Very few parent-child relationships make it out of the teenage and young adult years without some battle scars.
We all have them!
This being said, there’s often some work that can be done to strengthen and/or repair even the strongest relationships between grown-up kids and their parents. Other than giving love, moral support and being an ally, one of the best things parents can do is to allow their adult kids to set up their own boundaries within the relationship. This is a time of profound emotional, spiritual and overall life development for young people, and finding your ‘sea-legs’ in the rocky waters of adulthood can mean temporarily pushing away from those closest to you. I’ve mentioned it before, as a parent you can say the same things to your kids over and over yet they never listen, but the minute an aunt, uncle or family friend mentions it to them all of a sudden they think it’s genius advice.
We just have to be there, waiting, respectful of our adult child’s autonomy, agency and hard work. It can be difficult to hold back, but letting them come back to you on their own terms is a way of acknowledging their adult freedom.
The rewards are things like having a front row seat to our children’s adult lives. There will be ups and downs and spectacular adventures, just as there has been in our own lives. If our adult children have grandkids, that can add a whole different and incredible range of emotions and possible futures. Some kids need more help raising their children than others, and some just need a babysitter from time to time. Being a grandparent is about the connection between you and your grandchild, and that is its own special relationship separate from your parent-child relationship.
There are some simple steps we can follow to help our relationships with our adult children:
Apologize – If you have been playing the parent too much, go to your adult child and tell her you have been too much like a parent and not enough like a friend. Tell her you are sorry for any problems this has caused. Then tell her that you would like to establish a new kind of relationship, and talk about how to do that.
Treat Your Adult Child As An Equal – Stop talking “down” to your child as if he were still ten years old. Assume that he is an equal and do not maintain the “one-up” position.
Assume Competence – Stop and think before you suggest what she “should” do. Does your comment assume that she is a big person now? Or does it suggest that only Mom or Dad knows how to live?
Respect Separation – “Leaving and cleaving” involves both space and freedom. Watch out for intruding or being hurt when your child is living out his right independence as an adult. He has a life now that has many parts that do not include you anymore, and you should have a life also.
Respect Freedom – A free adult makes choices of her own. Certainly you can have opinions about your friends’ choices, and you are free to voice them at times. But after you do, your friends are free to do what they want. Remember that you adult child is also free to make her own choices.
Live in Acceptance – Watch for guilt messages in your communications. If you are judging your adult child in guilt or shame or condemning ways, you are still playing the parent.