SOURCE: Adapted from the book, Once a Parent Always a Parent by Stephen Bly
(The following are notes excerpted from the source book for a workshop on how to parent and relate to adult children.)
Many have adult children at home?
Many have adult children out of the house?
Many have adult children that are in the process of returning home?
Sometime when our children are between the ages of 18 – 20, a dramatic turn of events takes place in our parenting. Dr. James Dobson (with Focus on the Family) calls it our “final release from parental responsibility”; that is, we have completed the task of our responsibility for our children’s day-to-day behavior.
That is when we let them go. “We are given 18 or 20 years to interject the proper values and attitudes,” Dobson says, “then we must take our hands off and trust in divine leadership to influence the outcome.”
The parental role changes drastically at this time, but it has not been eliminated. As long as we live, we will be much more to our children than simply friends, counselors, or encouragers. We will always be Mom & Dad.
Our obligations to them change quite dramatically, however. Up to this point, we have interjected our parenting into their lives in decreasing levels of intensity. But from this point on we must stop altogether. The adult child must now be the one to determine when and where our love, wisdom, and skills are needed.
Many parents look forward to the empty nest. However, for many parents, the empty nest is a myth. Some parents shudder at the thought that the nest will never become empty. Many can feel resigned, maybe angry, and sometimes like failures…or even just trapped. Sometimes, the nest is more than full, it’s CROWDED! The bottom line is our roles will certainly change and vary with age and circumstances, but we will always be parents. And, in some sense, our job is never finished.
*THE CROWDED NEST – WHEN ADULT CHILDREN LIVE AT HOME
PRI – Premarital Residential Independence
RYAS – Returning Young Adult Syndrome
ILYA – Incompletely Launched Young Adults
First, if you have adult children at home, relax. It’s a common practice. Research data indicate that, among midlife parents (age 45-54) who have adult children, about half have an adult child living at home. Second, if you have adult children at home, it is not necessarily a sign of failure.
Why Adult Children Come Home:
– Economics – college, graduate school, spiraling education costs; slow job market; inadequate salary; saving for buying a home, etc;
– Marriage Deterioration – divorce or separation;
(Adult children seek a place that provides security, stability, and acceptance –>home.)
– Career Changes
– The Comfort-of-Home-Factor
(Some children are in no hurry to abandon the comfort of the world we have created for them.)
Six Problems to Anticipate When Adult Children Return Home
(Chances are, your patterns of settling differences with your adult children will be very similar to what it was when they were teenagers.)
– Increased Need for Privacy
(Big people take up more space than little people and have more stuff; they stay up later; they begin their free times later; they have friends over later who stay longer.)
– Continuing Sibling Rivalry
“It isn’t fair.” “Mom and Dad are spoiling him/her.”
(There will be rivalry between your resident adult child and your nonresident adult child.)
– Disagreement Over Finances
(More people cost more. Consider incremental costs and extend these costs out over a year…two years….money can become a source of serious contention.)
– Extra Tension Between Mom & Dad
(Mom and Dad might not agree on whether they should allow the adult child to move back at all. They may not agree about what the rules should be once the adult child moves back. Most often, it seems fathers see resident adult children as some sort of failure, while mothers view them as kids who still need mothering.)
– Serious Strain in Households with Returning Stepchildren and in Single-Parent households
(If there has been conflict between a parent and a step-child (ren), it can be tolerated because parents hope for relief when stepchildren reach the age to seek independent residence. BUT what if the stepchild does NOT move out…..or moves BACK? In a single parent situation, a returning child can cause an emotional and financial burden difficult to bear.)
It is helpful to understand the potential sources of conflict that can occur in a crowded nest, but it can work. While always striving for the biblical goal of independence for our children, we can still enjoy the benefits that come along with the strain of having an adult child at home.
Building the Family WITH Resident Adult Children
– Talk More But Don’t Yell
(Weekly family council meetings might be a good forum where the entire family sits down and discusses how things are going. Any subject can be approached. Any subject can be offered. No yelling…No insults…Just open talk.)
– Divide the Tasks and Expenses
(Negotiate roles and responsibilities in the context of a “shared household.” Who is going to do what when?)
-Plan Together Where All of This is Leading
(It is important to discuss what the long-term goals might be for the present living condition. Having a plan does not guarantee it will be completed, but it does unite all parties around a common goal.)
– Spend Time Playing Together
(Find ways to have fun with your adult child. Parental satisfaction with co-residence appears to be highest when parents are involved with adult children in pleasurable activities. Don’t allow your home to be a lonely place, merely a room and a bed, for your resident adult child.)
-Times to Say “NO” to adult children
+Refuses to recognize your authority over the home;
+Is physically abusive
+Is verbally abusive
+Is using your home merely to avoid facing any unresolved situation such as responsibilities of life, mar4riage difficulties
+Abuses or is addicted to drugs/alcohol and refuses treatment
+Repeatedly steals or destroys your belongings
MARRYING THEM OFF
Wait until your son/daughter stands at the altar, pledging vows to some other person. He’s not the baby anymore. She’s not Daddy’s little girl. And, you are certainly not the focus of your grown-up child’s attention.
A constant question for parents is at what point should we attempt to stop living out our plans for their lives and let them begin to discover their own. How can we give advice, ask the right questions, and let them think through what they are planning to do?
Mate Selection Questions The Adult Child Should Consider
– Does This Person Bring Out Your Best Behavior?
(This should be true whether your child is 20 or 40.)
– Do You Enjoy Being Around His/Her Relatives?
– Do You Have Compatible Views on Sex, Money, and Religion?
– Can You Love This Person for a Lifetime, Even If He or She Never Changes?
– Do You and Your Prospective Mate View Each Other As Equals?
– Is Your Prospective Mate Serious Enough To Make A Long-Term Commitment?
– Do You and Your Prospective Mate Understand Each Other’s Goals?
Four Crucial Times To Talk To Your Adult Child About His/Her Upcoming Marriage
– When You Have Reasonable Concern About the Mate Selected
(Make sure your child understands the difficulties ahead.)
– When Your Friends/Family Are Asking Why Your Adult Child Isn’t Married Yet
(If anyone is nagged into marriage by worried parents/friends, that person’s marriage will have a very weak foundation. Single adult children are just as delightful, fun, interesting, and successful as married ones. Let your adult children know you love them the way they are…single or married.)
– When It Is Time To Begin Planning The Wedding Service
(Many times the first major arguments between an adult daughter and her mother is about the wedding service. Parents see this as the last big hurrah they can provide for their adult children, and the adult children see this as one of the first events in adult life they get to plan the way they desire. Remember, learn to advise and ask the right questions to guide their thinking.)
– When Your Adult Child Is Marrying For the Second (+) Time
(Have frank discussions about the wisdom of waiting…that you love them in spite of divorce…..discuss how the relationship will be with the former daughter/son-in-law…how you will grandparent your grandchildren….how the new adult child’s spouse will be treated as a first-class member of the family….let everyone know they are in your prayers continually.)
Being parents of adult children usually hits it highest intensity when your adult child marries or remarries.
DO YOU STILL KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE?
How do we learn to “worry” about our adult kids in a nice, healthy way?
How much should we, as parents, be aware of our adult children’s comings and goings?
We need to be involved and aware to be a healthy constant factor/presence in their routine family life….BUT…trying to know where they are all the time and involved in the details of their lives opens us up to being a pest.
Guidelines For Communication
– Assume It Is As Much Your Responsibility As It Is Theirs To Keep The Friendship Growing With Your Adult Children
– Develop A Communication Routine With Your Adult Children, And Be Careful About Keeping It.
(Consider letter writing, fun activities, evenings out, holidays, family meals, and phone calls)
– Adapt The Communication Routine To Best Fit The Individual Needs Of Each Child
– Special Times For Contact:
* Change of vocations, job positions, etc
* Participation in their favorite hobby, tournament, competition, interest, special event
* Purchase of something major such as a house, swimming pool, piano, etc.
* Receiving an honor, award, achievement
* Times of serious illness or an accident
* Experiencing failure or disappointment or setbacks
* Events involving grandchildren
Showing You Care
– Let Them Know Where You Are And What You Are Doing
– Let Them Know You Keep Up With Them And Their Activities
– Have A Regular Prayer Time For Your Adult Children, And Let Them Know
– Ask Their Advice Given Their Expertise
– Display Current Photos
– Keep Their Treasures
(Not the 97 broken crayons and the box containing only half of the puzzle pieces)
– Enjoy Your Adult Children’s Friends
– Say “I Love You”
– Participate In Their Adventures, Interests
– Show Support In Times Of Successes And Struggles
– Don’t Let Them Get Away With Sin
This is the tough one!
We all have times we need to be lovingly confronted….do so with patience and instruction….letting them know you are not perfect. Don’t make enemies…the goal of confrontation is a loving, biblical lifestyle and relationship.
LENDING MONEY WITHOUT GOING BROKE
– Get Yourself In Good Financial Shape First.
– Distinguish Clearly Between Gifts And Loans
(Gifts should be gifts with no strings attached and no payments due. You can give your adult child your vast wisdom about how to use it, but the gift is all theirs.)
– Put All Loans Of Any Significant Amount In Writing
(Loans should be based on more than just memory.)
– Make Sure You and Your Mate Completely Agree.
(Agreement in parenting is an extremely important factor whether your kids are 5 or 50.)
– Make Sure Everyone Understands The Strings That Might Be Attached
(Everyone must understand the details…all assumptions must be written down….any particular requirements must be noted.)
– When You Just Don’t Have Money To Spare, Or When You Think Assisting With Money Is The Wrong Thing To Do, Help Your Children Find Another Solution
(Maybe you could help them find a used car instead of a new car….maybe selling something to raise the cash…maybe getting an extra job instead of a loan.)
– As Parents, Understand And Uphold A Biblical View Of Money
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil….Let your character be free from the love of money….being content with what you have….
There’s more to family life than trying to take care of every monetary need your adult children might have. Parents are not the cavalry ready to rescue adult children from every financial pinch. Our kids are on their own. They need to learn to pray and pay their way, budget their funds, live within their means. But, at the same time, why in the world have we worked so hard for so long if we can’t enjoy using part of our income to help out our own kids?
The Key is BALANCE and BOUNDARIES.
SAYING “NO” TO OUR ADULT CHILDREN IN A HEALTHY WAY
We all have times when we just have to say “no.” Some decisions are quite simple. Many are not.
Four Important Things To Do Before You Give Your Answer
(Make sure you have heard the whole story. Maybe the real need takes a while to surface.)
(Ask, “How much time do I have to think about this before you need an answer?” Don’t just say “yes.” Don’t just say, “You must be kidding.”)
(Talk over the situation carefully with your mate.)
(There is higher knowledge..and divine wisdom…take time to talk to God.)
When you heart tells you one thing and your mind tells you something else, let your spirit cast the deciding vote. Your decision, whether yes or no, should be one that you feel at ease with in the presence of God.
Characteristics Of A Nice “NO”
– Be Reasonable
(Your answer should come with good reasons to support it, and it should be open to reasonable questions. Reasonable does not necessarily mean that your children will agree with the reasons. Reasonable does not mean you are always right. Reasonable does not remove the ability to change your mind. Reasonable means you thought it over carefully and acted upon your best wisdom at that particular moment.)
– Be Gentle
(Put forth an answer that coveys the feeling of tenderness and compassion.)
– Be Distinct
(Jesus said we should let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no. Make your “yes” indisputable. Make your “no” crystal clear.)
– Be Edifying
(Edification means that your words helped another person’s moral, intellectual, or spiritual improvement. How will saying “no” help them understand and benefit from this? By setting boundaries, coming up with alternative solutions, by giving solid, reasonable information.)
– Be Peaceful And Strengthening
(But “no” is such a pessimistic word??? They will get mad if I tell them “no.!!!”
Remember, that peace and strength are much more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is confident assurance that God is still in control in the midst of conflict. Strength is the ability to endure a tough situation and come out of it tougher than you were before. Both characteristics assume conflict and trial. Sometimes saying “no” is just what our children need to toughen them up. In facing up to the dilemma, they can find peace and strength.)
– Be Concerned About Long-Term Goals
(Proper behavior when your children are old is a long-term goal. If saying “yes “would enable a behavior or lifestyle or decision that is ultimately harmful to them and their children, perhaps the answer is “no.” Example: “Could you loan us the money to buy the boat so we can spend weekends at the lake?” Maybe you know this would perhaps enable them to never come to church.)
WHEN ADULT CHILDREN FAIL
What do you do when adult children reject moral, social, and spiritual wisdom and choose a life that is totally unacceptable?
* A Good Environment Does Not Ensure Perfect Children.
(Consider the Garden of Eden….The Prodigal Son)
* There Are No Perfect People
* All People Are Responsible For Their Own Actions
* All People (even our adult children) Are Capable Of Totally Unreasonable Actions
* Behavior Does Not Necessarily Reflect Home Environment
* Eventually We Have To Allow Our Adult Children To Make Their Own Choices
* Make Sure Adult Children Know The Door To Home Is Never Completely Shut
* Make Sure Adult Children Know There Is A Longing To Forgive
(This does not mean they are let off the hook of personal responsibility. No does it mean they can blame others or the devil that a particular behavior is sin. But we are determined to see him/her through one way or another.)
* Make Sure Adult Children See An Open Display Of Compassion
(Many times for fallen adult children, parents are sometimes their last hope.)
* Make Sure All Adult Children Have Explanations When They Don’t Understand Your Decisions
(It is the adult child’s sibling that has the hardest time understanding.)
* Make Sure More Emphasis Is Placed On Relationship Than On Finances Or Material Possessions
(The more serious the offense committed, the more difficult it is to forgive. The less repentant the offender, the more difficult the act of forgiveness. Truly repentant children, no matter what the acts committed, need your forgiveness almost as much as they need God’s forgiveness. And true repentance of sin (that is repentance that leads to a change of behavior) is always accepted by God.)
But what about those tough cases where there is no repentance? We must do our share and trust in God’s empowerment as we live with the burden of incomplete relationships until they are ready to repent of their failure
* Parents Can Not Give Up
(Keep praying, seeking counsel, reading, setting boundaries, exploring alternatives that might work, but keep your heart and home open.)
* Parents Can Not Cut Off All Contact
( Look for the little things…the exceptions…the meager attempts that you can use to capitalize on and reinforce the type of behavior that will be beneficial.)
* Parents Can Not Negate The Sin
(There is right…there is wrong…and even the best raised children do wrong.)
* Parents Can Not Reverse The Damage
(You can’t prevent circumstances and consequences from taking place. You can’t always protect the grandchildren from psychological harm.)
Forgiveness is not the end of the story. Forgiveness is not the last step in reestablishing a relationship. It is the first.