Tug-of-love


There’s a dynamic tension in familial relationships. And because they are based on love, the stakes are high.

As children become adults, their parents have to bite their tongues – and often don’t – to keep from warning their grown-up kids of life’s pitfalls. The next generation feels it is their obligation to keep their aging parents from making late-in-life mistakes. These are occasions for equal-opportunity resentment.

Unrequested “helpful” advice is fraught with unspoken messages, intentional or not. Young adults might feel their parents think they are incapable, inadequate or “not measuring up.” Older adults, already experiencing diminishing physical and mental capabilities, could take their children’s suggestions as further signs they are failing, useless or burdens.

The irony is that in most cases, the advice is offered out of love. Each wants the other to be proud of them and doesn’t want to disappoint. Even in strained or estranged relationships, that desire for validation doesn’t die, so strong is the parent-child bond. For aging parents, advice can be a way to show they are still relevant. For adult children, it’s a way to demonstrate their competence.

Those of us in the so-called sandwich generation are caught between a rock and a hard place. With our parents on one side and children on the other, it sometimes seems like a no-win position. We’re getting – and giving – advice on both sides. Whichever way we turn, we are tugged by emotional situations. The complex parent-child relationship adds layers of meaning to even the simplest statements. In multi-generational living situations, the emotion is ratcheted up exponentially.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to handle family tugs-of-love any more than there is an answer to finding world peace. However, over the years, I’ve been trying to talk less and listen more, put myself in the other generation’s shoes and moderate what I say with love. I still offer too much advice, not really hear what people are saying and speak before thinking when I get annoyed. It’s still a work in progress.

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