own childhood. Listen to what your child says about your parenting before you get defensive or angry.
Try to understand where he or she is coming from. Does any of it make some sense? See if you an understand it from your child’s viewpoint. Do not be too quick to respond. Think about it.
Encourage your adult child to speak about it for as long as your child seems to need. You really want to understand this from his or her viewpoint. Ask for explanations of any parts you don’t understand.
Show your interest and not your defensiveness. Are there additional details you want her or him to understand? Are there details that might help clarify why you did what you did that your child interprets negatively? What you want to do first is to make sure you have as complete a picture of why your child is unhappy with you as a parent.
The second thing you want to give your child is an apology. Even if your child is wrong about what happened, you need to still apologize for what your child has gone through. We should all hope our children have had a positive childhood experience and be apologetic if they didn’t believe they had one.
Let your child know that this is of concern to you, and you would want to make it better. Give explanations if you feel it would help. For example, talk with your child about your divorce. Discuss more of the details that your child may not know. If you have an explanation for your behavior, let your child know.
Let your adult child know you love him or her. It is important to not become angry with what has been discussed. You want it to be the beginning of a different time in your relationship if possible.
What if your adult child is wrong and unjustly accusing you of things that are not correct? You also need to be protective of yourself. If your adult child is wrong and just being mean toward you because he or she is angry with you, you still need to show restraint.
Your response to the accusations being made will greatly determine what happens from there. Be open to discussing the situation and making positive changes. Even if this is just a way to be angry with you, you want to try to make it a positive experience that might change the relationship in a more positive way.
While an improved relationship may be your goal that may not be possible. In some situations, explanations and apologies are not enough. Try as much as you can but understand some people are not open to changing their mind. Put effort into making things better. Don’t give up but don’t dwell on something you can’t change.
Be as good a parent as you can be to even an older child. Just like other lessons in life you have taught your child, keep trying.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.