Monday, January 19, 2015

Having an Opinion - How expressing our opinions (or not) to our adult children can be a help, or a hurt!

I have been in the strange world of being an a parent to a adult children for about eight years now.  It's a lot like living in an alternate universe where everything is upside.  In this universe, I am supposed to standby and watch my child make decisions that are unwise and even dangerous with minimal interference from me! Let me tell you, after years of raising them and nurturing them, worrying about them  and sacrificing for them, it's not so easy to shut it all off.  In fact, sometimes, it's damn hard.

But when I get that urge to get in there and try to micromanage the lives of my adult children (as if I could!! ha ha ha), I remember my own mother and how she let me venture forth into adulthood while maintaining her own grace with courage and a heap of dignity.

Which is not to say that Mom didn't have an opinion about things. She had plenty to say!!  And as I matured into womanhood it occurred to me that I couldn't discount her opinion just because she was my mother. Why should her opinion matter less simply because she gave birth to me?  Somewhere in my 20's it became apparent that part of being a mature adult included giving more weight to my mother's opinion simply because she was my mother!

I'll admit that when she brought something to my attention it was usually because something needed my attention.  After a while I found myself actually seeking out her perspective in many areas of my life - from working, to my marriage and motherhood.  Hers was the assessment that mattered and the one that I most valued.

So while I can no longer shield my adult children, or forbid or prevent them from doing whatever it is they want to do, I'm still allowed to have an opinion about these things. If they ask for it, I'll give it to them.  If they're in my home  - I might give it to them even if they don't ask for it,  free of charge! Because that's what adults do, especially adults in close relationships.

I mention all of this because I was sort of shocked last week by the comments of NBC newscaster Brian Williams regarding the performance of his daughter Allison  in the HBO series Girls. 
Brian Williams


Families with little kids might remember Allison - she played the part of Peter Pan on live television just before the holidays.

First Look At Christopher Walken as Captain Hook for Peter Pan Live!

Mr. Williams even managed to work it into his newscast complete with a picture of a little Allison wearing a Peter Pan costume when she was a little girl.


Parental pride is a very cool thing. And even when it's a little embarrassing to us when we're grownups, there's still something wonderful about knowing our parents are proud of us and the work we do.

Recently Miss Williams appeared in a more R-rated role and performed a quirky sex act. Entertainment sites were buzzing about it last week.

Her father watched and when asked about that scene responded,

 “She’s always been an actress. For us, watching her is the family occupation and everybody has to remember it’s acting, no animals were harmed during the filming, and ideally nobody gets hurt.” 

Somehow, I can't imagine the family gathering around the television to watch that.

But here's the thing - maybe no animals were harmed during that filming, but maybe Allison Williams was. Probably not financially and maybe not even professionally, but that scene and those screen shots are out there now - forever. She'll always be linked to that. It was degrading and humiliating and soul stealing.  But she might not realize that either because for some reason, her daddy approved of it.

There was a time when a father would go after a man for doing something like that to his daughter and get the sympathy of a jury if he went to trial. At the very least fathers of old would plainly admonish their daughters to consider their reputations and guard their hearts and their souls by avoiding illicit sex acts outside of marriage. But since her father condoned this publicly, there's no reason for Ms. Williams to even consider that what she's asked to do on this television program might not be the best thing for her own dignity as a person. Despite her brief sojourn into Neverland, she'll probably continue the downward trajectory she is on as the bar is continually lowered on HBO.

It's unfortunate, because she's got other talents and she's not a bad actress either.

Being the parent of an adult child is a balancing act.  You're still a parent, not a friend, but you have no authority. You want to be loved and respected, but sometimes for the good of the adult child you might have to risk losing that by standing up for truth and values. So I get the hard place that Mr. Williams is in - wanting to support his daughter and her career, but I don't think he did her any favors here by condoning something that even he could only half heartedly condone.

As children move into the adult years the role of the parents change.  We become sounding boards, counselors, a touchstone to the past and encouragers.  But we should never ever put aside our values, or be afraid to offer cautions or even admonitions.  Being the parent doesn't mean becoming a silent bystander and in fact I think the catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that sometimes we MUST speak out. 

1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;







As I was thinking about this, I came across an interview by Bill Mumy, a child star of the 50's and 60's. I think this perfectly illustrates the importance of parents as guides and counselors for adult children.

In this section he discusses his regrets.

"...and my parents, interestingly enough, nobody advised me. I look back, and you know I advise, my son is going to be 24 next month, my daughter is going to be 20.  But I advise them, even if they don't want it.

I give them my input, I give them my thought. It's like 'Oh you're going to do this?  OK well remember that if you're going to do this,  this is the possibility, and this is a possibility.'
I don't think that's bad to do that. I don't say you have to do this or you have to do that. But if you're going to make that choice, think about the circumstances and what will come of that choice.
And nobody said that to me." 

"I'm sad that nobody gave kinda me a bigger picture there. Not that my career I'm not happy with the choices I made  but I think that somebody might have smacked me into thinking, Yea, I can do this all.  Because going back after that has never been at the level I left it at. And I'm not complaining but it's true." 

He talks about that starting at 38:50 and about his parents at 41:29



I think the bottom line is that the job of parenting never ends; it just keeps evolving and changing. Parents can have opinions about what their children do and sometimes they are even compelled to share those opinions.  But we do a disservice to our kids when we condone bad behavior and poor choices, or worse - when we don't speak up at all.  And sometimes how we choose to parent our adult children can have lifelong repercussions for them.

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