How does the sweet baby you rocked to sleep at night turn into an adult who can't stand to be in the same room with you?
According to the Journal of Marriage and Family, 20 percent of American parents have "disharmonious" relationships with their adult children. Whether it's a below-the-surface cold war or open animosity, this type of relationship conflict can ultimately culminate in estrangement -- something more and more therapists are seeing in their offices.
There is no way to guarantee the type of relationship you will have with your children when they grow up, but there are ways to maximize your efforts and safeguard your relationship.
1. Give Them a Choice: Listen to That Little Voice
It's important to give children a sense of control over their environment. When they are babies, simple things like letting them choose between peaches or pears work well. As they get older, include children in family decisions like where to go on vacation. Your kids will learn that they don't always get what they want, but they have a vote -- and a voice -- that counts.
2. Think Overt: Not Covert
Manipulation takes many forms: undercover maneuvering, passive-aggressive behavior, hinting, hidden agendas, coercion, lobbying and the infamous guilt trip. The funny thing is that people who operate in this way often think they are being subtle. With your kids there is no such thing as subtle, covert behavior. They will be on to you in an instant and turned off by you in a millisecond. When in doubt opt for open, direct communication. Don't be afraid to show your real feelings even when you feel anger, and allow them to show you the truth of what they feel as well. It may be more painful in the moment, but will payoff in the long run.
3. Discipline, but Don't Become a Punishment Machine
In the cloud of frustration during hectic days, too much yelling, too many "Nos", grounding every other day and an overabundance of time-outs can become habitual. A lot of parents start to not even recognize the barky, angry person they've become. It's important to interrupt this pattern before it becomes the foundation of the relationship you've established with your child. Be sure to sprinkle in healthy doses of positive reinforcement like praising good behavior, distraction, modeling the behavior you want them to have and lots of dialogue.
4. Walk the Walk: Don't Be a Hypocrite
Parents need to live their values, not just talk about them. This does not mean putting on a facade of prissy perfection. Kids will respond to parents who show that they strive for their ideals even if they fall short. However, major hypocrisy -- like a parent who espouses family values to the community, but chooses not to spend time with the kids -- can cause irreversible damage to the relationship.
5. "Put Down the Tiara!" Help Your Kids Become Who They Are Meant to Be
The key to raising kids is helping them become the best version of themselves, not who you want them to be or who you think they should be. Forcing your personality and your dreams onto your kids will get them further away from themselves and further away from you.
6. Remember, Your Kids Don't Owe You Anything
If you think your kids are there to take care of you when you're old, give you grandchildren or fix your life... think again. Parents who treat children like they're paying down a debt will get nothing but resentment back. Take the harness off. Kids don't owe their parents, but parents do owe their kids freedom.