Last time, I shared some things Josiah and I do to help foster unity in our family sides. Today, I’ll share things parents can do to foster the same. I don’t have first-hand experience in this area, so my opinions are shaped by what our parents do and how it feels to be on the receiving side it.
Parents of married adult children can create unity by…
1. Letting go.
I really wanted to put that in all caps!
It is critical for both sets of parents to let go. Your adult child will always be your child. But you do them harm (which works against the 18-20 years you put into them!) if you don’t let them operate as the adults they are. No relationship thrives when one party feels they must meet the expectations of the other or else suffer the consequences.
Don’t nag. Don’t guilt. Don’t push. Don’t assume. Don’t demand. Don’t try to control out of fear.
Let go of your adult kids so they can draw close.
2. Getting involved where we’re at.
Josiah wants to run internet cable through the walls? Our dads are both ready to go, drills in hand.
I don’t know how to cook something? (It happens. A lot.) The moms text me their advice when I ask.
One family is having a BBQ? The other brings cornhole.
The point here is that while you won’t exclusively see your child, on your terms, in your location, doing what you want, you can choose to participate if you’re willing to be flexible and roll with some changes! Family is a constant exercise in putting each other first. Now you’re doing it with a larger group.
3. Reaching out.
My New York grandparents and my Ohio grandparents have always acted as friends. We aren’t together more than a handful of times per year, but I loved seeing it. Especially as a kid.
Now I have the joy of seeing my parents and in-laws do the same thing. If they only wanted to talk to each other when Josiah and I are there, they wouldn’t foster genuine family connection. We don’t all live in the same area of Ohio, but if we did, they would absolutely have each other over for dinner. Sometimes, without us! Everyone has bought into the idea we are an extended unit.
Even if your family doesn’t share this buy-in, why can’t you start? Reach out to the other set of parents. Have dinner. Do an activity. Bring your kids, or maybe don’t. As a grandparent squad, take the grandkids out.
4. Staying sane around the holidays.
Look. Part of me is always going to be a little sad if I’m not around my biological parents on December 25th. Josiah feels the same way about his. But Christmas is far more than one 24-hour period on the calendar. That goes for all the other major holidays too.
Expecting your newly-married child to spend the holidays with you exactly as they did before sets the stage for failure. Change is scary because we like what we have. We don’t want it to end! Just because the old way was good, however, doesn’t mean a new way can’t also be good.
Instead of clenching your memories of holidays past in a tight fist, remember what made them truly special: Good times together. Love, laughter, and fun. Fellowship. These things will not be part of your holiday if you force your married child to follow the old script.
Trust that they do want to spend time with you. The more flexible you are about timing, the more peace you infuse into the relationship. And who wouldn’t want to be around that?
5. Not making assumptions.
Mothers in particular bestow a tremendous gift on their adult children when they respect their autonomy.
Don’t volunteer you adult child who still lives at home for that church service opportunity.
Don’t assume your married daughter and her husband can attend dinner without notice.
Don’t promise your friend your son will fix their computer this Friday without asking him first.
Ask. Ask. Ask.
I’m sure there is a relevant takeaway for fathers here, but when it comes to interference and assumptions, it seems to mostly come from mothers.
(I would like to clarify that my mom is pretty much the gold standard for how to respect your adult child’s autonomy! But we all have friends who cannot say the same about their own.)
I am so thankful for the Pigfords and Trumpowers. We are all fortunate to know Christ. My children will have exemplary role models in both of their grandparents, and also in their aunts and uncles. Building strong family relationships is a construction project that has no end point, but it’s never too late to lay foundation for improvement. Reach out. Keep an open heart. Celebrate the new season.