Alienated Grandparent? How Do We Influence Our Adult Child’s Wrong Conclusions?
BY JOSHUA COLEMAN
Q When the adult child (age 37) holds her exaggerated perceptions as Gospel, and everyone with an opportunity to intercede to suggest another viewpoint has to fear being rejected, how do we help her to grow and broaden her thinking, or make any headway toward conflict resolution, or are we just stuck?
This is a common question and an important one. Am I enabling their bad behavior? Reinforcing incorrect perceptions? Reinforcing an unhealthy way to deal with problems?
The answer is that you have to take people where they are, especially adult children. I say especially because you have a lot more power to affect them than you might believe. Therefore, they may have to take an exaggerated response as a defense against a belief that you will try to talk them out of their feelings.
The more they feel like you’re not going to, the more, over time, they may relent. However, if you’ve done that for years to no avail and you have some contact, it’s reasonable to begin to slowly inject some reality into the situation; either what you felt or what happened from your perspective. Not in a blaming or angry way, more in an “I know that’s how it felt or looked for you, but that wasn’t actually what I was feeling at the time.”
In general, it’s best to avoid the particulars and try to get to the underlying emotion of the complaint, unless you’re being accused of something that’s very destructive to you and your reputation such as a molestation, etc.
The irony here is that the best way to help her grow is to respect whatever kernel of truth there are to her exaggerated perceptions and not fight it.
However, you can still say that while your memory is very, very different, you know she’s telling you that to express something really important about how hurt or neglected she feels or felt, etc.
The main thing is to avoid being or sounding defensive, showing that you’re committed to understanding her, and to work to heal whatever’s occurred.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JOSHUA COLEMAN
Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists, and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings of American families. He has lectured at Harvard University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of London, Cornell Weill Medical School, and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine.
Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Shriver Report, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.