Cognitive Distortions: Advice, Help, Success, Failure

An interesting cognitive distortion just popped up on an estranged parents’ board in response to an article on getting along with your adult children. The article is a mother’s well-written account of how she learned to stop butting in and “fixing” her daughter’s problems when her daughter was a 21-year-old college student in another city. The mother’s takeaway is,

Before I offer solutions that are not relevant to my kids’ times or troubles, or warn them from hardship that could benefit them more than harm them, or say anything that starts with “Well, what I used to do,” I stop and consider: What would a neighbor say? Someone who is supportive but not intrusive, caring but not worried, and generous but not forceful with ideas?

What would a neighbor, who wanted to make sure she stayed in their lives, say?

I have become that neighbor, the one who is home at the right time, has time to listen and asks questions that might make things clearer to each of us. Above all, I am the neighbor who realizes that my children’s personal stake in the decisions they make is the only one that matters.

There are only two reactions on the forum so far, but they’re both pretty ripe:

More horrible advice! I’m not my kids’ neighbor! I’m their mother. I can’t imagine not telling my kids what they should do or even stepping in when they fail.

I understand that our adult children are going to make their own decisions, but what kind of mother would we be if we shrugged our shoulders and turned away from them in times of need?

If you can’t stop giving unwanted advice in the face of your adult children’s mounting annoyance, then you’re not going to have the sunniest relationship with them. If you step in when they fail–not wait to be asked for help, but step in of your own accord, which is what the article was about–then not only is your relationship going to be wanting, but you’re doing the #1 thing a parent can do to set their kid up for dependency. Both of these points are obvious, and it wouldn’t be surprising if later commenters gently disagree with the first two commenters.

But the interesting part is that both commenters jumped from “don’t give unwanted advice” to “don’t help when they fail.” The article never mentioned failure. It was absolutely, completely, 100% about stepping back and letting your kids handle everyday problems themselves. Where did the commenters’ assumption of failure come from? Do they think not nagging your kids leads naturally to your kids failing? Do they view the situation in terms so black and white that they don’t see the difference between advice and help, or between asked-for and unasked-for help? They rejected the article author’s advice because they read it as not allowing them to help their kids at all, so somewhere in the string of idea associations is a dysfunctional connection. What it is would be useful to know; how to snip it, priceless.

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