“How Am I Supposed to Work with My Adult Child’s Wrongful Accusations?”
By Dr. Joshua Coleman
One of the problems that we psychotherapists create is when we tell our clients that they deserved to have had better parenting. We do this because we’re speaking to that part of the client that might have done better or differently under ideal parenting.
However, we’re not speaking to what’s typical, only to what’s ideal. It commonly becomes a problem because many clients take this to mean that the parent was selfish or defective for not providing them with that.
I don’t believe that parents are selfish generally for not providing ideal parenting because overall, parents can’t be blamed for what they don’t
know or for how their own pasts affect their behavior as parents. BUT, this is where so many parents get stuck: You’re not required to say you were bad for not doing more (as much as your child is trying to make that case), you are required to say that it would’ve been better if you had known more or known enough to anticipate what your child might have needed.
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Thus an adult child could wish that you had recognized that they wanted to be an artist when they grew up and provided them with art lessons even though they gave no evidence of any artistic ambition or inclination. Or, more commonly, that you could’ve recognized that their shyness interfered with their being as aggressive in the pursuit of some other aspiration. Or that they were more depressed as a child than you recognized, even though they gave absolutely no indication.
The point isn’t that they’re wrong to wish it or you’re wrong to not have seen it. They’re asking you to speak to the ideal in an attempt to repair some broken or undeveloped part of themselves and it’s useful for you to help them do that. Of course, it’s made harder by the aggressive, dismissive, and self-righteous way these claims are often stated by the adult child, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn how to communicate in a way that keeps the relationship moving in the right direction.
More from Dr. Coleman
NPR Estrangements at the Holidays
The Society Pages: Unhappy Father’s Day
NPR: When Children Leave Their Parents
Grandparents and Estrangement: AGA Presentation
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Joshua Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and a Senior Fellow with The Council on Contemporary Families. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, The BBC, and numerous other outlets.