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Relationship with Adult Children & Children-in-law

Good interpersonal relationship plays a key role in maintaining physical, mental, and social health. The relationship between elders and their children and children-in-law is of great importance. The following is an outline of the difficulties commonly encountered in the interactions between elders and their children and children-in-law, with suggestions for building up a good relationship.

Difficulties Encountered:

1. Change in the Stage of Life

  • Changes in Identity and Role
    Due to a gradual change in their identity and their role in the family, elders may feel that their children no longer need them. This may result in anxiety, and a feeling of being abandoned.
  • Conflict of "Autonomy"
    Many elders are overly concerned about the personal affairs of their children (e.g. attitude at work, financial arrangements, and choice of marriage). However, when their suggestions are not being followed, some elders may feel that they are no longer being respected, resulting in discontent. On the other hand, interference of children (or children-in-law) with the life of elders can also lead to disharmony in the relationship.
  • Excessive Undertaking of Responsibilities
    Sometimes, elders may undertake expressive responsibilities for their children (e.g. doing housework, taking care of grandchildren, paying off debts and mortgages, etc.) beyond their own capability, resulting in substantial pressure on their life.

2. Disharmony in the Interaction

  • Difference in Habits & Way of Dealing with Matters
    As children-in-law were brought up under dissimilar family backgrounds, their habits and way of life (e.g. eating habits, and the approach in making decisions for the family) may be different from that of the elders, hence resulting in misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Divergence in Expectations
    Differences in expectations between elders and their children or children-in-law may have harmful effects on their relationship. For example, children and children-in-law not living with the elders want to have more time for rest after work, whereas the elders expect them to visit them more often.

Suggestions for Building Up a Good Relationship:

1. Appropriate Undertaking of Responsibilities
As they have already grown up, adult children should take up their own responsibilities and elders should encourage them to become more independent. For example, elders should not feel obliged to pay off debts for their adult children, or to take care of the grandchildren for them.

2. To Embark on New Territories of Life
Elders should not consider taking care of their children as the sole objective in life, or the only source of satisfaction. Elders can join different kinds of social activities to expand their social circle, enrich their knowledge, and to develop their interests. Moreover, learning new things and keeping updated is a good way to enhance communication with the younger generation.

3. Mutual Respect
When there is conflict in opinion, e.g. in child rearing, elders and their children or children-in-law should respect each other's views and try to exchange their opinions frankly.

4. To Understand, To Accept & To Appreciate
Do not focus on each other's shortcomings; pay more attention on the good aspects. Elders and their children (and children-in-law) should also try to understand and accept each other's viewpoint and difficulties, and to appreciate each other's efforts.

5. To Harmonize with Each Other
Elders and their children (and children-in-law) can try to adjust their expectations, harmonize with each other, and reach consensus. A positive and mutually proactive attitude constitutes the basis for maintaining a good relationship between two generations.