7 Tips for Parenting Adult Children
“There are only two bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A Letter to My Grown Sons
Life has so many ways of teaching its lessons. The illusion of time has never been more apparent to me. It lives in my mind, as a moment ago, the time that I carried you in my womb. I shuffled around, unable to see my elephant-sized ankles or toes. I couldn’t keep my favorite treats down, yet I never once complained, not out loud or in my mind.
Back then, y’all used to dance to any note I hit. Every kick and swirl in my belly sent flutters of excitement to my heart. I knew the discomforts would be short-lived. I was carrying God’s plan and purpose; He would see everything through.
And He did. Even when my plate was full, you were babies, and working through my degrees, I remained optimistic. With my eyes burning from the lack of sleep, I told myself, soon, you would be all grown up. I would get all the rest I wanted; the height of delusion.
I wouldn’t be able to count the nights I have tried to use my own lullabies to get myself to sleep. Some nights I play out several hypothetical situations in my head. All about what you’re doing, who you’re with, and who might be having what influence on you. Other times I find peace in praying for you, remembering that you are greater than my worries.
Lately, the mental unrest hasn’t been the same. When you were toddlers, running around the house, I played a crucial role in your lives. If you looked unhappy for whatever reason, I would wave my wand and make the sadness go away.
The things that make you happy now are, in large, out of my control. Your relationships with friends and girlfriends, education, careers, hopes, and aspirations, are your choices now. This is precisely as it should be; you are young men now. While I relinquish control, I still battle with the instinct to protect you.
Your joy is my reveling as much as your pain gnaws at my heart. I am resting in the realization that being a mother to my grown men means being vested in your wellbeing for a lifetime. As we wade through this next part of our journey, compassion becomes a mutual necessity. None of us have been here or done this before, but I remain open to all the lessons I have and will learn for the glory of love.
Momma loves you.
Parenting Adult Children
Parenting has never been depicted as easy. There is an abundance of information available to prepare parents for the early years of child development through adolescence. The silence following this stage is awkward, yet this might just be the most fragile stage. Building a thriving relationship between a parent and adult children requires a new skill set (and you thought you were done).
1. Use Your Wisdom
Parents to younger children speak with both affection and annoyance at how much their children resemble them. It can come as quite a shock when they show how different they are and turn away from our advice. They may think they know a better way. Use your wisdom to determine why they will not take advice from you.
Sometimes unsolicited advice is not welcome by adult children. This includes passive-aggressive ways of sharing advice, such as guilt-tripping or inviting them to watch a movie based on the lesson you want them to learn. However, keep the lines of communication open. Give your advice without being critical, and say your piece with the understanding that they will ultimately make their own decisions. Explain to them that they do, in fact, have a choice in their decisions, and like all adults, decisions come with consequences, some good, some bad.
2. Respect Between Parents and Grown Children
As an adult, your child has already become who they are. Even if they don’t check in with you before they make decisions anymore, more often than not, they still want your approval. We show our approval of an adult child by respecting them. This includes respecting their choices, their time, their space.
Accept and celebrate the individuality of your adult child. Finding joy in connecting without conflict, whether you agree or disagree with their choices, fosters a mutual relationship of respect and trust.
3. Boundaries with Adult Children
Yes, boundaries are pivotal to a healthy relationship with adult children. Once again, this is a two-way street. You must set your boundaries and become attentive and respectful of your child.
For a parent, not having boundaries leads to feelings of resentment, even if you swallow it up. When children’s boundaries are not observed, they may start to avoid you.
4. No Judgment
As far as knowing right from wrong, as an adult, your child already knows. When your child feels comfortable being around you, they are more likely to tell you about what is really going on in their world.
Some of what you hear will make your insides turn; some will make you want to bury your head under a pillow. If you are going to remain or become their safe space, you will have to avoid judgment. Trust them to make the best decision for themselves – or mistakes to grow from.
The empty nest syndrome refers to a heavy time for many parents when children have left home. It isn’t only children leaving, but the end of the role you have been playing in each other’s lives. During the active parenting years, we may sacrifice a lot.
When children become adults, they need to know you are going on with your life. They want to see you happy with a life outside of them. You get to evolve as an individual, also as a parent. When the temptation to meddle arises, steer your efforts back to your own dreams and growth. Remember, they are still learning from you. Practice what you can no longer preach.
6. Spread Your Wings
By the time our children reach adulthood, we may have opened our homes to some of their friends. The relationships they form now will carry more weight than previous relationships. You cannot choose their friends, partners or determine their preferences.
Your relationship with your child will benefit from your ability to welcome their friends or significant other. Encourage healthy relationships without being pushy or judgmental. Let your child spread their wings and develop their relationships on their terms. And remember, you once were a young adult as well, and more than likely, you didn’t want your parents choosing your friends. So, let go, even if you feel you know best. The relationship may grow sour, but resist the temptation to say, “I told you so.” Instead, ask them how you can best support them, keeping in mind their boundaries and your own.
7. Play with Your Adult Children
Hopefully, you and your child will have some go-to activities that you love to do together. For some, it’s binge-watching a great series, shopping, or even signing up for a marathon. This is how adults play. Set up regular playdates with your child where you engage in enjoying each other.
These are not to be used as bait for interrogation or lecturing. More often than not, after a good play session, your child will bring up whatever is going on in their world on their own.
These tips to a healthy relationship between parents and their adult children are also necessary components during the foundational years. What is different is how these aspects will look in a dynamic involving two adults.
All these tips are products of love. Swaddling a baby gives them a sense of security as they adapt to a new reality. If a child is to remain swaddled forever, they will never crawl or walk. They will suffocate, and somewhere in the world, a drained parent will be wilting away, too. Let your love encourage growth, freedom and truth.
How do you deal with a disrespectful grown daughter/son?
Clearly set your boundaries. Do not accept any form of abuse. Also, evaluate the underlying cause for the hostility and attempt to have a conversation when both parties have cooled off.
How often do adult children see/visit their parents?
This will depend on the relationship between parent and child, as well as personalities and physical proximity. Children who grew up with their parents are more likely to visit more often, averaging once a week.
How much should a parent help their child financially?
Your child is still learning from you. Teach them not to spend more than they earn. Therefore, they need to earn and be accountable for whatever you lend them.
Tamecca Rogers, Ph.D., is an educator, director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Tulsa Technology Center, a children’s book author (www.inspirepublishingllc.com), and mom of three sons (two are adults).