Don't Risk a Rift With the Grown Kids

What You Should Never Say to Adult Children


During the years when you were bringing up your brood, you were guidance-counselor-in-chief. Moving away from that role now that they're all grown up isn't easy. Yet you'll drive a wedge in your relationship with them if you come off as a meddlesome buttinsky in their adult lives. Here's our list of what not to say, plus ways to rephrase your thoughts so you get your points across nicely.  


If you had listened to me, you wouldn't be in this mess.

Any version of "I told you so" is off-limits. Yes, you did tell them so, but they know that and they definitely don't want to be reminded of it. You're better off saying, "I'm really sorry about what you're going through right now." Then offer to help if you can, or simply lend a sympathetic ear.


When are you going to make me a grandmother?

Worst case scenario, your married child and child-in-law have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant and you're rubbing salt into their emotional wound. But even if they're simply postponing parenthood or not planning to have kids at all, this is really none of your business. Should your daughter open up at some point about infertility issues, of course you'll want to be there for her. Otherwise, your best bet is to enjoy your grown kids and avoid the topic of grandchildren.  

  You were such a smart little boy. I always thought you'd be a doctor or a lawyer. The "Get a real job" tactic is not going to endear you to your offspring. Maybe you actually are disappointed that they didn't live up to your high hopes for them, but letting them know that isn't going to do any good and may do plenty of harm. Just be glad they're self-sufficient, law-abiding citizens and bite your tongue about what might have been. This goes not only for careers, but also for alternative lifestyles. Accept the kids for what they are and you'll keep the family ties strong.   Why haven't you called me lately? This one puts the kids immediately on the defensive. Remember, guilt tripping is never a good way to get what you want. Instead, take advantage of the fact that emails and text messages are not intrusive. Get in touch digitally to let the kids know you love them very much and miss them, and then ask if there's a good time in their busy schedules for a chat or even a visit.   I can't believe what you let your kids eat! This, or any criticism of your kids' parenting tactics, won't put you on the welcome list. Every good grandparent learns to keep quiet about childrearing unless the situation is truly dire. What you can do is make a point of praising what you like, whether it's how much she reads to the children or how often he takes the boys camping.
  If I were you, I'd (fill in the blank). You're not them! This is the mother of all ham-handed advice and it pretty much guarantees they'll turn a deaf ear to whatever you have to say even if it's valuable. A general rule of thumb is to wait until the kids ask for your counsel. And if they do, take care to avoid sounding like a know-it-all or a scold.   Finally, keep in mind that your grown kids almost certainly still want to please you and make you proud. Why not look for ways to let them know they're doing exactly that? They'll never be too old to feel great when they hear you say "Good job!"    
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