The 6 Things You Shouldn't Say to Your Adult Child

Hint: 'How can you live like this?' isn’t a good conversation starter

by Linda Bernstein • Next Avenue
mother daughter hugging image
Photograph: Next Avenue

As my 29-year-old son was ticking off all the weddings he and his girlfriend would be attending in the coming 12 months, I blurted, “So when are you getting married?”
 
Mom!!!” he said (I swear I could hear the exclamation marks of annoyance) before his sister chimed in, “Yeah, I’d like to know, too.”
 
I was grateful that took the attention away from me, but I was in the wrong — overstepping parental bounds and sticking my nose where it did not belong. I know perfectly well that young adults hate it when their parents pressure them about marriage, so my only self-defense is that my mouth was working more quickly than my mind. I really do expect that when my son and his girlfriend have news that involves a wedding, my husband and I will be among the first 100 people to know.

(MORE: How to Heal a Rift With Your Adult Child)
 
Dances With Words
 
Over the past several years, I’ve been discreetly observing young adults (not my own) on the phone with their parents. I wanted to learn the slam-down-the-phone triggers so I could avoid them. Parents often say ridiculous and sometimes hurtful things. We forget that we’re speaking to mature people (not that they always make it easy to remember). We condescend when maybe we should remember that what seems innocent or even playful to us is nails on a blackboard to them.
 
There are just certain things that parents should never say to their grown children. Ruth Nemzoff, resident scholar at Brandeis University and author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships With Your Adult Children, makes the point that parents transgress the bounds of how we should be talking even before our children grow up. “We fantasize that we can say anything we want to our kids, but the truth is, we never could,” she argues. And, as both we and our kids age, our blurt-it-out tendencies seem to grow worse.
 
This list is meant to help you avoid uttering those unintentionally hurtful things I've heard parents say over the years, and to offer some less offensive alternatives. (And just for the record, I’ve said most of them myself.)

(MORE: Concierge Moms: Going Overboard With Their Adult Children)
 
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