Raising Nice Adults: Overfunctioning for Your Already Launched Adult Children

Over a year ago I posted several blogs on helping to launch your young adults who haven’t yet found work, job, insurance, or significant other.  See “Fixing We’ll Just Fix It For You: Letting Your Children be Adults: the Two Principles,” and“But What If? Adult Children with Extenuating Circumstances.”  Recently, an extended version of that problem has been nagging at me:  adult children who have made it, yet live in the world of taking rather than giving to their older parents.

Are you the Dad who’s scraping ice off your windshield because your garage is filled with books, papers, and furniture cast off by your adult child(ren)?  Even though you ask your 32-year-old to sort through the jumble each time he visits, he’s busy visiting friends.

Maybe you, youngish grandparents, drive both ways to visit distant adult children and their families.  It’s easier for you, you say to yourself; you’re retired, after all.


How about packing and moving your adult kids, a job you do so much more effectively than they? Or hauling over that just-right piece of furniture to their place, after you clean it up and refinish it for them? That may sound like an exaggeration to prove a point, but I assure you I know the loving senior citizen who did just that.

Do you always pick up the tab when you take your successfully employed adult children to dinner or on vacations? Even when it’s your birthday. And even when the younger couple out-earns you?

How about taking your baby grandson to your office on the nanny’s sick day so Mom doesn’t have to take him to her work?

Maybe the younger family has moved in with you while their nice home is being transformed into a very nice home.  Do you provide almost all the meals and shopping, while adding babysitting to your list?  Do you or your cleaner do all the chores, the laundry?  Who takes out the garbage, waters the lawn, waits at home for deliveries?

Now that your family is growing, are you still hosting the big holiday meals?  Do your self-sufficient children depart early with left-overs so you don’t even get a break from the next day’s cooking?  Who puts back the extra table and chairs?  The big serving dishes that require trips to the basement or step-ladders?

Have you removed your self-supporting adult children from your car insurance policy?  If they have an accident, every car in the “fleet” may be surcharged 10%.  Maybe those same “adults” are still using your gas credit card.  Or other credit cards, for “extras.”

Do you sign the younger couples’ names on joint gifts without collecting their half?

When your working daughter finally gets married to her live-in partner, do she and her employed partner make all the wedding choices–like it or not–while you pay all the bills?

Perhaps you’re remarried, but your son or daughter resents your new spouse.  How long do you wait for the young adult to adjust, work through issues?  What about your needs, your life, your right to happiness?  Who tiptoes around whom in such a scenario?

Ask yourself why you run a service corporation for your otherwise self-sufficient adult children.  Do you fear their temper or coldness if you complain?  Are you conflict-avoidant?  Why? Did you yourself have parents who weren’t very giving? Sick, alcoholic, workaholic, narcissistic, or just plain cold and critical? Do you fear you’ve never quite good enough no matter how hard you try? Perhaps you learned to take care of a parent when you were still a child. Maybe you now take care of your parents and your adult kids. Is your sandwiching getting in the way of your yoga class or even your marriage?

You have likely realized that children don’t always model after very giving parents. Sometimes, they become takers. And you, the grandparents, won’t be able to over-function forever.  Start preparing now.

Raise nice adults; expect them to give to you and to others. Don’t just hint. If you raised them in a lop-sided way, they’re going to learn some hard lessons.  Tougher love is doing them a favor. It is better to give than to receive. If you get pleasure from giving to them, don’t deprive them of the pleasure of giving back.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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