A few years ago, when my daughter was just on the cusp of adulthood, she turned to me and said, “You know how you sometimes say you think you look fat, and I tell you you don’t? Well, you do.”
Yeah, she was angry. But instead of letting those mean words hurt my feelings, I burst out laughing. I mean, how ridiculous could she get?
That’s the thing. Our young adult kids sometimes let loose comments that set our heads spinning like an old-fashioned top. Most of the time — and I really believe this — they don’t mean to be jerks. They just sound that way.
Adult Kids Say the Darnedest Things
Relationship expert Ruth Nemzoff, says that our primary goal as parents of adult children remains fostering good relationships. We love our children, and we want them in our lives. I agree with Nemzoff on almost everything — except the title of her book: Don’t Bite Your Tongue. I would argue that’s exactly what we need to do.
(MORE: The 6 Things You Shouldn't Say to Your Adult Child)
When our adult kids say something mean, stupid or insensitive, our kneejerk reaction is often to strike back defensively or say something that would defuse the situation with comic relief. But that could backfire. This isn’t a high school acquaintance or a colleague we can walk away from. It’s our child. Not only do we always have to be the grown-up, we're still modeling positive mature behavior — even when it doesn’t seem like they’re paying attention.
So take a deep breath and rehearse some of these comebacks. Because unless you have an always-perfect child — and a unicorn in in the backyard — you’re likely to wind up on the receiving end of a zinger like one of these. (The wording of these remarks may vary, but each was actually said to me or a parent I know.)
10 Outrageous Things Kids Might Say — and How to Respond
1. "Why are you being so emotional? It's immature."
You want to say: Yeah, and the time you threw a fit because I shrunk your jeans by mistake, that was really mature.
Better to say: Being emotional isn't being immature. I'm simply upset about this, and I'm letting you know how I feel.
2. “Here’s a Groupon for Botox. It’s so cheap, you should try it.”
You want to say: See these wrinkles? Who do you think caused them?
Better to say: Thanks. I’ll think about it. But I'm proud of my laugh lines and think they give me character.
3. “Your abs don’t look like a six pack. They’re more like a keg.”
You want to say: I’m over 50. Things sag. What’s your excuse?
Better to say: Yeah, it gets harder to keep in shape. Want to help me keep on target?
4. “Can I have that when you die?”
You want to say: Only if I don’t kill you in the next minute.
Better to say: If you really want that, I’ll put it in my will. But remember, I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.
5. “I’m so relieved no one gives you wolf whistles when we're out together.”
You want to say: You’d be surprised how many people think I'm hot.
Better to say: Your definition of what’s attractive or sexy will change. Just wait.
6. “Of course you thought college was fun. You were stoned the whole time.”
You want to say: Wait, who are you again? Oh, sorry. I’m stoned.
Better to say: This might be a good time to discuss how we as a family feel about recreational drugs. If you want to hear about my experiences, then I need to hear yours, too.
7. “No one really thought your joke was funny. Those were pity laughs.”
You want to say: You should have heard how hard I cracked up the first time I saw you.
Better to say: People have different senses of humor. But I wish you could laugh with me, not at me.
8. “Why do you still waste money on a land line?”
You want to say: Ask me the next time your cell phone dies in the middle of an important call.
Better to say: I know it might seem like an unnecessary expense to you, but the sound quality and reliability are worth it to me.
9. “Your place is so cluttered. Why don’t you get rid of some of this junk?”
You want to say: Sure. Let’s start by throwing away everything that’s yours.
Better to say: I’m not ready to part with all the macaroni art you made for me in kindergarten, but I am willing to go through things together and see what’s here that’s yours that we can toss.
10. “Are you guys spending all your money, or are you planning on leaving me any?”
You want to say: Actually, you owe us $500,000 for what we spent raising you. Our accountant will be sending a bill.
Better to say: You’ve raised an important issue. Let’s find a good time to sit down as a family and discuss living and ethical wills, along with the post-mortem distribution of my worldly goods.
(MORE: How to Heal a Rift With Your Adult Child)
I don’t mean to gloss over real conflicts. Almost every parent I know has had real arguments (sometimes including yelling and slammed doors) with their newly fledged adults. A 2010 study found that American parents are more likely than their European counterparts to have tense relationships with their grown children.
But hopeful words come from the European poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote, "Once the realization that even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side-by-side can grow if they succeed in loving the distance between them, which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky."
What Rilke wrote a century ago still resonates today. I like to think that we wise parents and our maturing children can learn to look at each other across a distance and see each other fully and completely, and with love. And curbing our tongues, swallowing our pride and choosing the right words can only help.