Stopping bullying by toxic parents and grandparents is only one side of the coin.  The other side is to stop bullying of parents by adult children who are toxic users and abusers.

I’ll focus on the adult children who:

  • Make poor decisions and try bully their parents to bail them out time after time.
  • Still yell at or even hit their middle-aged parents just like they did when they were teenagers.
  • Extort money from their parents in return for allowing them to see the grandchildren.

I won’t go into the abuse of elderly or senile parents, nor into situations in which the child is disabled or retarded and will need parental care for life.

For parents, this is one of the most heart-wrenching situations; to see that your adult children are:

  • Still incompetent and failing.
  • Still trying to manipulate or coerce you, long after they should have become independent and work to get what they want from the world.
  • Characterless, nasty, abusive adults – entitled, blaming, narcissistic, weak and desperate.

Of course we parents think we’re at fault.  We can self-bully until we feel guilt and shame.  “Where did we go wrong?”  And of course those selfish, manipulative children try to increase those feelings so that we’ll continue giving them what they want.

Although it’s now too late to begin when your children were young, getting an idea about what we could have done then might help us now.

Parenting experts for the last generation have falsely assumed and wrongly encouraged people to think that if they kept protecting their immature, irresponsible children from consequences and kept giving them infinite second changes, the children would eventually mature and develop confidence, self-respect and self-esteem.  They would become competent and independent adults.

Of course, a few children do change and become responsible when they’re coddled.  But this strategy encourages most children to remain weak and needy, expecting to be supported for life if they’re in trouble.  The best way to produce spoiled brats (at any age) is to give them what they want.

Instead, you must not let your heart guide your actions.  You must let them fail and bear the consequences, no matter how hard.  You must keep reminding them that they will need to take care of themselves; they will be dependent on their own judgment and effort.  This is not an all-or-none shift.  There should be a gradual shift as they pass from elementary school to middle or junior high school.

In a loving and firm way, encourage them to learn how the world works and to do their best, but stop protecting them.  I think of that in the same way I think of helping plants get hardy enough to survive in temperate zones – we leave them out longer and longer in chilly nights.

Although there are too many brutal, abusive, uncaring, selfish, demanding parents, the biggest mistake I see parents make is to coddle their children way too long.

Don’t use the word, “supportive;” it’s too non-specific.  Be specific; give them encouragement to work hard and live poor if they can’t do better.  But don’t be a friend, don’t be a bank, don’t be a 7-11.

As for the shame and guilt you might feel because the children didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped; give it up.  They have free will.  By the time they’re adults they make their own choices.  Truthfully, how much success did any of us have giving advice to teenagers?  They listen to their own drumbeat; just like we did, whether our parents liked it or not.

So what can we do now?  The same thing we should have done back then: cut them off economically.  Ignore promises; behavior counts.  Give your treats to the independent, self-supporting children who don’t need them.  Don’t give them to the irresponsible children who depend on and demand them.

Don’t let them yell, shove or hit you; don’t let them harass or abuse you.  Hang up or throw them out immediately.  Remember, we’re adults; we must demand civilized behavior on our islands.  If they can’t be polite, they can’t be on our islands.

Make a family rule: we get together to have a good time, not to straighten each other out, or review our bank balances, or complain, whine or blame.  Keep offering fun when you get together.  Stop offering advice or money.

Don’t debate or argue about what’s right or fair.  We suffered enough of those when they were teenagers.  It’s your money, you get to do what you want with it; they’re not entitled to anything.

Of course, your heart will bleed, but keep that to yourself.  Worry, cry and pray in private.  Remind them that it’s their lives and they have to succeed on their own.

With the grandchildren, we have two paths.  The first is to remain firm and suffer the consequences when they withhold the grandchildren.  We all know the truth about blackmail and extortion: bullies raise the price and there will be no end to it.  If they deny you access to the grandchildren; write, call, send presents and keep records.  You’ll make your case when the grandchildren turn 18.

The second path is to purchase time with your beloved grandchildren in hopes that you can have an effect on them so they won’t turn out like your children did.  Expect the price in money and abuse of you to increase with time.  Unfortunately, the grandchildren usually learn to hold you up for what they want.

There is no instant and easy cure.  Your children have free will.  They have chosen and can continue to choose to be weak and irresponsible.  You didn’t cause it, although you might have enabled it by giving them too much.  They can try to drag you under when they flail around because they think they’re drowning.  Don’t let them drag you under.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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