Parenting Adult Children: Think Progress, Not Perfection
“Mom, can I share something with you?”
This, coming from my 25-year-old daughter who seems quite upset about something.
“Of course, darling. What is it?”
Meanwhile, my heart starts to beat a bit faster. I tense up. My mind starts wondering if she’s pregnant or lost her job, or has relationship woes, etc.
And, the whole time she’s talking I’m mentally rehearsing, “Don’t give her advice. Don’t give her advice. Don’t give her advice!”
Now, this is a good reminder for me – a hands-on mom with adult children. The reason? Because I learned a couple of years ago that my grown children aren’t really wanting my advice most of the time.
I’m serious. They….Just…Don’t…Want…It.
You know what they want?
They want me to listen to them (when they do decide to share). That’s it.
They want me to listen and tell them that I HEAR them. They want to know that I can show up for them…be PRESENT for them without losing my mind and start flapping about “You NEED to do this and that!”.
They want to hear me say that I’m sorry they’re going through whatever has them in a tizzy, and I believe that they’ll be able to figure or work things out.
I know, I know. As a parent, this isn’t always easy to do. We’re used to having our say. We’re used to pretty much being able to “fix” the tough stuff.
Maybe it’s not a band aid over a skinned knee anymore, but we still feel like we’ve got parenting superhero powers, don’t we?
Most adult children want the opportunity to figure things out themselves, even if that means making a poor choice.
Their Life, Their Lessons, Their Timing
I want each of my adult children to be peaceful and happy. I’m sure that’s what all parents desire. But the reality is that our wishes don’t always manifest such things for them. Heck, most of us are still working on cultivating more of these joyful states in our own lives!
Six words have helped me learn to let go of much of my control over my adult children, or the thinking that I actually have control (because I don’t).
“Their life, their lessons, their timing.”
I’m telling you if you can say these words enough times to let them sink into your core, you’ll worry less. You won’t offer unsolicited advice as much, and your relationship with your adult children will be healthier. Better. More fulfilling.
Case and point.
“Mom, he’s increasingly becoming ruder to me. He even called me a (I can’t even say the type the word. It’s awful.)
Now, my daughter is simply venting to me. In fact, she asked me up front if she could vent.
After hearing this, I’m already thinking, “Honey, this has been going on for far too long. Your talks haven’t helped, he’s not willing to work on this, so you gotta get that sucker outta there pronto. The boundaries have been crossed time and time again, and he’s this and he’s that and well, you know you could do a whole lot better! You deserve better. You need to end that relationship!”
But that’s not what I say to her.
I’m mentally rehearsing: “Deep breath. Just listen. Her life, her lessons, her timing”.
Don’t get me wrong. I do offer “feedback” regularly. She’s already heard my spiel on boundaries and worthiness. She knows my take on professional therapy and “doing the work”.
But as I said, it’s her life. She’s got lessons to learn and they’ll happen in her timing; not mine.
I mean, if I look at my own life, it took me a long time to learn certain lessons. It didn’t matter what others told me…I had to learn these lessons when I was ready.
And so do our children.
Parenting Adult Children
The reality is that we are parents and as parents, we tend to know what our children need. We tend to want to be in charge even after they turn 18. I found myself just a few weeks ago while on family vacation taking over the grocery store trip with my son and daughter. I’d be like, “Well, why don’t you get this honey. I think you’d like it. And they’re like, “But I like this.” Or, “Nah, I don’t want that.”
And I caught myself and actually told them out loud: “I’m sorry. I’m acting like your eight. Get what you want honey.”
You know what? They appreciated hearing that.
They ARE grown up and can make their own choices.
Now, before I ramble on too much, let me finish up with a few more tips on parenting adult children. I’m not an expert, but I have learned a few things over the years. No doubt I’ll continue to learn.
Pray For Your Children
I can’t control what my children are doing or not doing, but I can pray for them. This helps me worry less, and I believe it helps them too.
Let Them Live Their Lives
Sure, we can share feedback and concerns with our children at times. We should, especially if we’re really concerned about something. Some parents keep quiet about everything, like the huge elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, and that’s not helpful either.
But for the most part, let your adult children live their lives just like we’re living ours, in freedom. They want to make their own choices, even if that means falling down a few times. Trust that they’ll learn valuable life lessons in due time.
Be A Good Role Model For Them
Some parents want a healthy relationship with their adult children, but the children avoid them because they’re tired of feeling controlled and manipulated. Be a good role model for your adult children. This means being the mature one, even if you feel neglected or hurt. This means deciding not to give them the silent treatment if things don’t pan out the way you want, or trying to make them feel guilty. Or pressuring them. Or revolving your life around them and expecting them to do the same.
Have solid and healthy boundaries set with your adult children. If you go to sleep at 9pm and your daughter wants to call you at 10pm because she’s bored night after night, set a boundary. If your son keeps asking you for money, yet he’s not working his tail off, set a boundary. Do not enable your adult children, as this will not benefit them or you.
Boundary setting takes practice. Some parents have a really tough time knowing what to do or not do when it comes to various things with their adult children. If you find yourself really struggling, read up on the topic. If your child is caught up in addiction to alcohol or drugs, consider attending a support group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. You’ll be able to learn how you can navigate your life without going crazy worried about your adult child. And, you’ll learn a lot about boundaries.
Love Them Unconditionally
This means loving them without conditions. It means accepting them whether they make the same poor choice five or ten times. Now, you don’t have to agree with their decisions or their lifestyle, but you can offer unconditional love – even if it has to be from afar.
I once heard this great saying: People in pain need more love; not less. It’s something to think about.
I’ll post more about this topic in another article, but let me close by saying our roles as parents of adult children is more about offering acceptance and unconditional love, while learning to release our grip on them.
It’s not always easy, but it’s helpful for them and us.
And, feel free to check out some books on the topic. I’ve found Parenting Your Adult Child by Ross Campbell and Gary Chapman to be quite good.
What do you think? What’s been most challenging for you as a parent of an adult child? Any advice for other parents?
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Dominica Applegate is an author, writer, and transpersonal spiritual teacher. Her teachings have helped millions of people experience emotional healing, relationship repair, and spiritual awakening. Earning her BA in Psychology and MA in Counseling, she worked 12 years in the mental health field before diving full-time into writing.
She runs Rediscovering Sacredness, an online portal that offers inspiration, essays, resources, and tools to help heal inner pain and experience more peace and joy.
Her books include Recycle Your Pain: It Has a Purpose, Into The Wild Shadow Work Journal, and a collection of poetry entitled, The Pain, It Shapes Her World.