I wrote a little bit about dating yesterday, and somehow in so doing, I overlapped into the topic of parenting adult children.
I said, "Adult children can ask their parents for advice, but that is what it is:
advice. Not law. One lady I know calls it "sharing wisdom." Parents
can share their wisdom forever, but there comes a time when they must
recognize that it is no longer appropriate for them to make rules,
demand cooperation or institute consequences. Not appropriate."
I would like to clarify that when I said this, I was writing about parents' relationships to their adult children who are involved in relationships that might culminate (or are looking certain to culminate) in marriage.
When parenting children who are becoming adults, we do not suddenly turn over the reigns upon the occasion of their 18th birthday. Although we should parent with this goal in mind (being able to confidently turn over the reigns to them when they are around 18), every child is different, and so should be every parenting decision.
I once, long ago, read a blog post about parenting which made a big impression on me. She was writing about parenting little ones, but she exposed a principle that I think is very valuable. She said something like this: "Never try to make a child do something that you cannot make him do."
The issue at hand had been eating. She was explaining how it is futile to tell a child that he must eat something. You simply cannot enforce that. You could sit across the table glowering at the kid for three days, and he could still refuse to swallow his beets, and he would have won.
It is foolish for a parent to put herself into a position with her child where the child can win.
You have to know your position.
So, in the eating example, you can say, "If you do not eat your beets, you may not have any dessert, and you will not be allowed a bedtime snack, either." This you can enforce. You cannot enforce, "You must eat your beets."
If you are a real tough cookie, you might even say, "If you do not eat these beets, they are the only thing I am going to offer you to eat for every upcoming meal until you do eat them." Then, you could put them into the refrigerator under plastic wrap and bring them out for breakfast in the morning. You could. I doubt that it would create a positive solution in the end, but you could.
However, you cannot enforce, "You must eat your beets."
Parents need to avoid, at all costs, entering into conflicts that they cannot win.
As kids get older, it can be harder to win.
However, as long as they are dependent on us for survival, we have leverage. Of course, the whole point of parenting is to get them to be independent of us and able to survive on their own. Sometimes we should use this leverage (that we have as a result of their dependence) as a tool to motivate them to attain independence.
As parents, we should never underwrite our children's bad decisions with financial support. It is not only our right, it is our duty.
As long as they need our money to pay for the rent, or the tuition, or the food or the clothing or the wedding or the car or the computer or the cell phone, we have the right and responsibility to say "no" when they act outside of our guidelines. And they make the decision to abide by our wishes or get along without our support. It's incredibly simple, really. And it is okay for them to get along without our support, too. Sometimes we make unreasonable demands and they say, "Okay," and choose to pay their own bill. That can be perfectly fine.
We don't control their decisions, but we control whether or not we support them. That is all.