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The Rest of the Story…

We parents of a “certain age” were raised in the golden era of radio when there was more than music and yammering DJs. There was drama, there was mystery, and there were the sages of the air. My favorite was Paul Harvey and his nightly wisdom that he called, “The rest of the story.” Harvey would launch into an explication of the day’s news or a moment in history. We listeners were sure we knew as much as we needed to know on the topic, until his commentary turned a corner to the “rest of the story.” Then we were transported to new vistas in a way that Geraldo Rivera or Anderson Cooper can only dream of. At the end of the broadcast, Harvey would intone in a measured pace, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

A generation of listeners learned that there was always more to know about the world around us. How quickly we forgot.

This blog normally is devoted to taking the parents’ side of the story. But now it’s time to hear the rest of the story, from the perspective of the adult child.

First from my young friend Jill.  I experienced Jill’s “rebellious” phase through the eyes of her parents. She seemed foolish, intractable, unredeemable and deluded when she ran off and married a totally unsuitable man. I believed Jill was merely trying to punish her parents and establish her independence in the time-honored way of choosing the bad boy. Years later, after she extricated herself from that marriage and reconciled with her parents, I learned the rest of the story in her candidly raw Facebook post about spousal abuse:

“There were times when I tried to leave, where I was actually physically restrained from being able to – doors blocked, phone cords ripped from the wall, keys, cell phone, wallet stolen and hidden… There were times where I did manage to somehow get out of the house, sometimes shoeless, no phone, no wallet, no money, and I would be followed, harassed, spit on, grabbed and held until I gave in… [H]e’d use my son against me, threaten that I would not be able to see him again. [H]e had successfully managed to isolate me from friends and family so I felt I had no where else to go.”

Jill’s parents knew she was in a dysfunctional marriage, but did they know how severely she was being abused? Did they know that she felt she could no longer turn to them for help?  We can never be perfectly understood by another person, nor can we perfectly understand others, even our own offspring.  The issues that divide parents and their adult children are often based on misunderstanding, absence of information and misjudging of motives.

Ask yourself, is your child just thumbing her nose at you, or is she saving face, or is she struggling to recover from a stupid choice and can’t tell you? You may suspect something deeper is going on, but have you tried to imagine the enormity of her side of the story?

Next, some stories from my friend, the late Kathy Helms Kidd, shedding light on the more petty differences that widen to a chasm between parents and children.  Kathy authored an online advice column called “Ask Madame Kathy.” She was my college roommate, who had no children of her own but had an uncanny understanding of parenthood.

In 2012, Madame Kathy published a letter from a man who was fed up with his father’s obsession that the son needed a military-style haircut to succeed in life. Kathy’s readers flooded her in-box with similar tales told from the perspective of adult children. One had a father whose great disappointments included the son’s use of bank checks that had landscape pictures on them. (My own father never failed to tsk-tsk when such a check crossed his desk, and even now in my 60s I cannot bring myself to use them.) This same correspondent told Madame Kathy that his dad criticized him for changing jobs too frequently, for painting his house an inappropriate shade and for selling certain stocks to invest in something else.

Another writer to Madame Kathy had to cut ties with her father after years of being micro managed on everything from spouse and career choice to birth control and health problems.

Still another writer told Madame Kathy of sitting in a church meeting while the older couple in charge of the Sunday School lesson that day lectured grown-ups on the proper way a successful businessman must part his hair, and on the evils of open-toes shoes for women. Sadly, they are probably someone’s mother and father, too.

Parents of adult children, ask yourself, is it really any of your business – the hair, the beard, the job, the wardrobe, the tattoo, the house paint, the investment strategy, the diet? Are you losing sleep over minutiae? Worse, are you willing to lose your child over such trivialities?

Bonni Brodnick, a lifestyle columnist for the Huffington Post, wrote about “When To Stop Nagging And Let 20 Somethings Grow Up.”   Brodnick describes a trip to Grandma’s with her adult children when she prided herself on ignoring the iPhones, uncombed hair, cracked nail polish, table manners and strange outfits. But her resolve crumbled when it came to the subject of thank-you notes to Granny for recent birthday presents. (What mother hasn’t risked all to raise this thorny issue?) To Brodnick’s surprise, the kids had already written their notes. That was the rest of the story.

Yes, parents, sometimes it is just nagging, masquerading as “concerned parenting.”  But, you say, what if my child’s faults are not trivial? The same rules apply. Listen for the rest of the story from their point of view. Can you honestly say you understand how difficult it is for them to kick an addiction, or get out of a bad relationship, or hold down a job, or parent children in their world?

From their perspective, does your nagging look less like concern and more like you covering your embarrassment over how they turned out? Do your differences with them amount to petty cultural or generational biases? How would your parenting change if you knew the rest of the story?

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