When Help Hurts: Are You Really “Helping”?
BY DR BOB WRIGHT AND DR. JUDITH WRIGHT
We grandparents desire nothing more than to help our children and grandchildren live great lives. And, we’ve got wisdom to share!
When our help is accepted, we feel valued and important because we’re contributing and supporting. But sometimes we may suspect (or are told outright) that we’re actually making our adult children nuts!
The danger point is when we appear to think we have all the answers. Chances are, you do in fact have many of the answers. (Been there, done that, right?) You’ve experienced late nights with colicky babies, worried about rebellious teenagers, and dealt with every issue in between.
So when you watch your son or daughter interact or struggle raising their own children, arguing with their spouse, and dealing with other adult problems, you may feel the urge to offer insight or to critique. But do you wonder if your adult children need to learn their own lessons?
Discovering How Help Can Hurt
All grandparents should ask themselves: Why are you proffering help in your role as grandparent? Do you want to assist…or are you trying to make up for your own shortcomings as a parent? Are you overstepping your boundaries and taking power away from your kids as parents?
Do you wonder if your adult children need to learn their own lessons?
We often see our adult children as we’ve always seen them, whether they’re 13 or 30 or 50. We feel like we have to guide our children or we assume they might not know “how” to parent without our advice. We see them making the same mistakes we made, maybe we even hear our own voice in theirs—and it makes us cringe. At our age, we may feel we see things more clearly because we’ve gained an outside perspective—and we may not like the view.
Are you overstepping your boundaries and taking power away from your kids as parents?
Many of us want to “help” because we’re trying to fulfill something deep within ourselves—our deepest yearnings aren’t being met. Our yearnings are our deepest human needs. We yearn to love, to be loved, and to be heard. We may simply yearn to matter. So instead of addressing our deep desires and striving to find our own purpose, we commandeer the lives of our children and grandchildren.
When we offer unsolicited advice—no matter how helpful we think we are, we’re likely actually disempowering our adult children. We must ask ourselves if our actions take away their autonomy. Do we make them feel like we don’t believe they can do it on their own? If we put them on the defensive, they might pull back or start to put up walls.
Reality check: no one likes to be questioned or parented as an adult.
Your adult child is learning and navigating their own path. They need to be empowered by their mistakes and live their own life. Truth be told, so do you.
Life in Three Phases: Child, Parent, Grandparent
In our youth phase, we’re discovering ourselves and making mistakes. Those mistakes are what build us into fully formed adults.
When we reach the adult or parenting stage, we shift focus from ourselves to a tiny being. From the moment we strap our baby in that car seat and leave the hospital (wondering, “How on Earth are they letting me take this tiny baby home?!”), we’re focused on nurturing, protecting, growing, creating and parenting.
We have to figure out how to haul kids back and forth to school, soccer practice, and swim lessons. We have to get dinner on the table and figure out the work-life balance. This immense responsibility in the parent phase can be hard to shake when we move into the grandparent phase.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS –
Dr. Judith Wright and Dr. Bob Wright, are a husband/wife duo and Chicago-based relationship counselors. They are award-winning authors and trainers and have appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, the Today Show, the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, and Vanity Fair. They are the co-authors of “The Heart of the Fight: A Couples Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean & How They Can Bring You Closer.