1. “You’re doing that the wrong way.”
2. “Let me give you some advice.”
3. “I’m very disappointed in you.”
4. “Can you afford that?”
5. “Why in the world did you do that?”
These are a few examples of how NOT to speak to your adult children. You’ll put them on the defense, stop the conversation before it even starts, or drive the relationship into a ditch.
Is it possible your children are adults to others but not to you? You’re their parent but are you still their tutor? You raised, nurtured and provided for them. Does that give you a special dispensation for the way you’re allowed to speak to them?
I know—this doesn’t apply to you, right? I’m sure your adult children would agree. Should we ask them? “Is your mother’s/father’s tone and/or choice of words occasionally condescending, patronizing or even hurtful?”
Many of us who have asked the Lord to be at the helm of our marriages and families love our children, get along well with them and enjoy our grandchildren. But maybe there are a few problems. As a parent you wield considerable psychological and emotional power in your children’s lives no matter how young or old they are. This carries responsibility and liability.
Don’t underestimate the power of our words to maintain a good relationship with our children or to heal an unhealthy dynamic. Here’s what James has to say about words:
“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:3-6)
You might be thinking, “Isn’t that a bit overdramatic? Isn’t James referring to more substantive issues than my occasional infractions when speaking to my grown children?” Maybe, but he also says (in verse 2), “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” Of course you’re not perfect, but perfection should be your standard— especially with your children and others closest to you. I’ve learned all this the hard way. Here’s one of many examples.
Several years ago our oldest son was visiting us in Florida with his family. As usual, the two of us played golf. My son, a better golfer than I am, asked the distance to the pin several times. Each time, I answered with the distance AND with what club he should use. When he was younger and still learning, that was acceptable. Now that he knows the game and is able to judge all the shot conditions himself, all he needed was the distance—what he asked for. He finally got frustrated and took me to task for giving him a club suggestion. Here were my choices in how to respond:
1.) “You’re right. Sorry about that. It was an old reflex. I’ll just give you the distances from now on when you ask. It’s 165 yards. Go for it.”
2.) “Don’t get defensive. I know the course better than you, but if you don’t want my help I won’t give it to you.”
Guess which answer I gave him? You got it. The second one. Oh, and I felt completely justified at the time. The rest of the game, afternoon and evening were tense and distant. I can’t even remember if or how we reconciled, or if that just became a stone in our relationship which needed to be worked out over time. A small thing that became a big one that could have been completely avoided—if I’d simply spoken to him the way I would have to any other adult golf guest.
Can you relate to this incident? I could give you many more examples of how I exacerbated situations—and my children could add to my list. However, I’m learning, and I think they’d agree with that. After all, these are my favorite people on the planet. So, it’s worth some extra care to speak to them with the adult equality and respect they deserve.
Be the highest and best person to those you love and cherish the most. Keep your tongue “in check.”