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We don`t want to interfere
in later life




















Of course we don`t want to interfere but what do you do if you see your adult children experiencing problems with their partners?   


Fiona Harris offers some pointers


We, the older generation, would not be human if we didn't at times worry about our married or cohabiting children, their relationships, their decision to start a family or other major decisions.   


The big question is, what can or should we do?

We may have insights and experience, but we know from our own youth that our children are unlikely to welcome them. Mostly, we wait until asked for our opinion, and even then may choose to be protective and a little circumspect. 

The danger moments arise when we pick up some tension through a chance remark, and then  jump in without sufficient reflection, driven by two conflicting needs. One is a desire to come to the rescue, to provide if possible all the answers.  The other is to cope with our own anxieties about our children’s welfare.


Take the issue of starting a family. It’s not difficult to be relaxed  talking about this  when a couple are in their late twenties or early thirties, but it's not so easy if your daughter is 39 and is wondering about having a baby. That's when you have to be on guard and not let anxiety get in the way of good communication.


Locating the trigger points of anxiety is as good a start as any before offering a friendly ear and voice. Here are a few pointers...


        Cohabiting. You may feel uneasy about your child and partner cohabiting.  This could make you exaggerate any quarrel or tension that you detect between them.  It could be your own sense of insecurity about their arrangements that’s really bugging you.


        Starting a family.  Resist the temptation to drop hints about biological timeclocks unless you can manage a truly lighthearted touch.  Consider coming out straight with the truth, but choose your words with care.


        Childcare 1.  You may disagree with your daughter-in-law's arrangements for childcare or the fact that she is returning to work. Resist the urge to speak your mind.  You may resent her paying for childcare when you could do it for her. By all means offer, as long as you do it in a way that shows it's OK for her to say yes and also OK to say no.  


        Childcare 2.  If you are asked to help out and it's not convenient, you have the right to say no too. Don't get offended and assume that your leisure interests or work, voluntary or paid, are being belittled just because you are asked.


        Running the household.  You may consider your daughter unreasonably lax in the way she relies on ready-made meals or letting the house get messy. Before you offer any help or advice, check your own anxiety level. Accept that couples want to find their own way of doing things.


        Your child's partner.  If you don't like him or her, resist the urge to criticise. Try to figure out where the dislike comes from  - could it be an echo of someone else you know? Remember your child may be better able to cope with certain characteristics that you find difficult.


        Friction between you and your partner. This can happen when one partner wants to help sort out the younger generation’s problems and the other doesn’t. Usually, it’s the woman who does. Many a husband will say don't interfere and  go off to play golf. Then each is left angry and frustrated. Answer: never mind the children, find ways to improve your own communication.


        Separation.  If your child decides to separate from a partner,  don't indulge in told-you-so's. Instead, be prepared for a big silence. Understand that she or he may be feeling very sore and defensive and unable to admit to mistakes.

Doing it the right way

        Be a good listener. This is not easy. We all want to interrupt and give advice. A good listener does not tell others what to do but accepts and helps them reflect on their own position. 


        Don't take sides. Most people want you to be on their side, so you need to help them see there is another side, too.  Encourage  the couple to listen to each other without bias.

        You don't have to say much, except to show that you care.

        You don't have to find a solution.  By giving a child or couple unconditional support, the solution is more likely to come between them.


        Make sure you don't sound dismissive.  It's no great help to say 'all men are like that',  or 'we all have to suffer sleepless nights with children'.  This cuts off dialogue and can sound patronising.


        Don't assume their relationship is the same as yours. You can reassure sometimes by sharing some of your wisdom or reflections gained from a long relationship, but remember no two couples are the same.


        Do offer practical help.  Baby-sitting for a week-end, taking a grandchild after school give young parents a welcome break. But don't impose your help.


        Don't cut off because you feel impotent. Parents may want to shut out the pain when they see a relationship fail by ignoring the problem or pretending it is over.  Acknowledge the pain and share the sadness.


        Suggest professional help.  But never offer to make an appointment with a counsellor for them or offer to go yourself. This is something for only the couple concerned.



laterlife interest

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