What Your Adult Children Wish You Knew...Part 3

"We must stop trying to change their behaviors by making choices for them and by shielding them from the painful consequences of their actions or inaction. We cannot change them. However, we can change ourselves--and that is where we must begin." Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children by Allison Bottke

The above quote is NOT something you will hear directly from your adult child. But, it doesn't mean that on some level they don't know it's true. In fact, you may hear the opposite. You may hear how much they want and need your help in dealing with their current crisis. This is especially true, if you have previously stepped in to "manage" or "help" them solve their predicament. But, if you do end up rescuing them, you will experience something from them you never anticipated.

What is it? CONTEMPT. If you don't believe me, just ask a parent you know who has repeatedly rescued or enabled their adult child[ren]. Contempt is a "feeling or attitude with which a person regards anything or anyone with disdain or scorn; to be despised or dishonored." It is something most parents who "help" their adult children are surprised by when it occurs.

  • "Why do they treat me this way after they've begged me to help them?"
  • "How can they speak so disrespectfully to me when, without me they'd be in a serious mess!
  • "I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't help him- but I'm also afraid of what will happen if I do!"
  • "I can't believe she talks to me the way she does. One minute she's verbally vomiting all over me and the next minute she's asking me for a favor!"
  • "I just don't get it. How can she look at me with such disgust after all I've sacrificed for her!"

If you've ever been on the receiving end of contempt it scorches the fabric of your worth. Most of us have felt it at least once, or we recognize it when we see it on the news. But, to experience it from our children is excruciating. How does this happen?


I heard an interview several years ago on Focus on the Family on parenting. Dr. James Dobson was talking about the need for "tough love" at times with our children. Then he said something like "when you rescue or enable your adult children it breeds contempt." He explained that he saw this scenario replayed on countless occasions and witnessed the confusion of heartbroken parents. 

I too, have witnessed it up close and personal. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I was enabling my oldest daughter when she was an adolescent. At the time I thought I was helping, but in reality I was crippling her. It was in small ways like lecturing her about her homework or running out to get something for a project she'd put off until the last minute. In many ways, I didn't want her to fail so I took on the emotional responsibility to make sure she wouldn't. I stepped in to "help out" when I should have allowed her to experience the consequences. I didn't know how to show empathy for her situation, while at the same time letting her make her own decisions and face the consequences that resulted. 

I wish I'd read the above quote from Allison Bottke earlier.

Stay tuned to my next post to find out what a parent can and should do when they feel contempt from their adult children.