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Family Dynamics

Should Adult Children Validate Their Parents?

Don't underestimate the power of empathizing with your parents.

Key points

  • Successful reconnection between parents and adult children requires mutual validation and understanding.
  • A one-sided repair approach fails to recognize the humanity and needs of parents.
  • Adult children can help their emotional health with the same connection skills they expect from their parents.

In many prior posts, I have shared insights from my experience coaching parents who want to improve their connections with their adult children. I've emphasized how crucial it is for parents to reconnect with adult children by acknowledging and validating their pain and struggles. However, it's equally important to ask: Shouldn't parents also receive validation, compassion, and humanity from their adult children?

Is Validation a One-Way Street?

The relationship between parents and adult children often suffers when validation is perceived as a one-way street. Adult children should also recognize the positive contributions made by, and the challenges faced by, their aging parents. Drawing from over three decades of parent and family coaching experience and research for my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, I've found that both parents and adult children rarely feel adequately understood.

The Missing Ingredient: Mutual Understanding

"Feeling understood" is often the missing ingredient in these relationships. As adult children grow and evolve, they can also learn to model validation. If they perceive themselves as more evolved than their parents, might they consider leading the way toward mutual understanding?

Emotionally Immature Parents: Can This "Diagnosis" Become Problematic?

Yes, some people are not good parents, and others are not suited to be solid parents. That said, the term "emotionally immature parents" can be problematic as it often carries a negative connotation, potentially stigmatizing individuals who may be struggling with their emotional growth and challenges. Labeling parents in this way can lead to misunderstanding and judgment rather than a supportive environment for improvement and healing.

A close friend once shared with me, "The only perfect people are in the cemetery." Understanding that there indeed are some toxic, highly immature parents out there, how about cutting some slack to the vast majority of parents who tried their best?

Could rigidly seeing parents as immature create a barrier to open, healthier communication? Do parents labeled as emotionally immature feel attacked or defensive, making it harder to address underlying issues and work toward healthier family dynamics? A more compassionate approach that acknowledges their struggles while encouraging growth and development can be more constructive.

When parents feel undervalued and despondent, it’s unreasonable to expect them to bear the sole burden of repairing the relationship. Adult children, having reached adulthood, should share the responsibility for this process, as it’s illogical to expect aging parents to continue validating their adult children without reciprocation.

Adult children can benefit their emotional health by employing the same reconnection skills they expect from their parents. This balanced approach fosters a healthier, more sustainable reconnection. Younger adults owe it to themselves to acknowledge their parents' pain and, when necessary, apologize for their own hurtful or neglectful behavior.

The Benefits of Forgiveness

If adult children feel any persistent hurt about some of their parents' past behaviors it can help to consider the power of forgiveness. Forgiving one's parents can lead to significant emotional and mental health benefits. It allows for the release of lingering anger and resentment, which can reduce stress and improve overall well-being. This act of forgiveness fosters healthier relationships, enhancing communication and understanding within the family. Additionally, it can promote personal growth and emotional resilience, enabling you to move forward with a more positive, liberated mindset.

Examples of Validating a Parent

1. Acknowledging Past Sacrificess. Adult children can express gratitude for the sacrifices their parents made during their upbringing. For instance, saying, "I appreciate all the hard work you put in to provide for our family" can help parents feel valued and understood.

2. Listening to Their Stories. Taking the time to listen to parents' stories and experiences can be a powerful form of validation. An adult child might say, "I’d love to hear more about what it was like for you growing up," which shows respect and interest in a parent's life.

3. Recognizing Their Efforts. Adult children can acknowledge the ongoing efforts their parents make, even in their later years. For example, "I see how much you do to keep the family connected, and I appreciate it" can affirm parents' continuing contributions.

4. Apologizing for Past Hurts. When appropriate, adult children can apologize for past misunderstandings or hurtful behaviors. Saying, "I’m sorry for the times I was difficult to deal with; I know it wasn't easy for you," can open the door to healing.

5. Offering Emotional Support. Just as parents are encouraged to validate their children’s emotions, adult children can do the same for their parents. For instance, "I can see that you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything going on; I’m here for you" offers emotional support and understanding.

6. Acknowledging Their Wisdom. Recognizing the wisdom and experience parents bring can be very validating. An adult child might say, "Your advice has always been valuable to me, and I respect your perspective," which reinforces their parent's sense of worth.

A Two-Way Street: Mutual Validation

Kim practiced validating her daughter Lisa's feelings by acknowledging her hurt without imposing judgments or solutions, viewing her offensive behaviors in the context of an adult child who was hurting. However, it's also vital to recognize when the parent’s pain needs acknowledgment and for the adult child to apologize for their offensive behavior.

The one-sided approach too often advocated fails to recognize the humanity and needs of aging parents. A more balanced approach, in which both parties take responsibility for the reconnection process, is essential. This involves both giving and receiving validation, fostering a more profound and lasting resolution to disconnection.

In Summary

Successful reconnection between parents and adult children requires mutual validation and understanding. Both parties must engage in this process as equals, respecting each other's struggles and contributions to build a stronger, more empathetic relationship.

©Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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