I was talking to another dad recently. We were comparing notes. Both of us are empty nesters. We recognized—equally—that being the parent of adult children is sometimes more difficult than when the children are still at home.
That’s hard for some parents with teenage children to believe—isn’t it?
Or the parent with multiple children still in diapers—right?
But, it is—sometimes.
When adult children leave the home, you don’t have much control over their lives—you are no longer “raising” them—you influence them.
The “raising” part was mostly done when they graduated from high school. Maybe even when they got their driver’s license. Parenting moves primarily to influencing when they are away from you more than with you and when they can pretty much do what they want to do when they are away from you.
That’s why it’s important to grab their heart early so your influence sticks. And still, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t and there’s little you can do about that when they are on their own. But it doesn’t lower your concern for them, your desire to help them or your thoughts about them—hence the hardness at times.
So, what should the parents of adult children do?
Well, I’m still fairly new at this one. And I’m learning, but I have learned a few things. And I’ve learned a few more from countless hours spent with other people’s adult children. And the parents of adult children who are struggling with their adult children.
I can’t tell you how many strained relationships, bitterness, hurt and even anger I’ve witnessed over the years with adult children. I know some young adults who, though they still speak, avoid their parents’ influence because of the way it has been offered to them. I know some parents of adult children who are miserable watching their adult children make bad decisions, but not knowing how to reach them.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my two adult children. They are two of my best friends. But I’m careful. I want to protect my influence in their life. And I know the lines are delicate at times.
So, I offer these thoughts with reservation—knowing that I don’t know it all—but I do have some “experienced” thoughts.
Here are seven suggestions for parenting adult children:
Speak reservedly. Don’t share every opinion you have about how they should be handling their life. That’s a key word. It’s “their” life. And they may not tell you in so many words, but most adult children want to live their life. Just like you probably want to live yours. You can share on occasion—especially when asked or you know they are about to make a major mistake—but if you share everything, it will eventually be noise, not influence, in their life.
Model. Be the more mature one in the relationship. That makes sense, right? You’ve got more experience; shouldn’t you have more maturity? I’ve known parents who give the silent treatment to their adult children because they didn’t call when they should or perform as they expected. Is that the mature response? And does it work? It may guilt a response but it doesn’t promote growth and health in the relationship. Model the behavior you think your adult children should have. They will likely follow actions more than words.