Asked and Answered:

Grown Kids, Grandkids, and Long Hot Summers

For working parents, summer can be a childcare nightmare; there are always a few days or weeks when your grown kids need you to fill in when their other arrangements fall out. It’s a chance to enjoy the grands on your own – all the fun and hardly any of the responsibility. But when you see it as an opportunity to “remedy” parenting practices you disapprove of, you’re not helping them bring up their kids – you’re taking over their  job.

Q. My daughter is a very casual parent who allows her 9 year old daughter to do whatever she wants, eat mostly junk food, watch a lot of TV, and go to bed when she feels like it, which is often close to midnight. When she’s at our house, none of those things is allowed.  Because I’m much less permissive, she doesn’t want to come here, and it takes me all morning to jolly her out of it unless I give in to her demands.

A.Stop trying. She’s in charge of her own feelings; you can’t change them, just the way you react to them. She may have learned to manipulate her mother with tantrums, tears or defiance but it’s important to demonstrate that that won’t work with you by being cheerful, matter of fact, clear about your expectations , and repeating some version of “grandma’s house, grandma’s rules” without indicating that there’s anything wrong with her mother’s way of doing things. When she says she misses her mother, empathize with her feelings and suggest she call her, draw her a picture, or make her a present.
Q.My grandchildren spend a month with us every summer. I loved it when they were little, but now that they’re older I don’t know what to do with them. The 13 year old spends every minute on her phone and the 15 year old on his video games. They’re too old for play dates and I don’t know anyone their age either. Help!

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Between the Lines

Do Grown Kids Ever Get Over Sibling Rivalry?

It’s what we hope for, but it’s not a done deal. “Maybe over my dead body,” mused the parent of three children who’ve been competing with and complaining about each other since childhood – over three decades ago! . A recent survey by Ameriprise Financial Family Wealth Checkup  indicated that only 15% of siblings age 25-70 have conflicts with each other about money, and when they do it’s about their parents’ money. But there are other issues that divide them, some stemming from their early years and others manifested in their relationships once they’ve left home, when it’s up to them, not their parents, to maintain or disengage their connection.

It’s difficult for parents of feuding sibs to resist the natural urge to mediate between or among them, but often that leads to more strife. Even harder to avoid is triangulating – attempting to influence or communicate with one sibling  through another.  “If you’d just talk to your brother about (why he drinks so much, never introduces us to his girlfriends, is so short-tempered with your father)” etc., or “You really should tell your sister that  (her father is very upset with her, she ,has terrible taste in boyfriends,  why doesn’t she ever call us? ) etc.   Triangulation burdens all the relationships involved – yours with them and theirs with each other. If you have a question (as opposed to a questionable comment!), ask it directly – don’t set traps for your adult children or ask them to break confidences.

Jealousy is a prevalent theme in discussions of sibling rivalry; when it’s particularly intensely felt in adulthood,  most people express it by avoidance or denial, and except for occasional flare-ups (especially at family gatherings) those strategies work most of the time. But parental emergencies often bring sisters and brothers into close contact again. Sometimes this offers them an opportunity to step out of the roles that defined them as children – the feckless one, the favorite, the prince or the picked-on – and bring the skills and confidence they’ve developed as adults to the situation.  Other times the role reversal inherent in the emergency –  children caring for aging parents  – cathects and re-energizes all the issues and emotions that have plagued their sibling relationships since childhood.

The death of one or both parents frequently changes adult sibling relationships.  Some common patterns emerge, ranging from “even closer” to “from bad to worse.” (Greiff & Woolley, 2016 1080/15524256.2015.1021435). And surviving children often jostle for position,  particularly if there is a parental estate to be settled. Some parents settle issues about who controls the disposition of their personal effects, becomes their executor or trustee and wields their health care proxy well in advance of need; keeping the information to themselves may seem like the best way to avoid exacerbating tensions among their offspring, but in fact it makes it even harder for them to act cooperatively when they must at a time when emotions are already heightened. A parent’s deathbed is often the scene where many sibling dramas play out, especially over the issue of “letting go, ”  regardless of the expressed or even written wishes of the critically ill or comatose patient.

We all want our kids to feel that they’ve been treated fairly and equally after we die – “Even if I can’t quite manage it while I’m alive,” as one father told me, remarking on his painstaking efforts to equalize his estate, comprised primarily of a family business in which only two of his sons work, while the third has neither the skill nor interest to participate.

Regardless of our dreams for our grown kids, sworn enemies may never be best friends, despite our efforts to bring them closer, treat them fairly in the disposition of our estates. and  remind them that blood is thicker than water. It’s up to them now.

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