Feeling Anxious When Speaking to Adult Children
I have three children -- two daughters and a son. They're adults now with busy lives and stresses of their own. My adult children are exceptional individuals. I love and respect them as I know they love and respect me. Why, then, do I get anxious when I need or want to speak to them, ask them about their lives, or talk about something important to me?
My Anxiety Asks, 'Why Do My Adult Kids Keep Me at Arm's Length?'
Being born and raised in the '60s, kids were better seen, not heard. It was a time of corporal punishment, dispensed at home and in the classroom, and respect for your elders was demanded. Good behavior was rarely recognized because it was expected. If rules were broken, punishments were doled out swiftly with the textbook admonishment of, "I hope you learned your lesson." Our feelings weren't considered, and speaking our thoughts was a no-no.
Behaviors and attitudes had drastically changed by the time my husband and I had our kids in the late '80s and early '90s. Eager to do things differently than our parents and their parents before them, we raised our children to be respectful while also being strong-minded and curious. We taught them to push boundaries and question the status quo, even at home. We raised them to be independent thinkers, to stand up to injustice, and to exercise empathy.
Upon reflection, it seems like a pretty good upbringing. At least it does to me, a kid who wasn't even allowed to ask, "Why?"
But it seems that how we raised our kids, with the encouragement and freedom to think and feel out loud, may have instilled a certain apathy in them. Not towards other people necessarily, but toward us—their parents—insomuch as they seem indifferent to what we have to offer. They keep us at arm's length.
Anxiety in Relationships with Adult Children
When I was a similar age with a young family and stresses of my own, I listened when my mother and father spoke to me. Their experience and wisdom commanded attention. While I may not have agreed with their perspectives and sometimes secretly rolled my eyes at their old-fashioned values and approach, I deferred to them. I gave them the metaphorical floor.
It is not so today.
I feel that this generation's adult children—the less than 40-somethings—have much less tolerance for what parents have to say.
When one of my adult children shares an experience, I must cleverly reverse-engineer my response so as not to steal their thunder. In as straightforward a way as possible, I relay my disguised expertise and am still sometimes met with, "This isn't about you, Mom."
It's become a very "I might come to you if I need you and don't tell me how it is or was for you unless I ask you" kind of existence, which makes for a one-sided, walking-on-eggshells relationship. As a mom, this is very hard.
It's not disrespect, although sometimes it can come off that way. Instead, it's like a lack of appreciation for my (parental) experience and knowledge coupled with little or no desire to entertain my thoughts and ideas.
Casual conversation is easy. Talking about the grandkids is a piece of cake. But broaching a subject with substance with my kids can be a source of anxiety. Here are some of the thoughts I have:
"I don't want to insinuate myself where I'm not wanted or needed."
"Why won't she talk to me? Is it something I've done or said?"
"I don't want to trigger him."
"How will he percieve my questions and comments?"
"If I share my experience without prompting by her, will I be accused of making her situation about me?
"If I tell her I miss her, will she call me needy again?
"If I share how I'm feeling, and I cry, will he think—'There goes Mom, swimming in her emotion pool again.'"
While I know of at least three other moms my age with adult children who claim to have similar feelings, I realize that my generalized anxiety amplifies how I feel and react.
I will still question why my kids communicate with me the way they do—or don't, as the case may be. Maybe it's not apathy at all. Perhaps it's because we live in a time of information overload. Why rely on a parent's wisdom when a dozen YouTube and TikTok videos by perfect strangers can validate your experience and provide reliable solutions to similar issues? Perhaps it's because psychotherapy is more readily accepted and available. Who knows?
For now, I remain steadfast in my desire to be there for my kids if and when they need me. With the help of my therapist, I hope to better understand where my insecurities come from and replace my anxious thoughts with more adaptive ones, the most significant thought being:
"I am enough."
Scott, L. (2022, December 7). Feeling Anxious When Speaking to Adult Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, January 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2022/12/feeling-anxious-when-speaking-to-adult-children
Author: Liana M. Scott
Your experience is pretty universal in democratic societies I think. Because I was your kids 40 years ago and I understand I just need to keep shut and nod. Girls playing dumb once again.