Parenting adult children uses different skills and techniques than managing infants or small children. In his book, Doing Life With Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out, Jim Burns wrote, “The first forty years of parenting are the hardest.” Once you reach the empty nest phase, it’s good to read these guiding principles for parenting adult children so you can maintain and grow your relationships with your children and remain close.
Have fun connecting with your family!
No matter your children’s age, spending time together as a family is always a good idea. Plan fun activities with your adult children and their families using the Adventures from Scratch book. It’s packed with dozens of fun activities and gives you a place to document your memories. Put a date on the calendar once a month or each week and spend some time together doing something unique!
Understanding the Phase “Emerging Adulthood”
Jeffrey Arnett and Deeya Mitra were co-authors of the theory of emerging adulthood. This happens between the ages of 18 and 29 in Western cultures. It’s the time in life when humans feel real independence from their parents and families and start to carve their own paths in the world. Parents are letting go and removing themselves from the decision-making process, which can be challenging for all parties. Before we dive into the principles for parenting adult children, let’s look at some of the defining features of this phase in life to understand better.
There are five features apparent in emerging adulthood. These features might be present in other phases of life, but the studies showed that they were most prominent in adults between 18 and 25.
Young adults are exploring the possibilities for themselves when it comes to work, love, and worldviews. It’s a time to try out possibilities and develop a more definite identity. Values and beliefs will become more locked in during this phase and they will learn more about their capabilities and limitations.
Lives change frequently in young adulthood. While exploring possibilities in love and work, lives are constantly changing. The average American holds eight jobs between the ages of 18 and 29 and is figuring out where they want to live and settle.
This phase of life is done mostly solo. Marriages and children come later, so emerging adulthood is all about developing knowledge, skills, and self-understanding. People in their early 20s are making decisions in life and learning from mistakes. They learn more about how they live with roommates, what kind of relationship they are looking for, and what interests and hobbies they have.
Emerging adults are not teenagers, but they aren’t full-grown adults yet. Most people studied didn’t feel like they were full adults until they reached their late 20s or early 30s. It’s a phase where they are still making mistakes and taking risks. Most people have the feeling that it’s a transitional period of life.
During emerging adulthood, there is a feeling of optimism. There are many different paths that are possible for the future and so many unanswered questions. It’s a time when people expect to get what they want out of life.
Principles for Parenting Adult Children
In order to maintain a healthy relationship while parenting adult children, it’s important to understand that there’s a shift in the dynamics. Now that you know more about the emerging adulthood phase, you better understand what your children are feeling and going through. These guiding principles can help you navigate these relationships and offer support and love to your grown-up kids.
Shift your mindset and expectations as your children age.
As kids grow up, there’s less they rely on you for. It’s important to let go of some of your expectations that are no longer relevant. Teenagers sometimes turn to their friends for advice and emotional support instead of you. Prepare yourself for these transitions and talk to your spouse or friends for support during this transition because it can be challenging. Care for your own mental health and learn to keep an eye on them from afar.
The trick is finding the balance between being available to help them without crossing their invisible boundaries as they work to figure things out. It’s part of growing up, but it can be challenging for many parents who want to jump in at every step.
Communicate openly with your adult child about your feelings.
Once your children are grown, how you communicate with them can evolve. As adults, there will be more they can handle and understand. If you’re upset, you can be open to those feelings and communicate your feelings. By showing a little vulnerability, you’ll help encourage your children to do the same with you.
Good communication is essential for parenting adult children and maintaining a healthy relationship between you and your children. It’s a space where you can still have some influence and set an example. Check in with them and share simple things as well as big moments. Communicate with your kids the way you would like to be communicated with.
Practice active listening.
Active listening requires practice and focus. When young adults are navigating the world on their own for the first time, they may need a place to vent, and you can provide them with a listening ear. If your kids are experiencing hard times, avoid giving unsolicited advice. Just listen to them and ask questions. If they view you as a good listener and don’t feel like you are constantly interrupting or judging, they may even ask for your advice sometimes.
Practicing active listening will help you understand their point of view. You might have been through these struggles in the past, but each person experiences the world a bit differently, and it’s important that you hear them out without judgment.
Be supportive and accepting of the choices of your grown children.
Your adult children will make some decisions you don’t necessarily agree with. They might stray from your family’s religious beliefs or have values that differ from yours. It’s important that you work to respect and accept them even if you don’t agree with them.
One common area that some parents struggle with is the choice of significant others that some adult children bring around. In-laws can be tricky, but the person is becoming part of your family. Work to get to know the person and avoid making quick judgments. Search for the qualities that your child sees in the person.
Your adult children may also need their parent’s financial support even after adulthood. Offer help when you can. Support their goals and aspirations even if they’re not the path you would have selected. Be a cheerleader and emotional support; they will appreciate having you in their corner.
Don’t push the topic of grandkids.
If you have an adult daughter or daughter-in-law, don’t mention grandchildren whenever you see them. It’s okay to be excited about the prospects of becoming a grandparent, but no adults want their parents constantly pressuring them to embark on the journey of parenthood before they are ready. You also might not be aware of the couple’s infertility struggles or other challenges. Allow it to happen when it happens.
Stay in your grandparent lane.
Being a grandparent is the biggest legacy many will leave on this earth, so if you get the privilege to become one, enjoy it. At the same time, make sure you aren’t overstepping. Grandparents are great resources for occasional childcare, fun activities, and additional love and support for the child. You don’t want to jump in and step on the toes of the new parents. Sometimes, your children will come to you for advice, but they are drinking from a fire hose as new parents and aren’t looking for everyone’s opinions on every decision they make.
Ask your children how you can help and then show up in those ways. Read up on the latest information so you know what your children are reading. Accept the rules that your children lay out about routines. They are in charge, and if you don’t respect them, you might not get to spend much time with your grandchildren.
Encourage independence and respect their autonomy.
As children grow up, they become less and less dependent on their parents and start to live their own lives and make their own decisions. That means you’ve done your job as a parent. There are some things you can focus on during the high school years to set them up for success and independence. Teach them life skills like the basics of budgeting, household tasks, and managing errands and chores.
Once they’re out of your house and in college or working full time, they will learn some lessons on their own. Respect their autonomy and encourage them to be independent. You can’t prepare them for every single thing that might happen and that’s part of growing up. Avoid being in the weeds with them or being too overbearing.
Set boundaries to protect everyone.
Boundaries are a tool that will help everyone in this transition and maintain a healthy relationship. We mentioned respecting your adult kid’s independence, but you should set your own ground rules as well. Communicate your boundaries with your kids and make sure they understand and respect them. They are no longer your “roommates” when they have their own homes, so you can decide when they stop by and how much they can raid your kitchen. It’s just important to clearly communicate so there are no misunderstandings.
Take a walk down memory lane.
One of the most beautiful parts of parenting is watching your kids hit all the big milestones and celebrating those moments with them. Relive these moments with your grown-up kids to help reinforce your bonds. Your children won’t remember all the details that you will because they were small, so it can be fun for them to hear the stories and learn more about their life moments. Plus, there might have been some behind-the-scenes moments that weren’t appropriate to share with them when they were children and you can bond over those things now.
Pull out all the old photos and videos and invite your children over for a walk down memory lane. It doesn’t make sense for all the memories to be locked away in a storage unit. It’s best to share the stories right now and pass them on.
Embrace the benefits of an empty nest.
If you’ve recently become an empty nester, there might be a whirl of emotions happening for you. It’s a new phase of life, and it’s beautiful and challenging at the same time. You’ve been used to someone relying on you for so much for the last few decades and now you find yourself with more time and freedom. It’s a good time to focus on your own well-being and health and put yourself first.
Make a list of the hobbies and activities you enjoy or have been wanting to try. Check this list often and add these fun activities to your routine. Sign up for classes and learn new things. Join community groups and meet new people. It’s important to get out there and enjoy your new freedom that comes with becoming an empty nester. It will help you keep your mind occupied, so you will worry less about your kids. It’s also good to seek out others who are going through the same thing so you have a support system.
Show your gratitude and appreciation.
Throughout parenthood, you’ve been used to cheering your children on at sporting events, theater productions, and any accomplishment at school or home. Don’t stop doing this when your kids grow up and move out. Accomplishments and life milestones get bigger as you grow up, so your kids deserve shoutouts when they get a new job or buy their first home.
In addition to celebrating milestone moments, be grateful and show appreciation for the simple things. Tell your kids how much you love them. Point out their positive qualities and celebrate them. Adults need encouragement and acts of gratitude as much as young children and it can help boost your overall relationship. Show support and appreciation and your adults kids will be more likely to return the favor to you.
Keep the welcome mat out.
Like the name of the book we quoted in the first paragraph, it’s important to keep your welcome mat rolled out. If you and your grown children face estrangement at any point, it’s important that you remain open to welcoming them back into your home when the opportunity comes up. They’ll run into tough moments in life and it’s good for them to know there is a safe space in your home that they can return to.
Remind them often that you are always there for support and love. When they need a boost or a little extra love, they will remember that your arms are open and return to you. Even if you are never estranged, the relationship will ebb and flow and sometimes you will chat with each other more often than others.
Continue to seek out advice and support.
Parenting your grown children can be a challenge. As kids grow up, they form their own opinions and develop their own personalities and parents don’t have the same type of influence anymore. Talk to your friends who are growing through this same phase of life or have recently gone through it. You’ve probably connected with the parents of your child’s friends and they might become your closest support system during this time.
There are also many podcasts and books about empty nest syndrome and developing healthy relationships with your adult children. Remain open to advice and ideas. It’s a tricky time and managing family relationships can be difficult. Talk to a therapist, family counselor, or other mental health professional if you are having a hard time. You aren’t the first person to go through this, so take advantage of the other stories and experiences that you can tap into.
Learn to use technology and communication tools.
Cell phones are used for just about everything today, and technology is rapidly changing. One of the easiest ways to stay in touch with family members and friends is through technology, like FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype. If you aren’t comfortable utilizing the tech tools at your fingertips, sign up for a class at your local library and practice using the features on your phone and computer.
Putting in this effort will go a long way with your adult children and grandchildren. Make yourself easy to communicate with in text messages and you’ll hear from them much more. Older generations get a bad reputation for being out of touch with technology, so do a little work on your part to fight that stereotype and stay up to date on the newest features of your cell phone.
Closing Thoughts on Parenting Adult Children
Each family has their own unique dynamics and individual circumstances, so some of these principles might work for you, and others might not when it comes to parenting adult children. Always keep an open mind and be as self-aware as possible. You can only control your own actions and reactions, so be gracious and enjoy this new phase of life with your family. From family reunions to simple family dinners, these are the moments you will cherish.
Frequently Asked Questions
When parenting adult children, stepping back and allowing them some independence is important. Boundaries should be established through open communication with one another.
Estrangements happen sometimes between families, especially when parenting adult children. Keep your door open for a reunion and accept responsibility for your parts in any arguments or disagreements.
Empty nest syndrome happens when people transition from children at home to parenting adult children. Try filling your schedule with hobbies you enjoy and try new things to embrace this new phase of life.
Parenting adult children requires boundaries. New grandparents need to defer to the parents on rules. For example, plan visits in advance and stick to those times and dates.
Put a recurring day on the calendar so that everyone can plan and do fun activities. For ideas, grab a copy of Adventures from Scratch with dozens of ideas.