Dr. Sherman, my wife treats our 24-year-old son like he's still a baby and it drives me nuts. Is there any way I can stop her from doing this?
Unfortunately, today’s world is complicated and has a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity in it. Truly, it is a difficult time to raise children as they are exposed to so many potential dangers and threats. It is very understandable that parents today would be protective—even their young adult children.
Being a mother myself, I can certainly understand your wife’s feelings. Though worrying seems to be a trait reserved more for moms, I also know many fathers who get concerned about "their little girls."
What is also important to mention is that in today’s world, a 24-year old does not have the same meaning as it did years ago. Our life span has stretched out for every age. By that I mean people are living longer and the "markers" for reaching certain developmental stages are later than it had been in the past.
Historically, a 24-year old would be married and on their own. Today, many 24-year olds are still in school working towards post-graduate degrees or have not quite found the right job. People do not settle down until they are much older. Very often, parents are supporting their offspring much longer. (By the way, that’s why the phrase "sandwich generation" was coined—people who are baby boomers are taking care of both their children and parents!)
Questions to Ask
What’s important is to look at each individual child and situation. Here are a few points to consider:
1. Is your child involved in some responsible activity (e.g. in school) that requires some dependency on you?
2. Does your child function as a contributing member to the family—does he/she take responsibility in household chores?
3. Do you get a sense from your son or daughter that there is a "game plan" that includes goals to be independent in the future?
Steps to Consider
To respond specifically to your situation: If you believe that your spouse has an attitude that is overprotective and encourages your son to not "take flight," you need to address your concerns with her. Your discussion will be most productive if:
Parenting is hard—even when your children are grown. But if you work together as a team, respecting one another, it’s an easier process.
- You do not attack her but raise the issue as a difference in your styles.
- You ask if she is aware of how she responds to your son.
- You explore where her concerns are coming from.
- Her concerns are based on her own personal fears, you do not invalidate them, but point out the reality and help her deal with her fears.
- The issues she raises do have some reality, together look at options to address them.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It! Make It Last.