As founders we all want our children to be happy and successful, but when kids have aged into adults we hope they are grateful for opportunity and don’t take advantage of our generosity. When kids have always received something, whether it is money, assets or help, they can come to expect it. A sense of entitlement can result and then lead to conflict when parents attempt to set limits on their support.
In the worst-case scenarios, adult children can begin acting like spoiled two-year-olds, throwing fits and demanding what they want. The parents may cave into the spoiled adult children’s actions, allowing the destructive behaviour to continue. When parents allow children to behave poorly and take advantage of their kindness and goodwill, it sucks energy from the farm team. Unless someone calls your children on their immature behaviour, they may fail to thrive in other parts of their lives. Marital struggles may result if they feel others should take care of them, and they refuse to take responsibility for their own lives.
Here’s some healthy approaches for you to consider:
The first step is to be aware of what is going on and realize that there are other ways of interacting.
- Identify the problem you are facing. Name it.
- Talk directly with your children, and their spouses about your concerns.
- Have regular family meetings with an agenda to discuss issues. Ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their concerns heard. Ask everyone to be prepared to talk and listen with respect. Use a talking stick like a stuffed toy. The person holding the toy gets to speak without interruption.
- Yelling doesn’t have to happen. There are other ways to communicate. Raised voices are usually a result of exasperation, anger, or feeling powerless. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to frustration. If you find yourself yelling, ask yourself, “Why am I yelling?” If someone is yelling at you, ask them, “Why are you yelling?” You can ask them to stop yelling or choose to talk to them later when they are speaking more respectfully.
- Crying can be an honest expression of sadness or joy, but it can also be used as a tool to manipulate others through guilt. When someone is crying, it may help to ask, “What is this really about?” and allow the other person to answer.
- Farm founders do not need to accept bullying from their children. I have seen this happen recently where the parents have forgotten who worked hard for four decades to build up the farm. Parents get to choose how to transfer their assets. There is no obligation for founders to give any of their assets to their adult children (unless it is part of the compensation package for the adult child who has been working alongside you without full compensation or some other legal obligation).
I am seeing an increase of widows who own land being bullied by their non-farming children. This needs to stop. Draw on your trusted advisers to help you facilitate some tough conversations with pushy adult children.
- Choose only to interact when people are speaking to you in a respectful tone of voice and manner. Set timelines or deadlines as to when you need a response; for example, “You need to get back to me about this by tomorrow at noon.”
- Before you dive into a conversation with your children, daughter-in-law (DIL) or son-in-law (SIL), it is important to figure out what you are willing to negotiate, what is flexible, and what is non-negotiable. You may want to write these things down, and use it as a script at your family meeting.
- Adult children can be masters at driving a wedge between parents, so be prepared as a couple to present a united front. Farm founders should also make sure that they aren’t pitting children against each other.
- Consider the fact that if you are unable to work well together with your adult children, they may need to find other options for working elsewhere in a joint venture with a non-family member.
- Treat your adult children, DILs, and SILs as adults and expect them to act as adults. Some may no longer like being called “the kids.” You get the behaviour you accept.
- It’s OK for you as founders and parents to change the level of support or the type of support you give your adult children and their spouses. Circumstances change, and in tough weather seasons like the fall of 2018, you may have to make some financial shifts to meet payments. What do you need to let go of?
- The DIL or SIL may have been raised with different expectations around parental support or inheritance. In-laws may be able and willing to give a different level or type of support to a child and his/her spouse than the other side of the family. Remember, “different is not wrong, it is just different.” No judgment.
- Look at what other farm families are doing to get an idea about what might fall into the realm of “normal and reasonable.” You don’t have to copy the neighbours, but it will likely help give you perspective on creating solutions. You might be surprised to find that parents don’t need to bail out children when they make poor choices or overspend, or that no one else in the neighbourhood is still washing their 30-year-old’s clothing for them.
Does any of this resonate with you? If so, start by identifying two things that you need to work on so that your household can function in a healthy way. It’s OK to say “enough is enough” and put your foot down. Set some tough-love boundaries and stop enabling your adult child to keep acting childish.
Be aware that mental illness may also be a factor in poor behaviour. Recognize the signs of depression or ask your local mental health worker and doctor for insight.
Avoiding the tough conversations will not help your farm or family thrive.