When you held that tiny baby in your arms and your heart overflowed with an unconditional love, you probably never thought you would read an article like this. It can be pretty surreal to discover you are the parent of an adult child. Your roles have changed for good. They no longer come running to you when they skin their knees, or someone calls them a name at school. They are adults. Full grown, mature adults.
With the dynamics in your relationship changing, it can sometimes be hard to know what the rules are. If you can’t phone their work to give their boss heck for being so mean to them, how will they ever know you love them?
It actually isn’t complicated, but it will require you to be aware of what you say and do and how you interact with your child.
This might seem a bit simple at first glance, but it can harder than you think. Listening to your adult child, and I mean really listening, is a skill.
Don’t listen to them talk about their lives while formulating in your head what you plan to say next. You might have their problems all figured out, but that isn’t—may not be—what they want from you.
Give them your undivided attention, listen to what they have to say, and watch your relationship grow.
They say that actions speak louder than words and nothing has more volume than respect. Respect is defined as “a due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.”
In practical ways, it means acknowledging that your adult child is a separate individual from you. Don’t try to negate their feelings or their wishes by telling them what you think they should do or how they should feel.
If they are sad their significant other broke up with them, don’t tell them feeling sad is a waste of time. If they decide they don’t want to have children, don’t tell them they’re being selfish and they’ll regret it.
If they decide they want their family to open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning (heathens!) that is their right. (Don’t miss this real-life question about parental pressure during the holidays, submitted by an adult child to Dr. Zoe!)
Be Their Cheerleader
Wouldn’t it be great to have someone in your life that acts as your cheerleader? Who encourages you, affirms you, and is there with unconditional support? Be that person for your adult child.
You may not always agree with the decisions they make, but you want them to do well, so be their encourager.
Spend Time with Them
One of the complaints many parents of adult children have is that they don’t see their child enough. Maybe they don’t stop by to say hi as often as you would like, or their phone calls are few and far between.
You’re feeling left out, even though you know it’s only natural that they move on and forge a new life for themselves. So maybe it’s a bit frustrating to have someone tell you to spend more time with them in order to show your love.
But, a common mistake parents make is they want their child to engage with them in a certain way. Their way. But maybe it’s time to take a look at how you might be able to spend time with them on their terms? This goes hand in hand with respect and listening.
Maybe they have commented how hard they are finding juggling the new baby and a high-pressure job. What about offering to come over and make some freezer meals? They don’t need to help, but they will be there, and you will be in their life. Moving? Offer to help. Do they love to garden? Offer to help weed one afternoon.
On their birthday, tell them you would like to treat them to a lunch or a dinner. If they can’t get a sitter, tell them to bring the kids. Or if they don’t have time, ask them if you can bring pizza over one night. Get creative and meet them where they are, rather than expecting them to accommodate you.
One caution—make sure that your offers are given freely and not with strings attached. Don’t offer to make a meal so you can tsk-tsk the state of their kitchen or take over their garden rather than helping.
For many people, this part seems counter-intuitive. Often, people confuse setting boundaries with tough love. Nothing could be further from the truth. By setting clear boundaries with your adult child, you are sending the message that you love and respect them.
If you don’t have boundaries established, you may revert to treating them like the child they used to be. And treating an adult like a small child is disrespectful.
Once you decide on your boundaries, make sure you communicate them clearly to your child. If you don’t want to be your grandchild’s babysitter, tell them. If you want to hear from them once a week, ask them.
Your role is no longer to tell, argue, or direct. The boundaries between you and your adult child are in place to respect both your autonomy. When in doubt, ask yourself if you would act or say the same things if this person was your friend and not your child. [Learn more about healthy boundaries in this episode of our podcast This Grit and Grace Life: Want to Be a Strong Woman? Set Healthy Boundaries – 103]
Say I love You
Yup, when all else fails, and you want to tell your adult child you love them; tell them. Maybe they act embarrassed and uncomfortable? Too bad. There is no one in the world who doesn’t need to hear they are loved. If it makes them very uncomfortable for some reason, send them an “I love you” text, or email, or voice message. Send them a card for no reason, or a letter.
When your child was small, you knew it was important that they felt loved and accepted. For some reason, as our children grow up, we tend to forget that they still need to know they are loved. Take the time to show your adult child so you can continue having a great relationship with them, or even establish one for the first time.
Mom, check out these related articles to be encouraged:
Parenting Adult Children—The Great Shift of Motherhood
To the Mom Who Feels Like It Never Ends
Ask Dr. Zoe – Family Pressure During the Holidays
Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace Life
Raising Great Girls: How to Do the Job with Darlene Brock
Are You Worried Your Prodigal Will Never Return?
5 Tips for Mending Fences in Your Relationships
10 Secrets Ever Mother of the Bride or Groom Should Know
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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: How Can You Raise Great Girls? Darlene’s Daughters Tell All – 054!