Five Ways to Build the Relationship You Want With Your Adult Children

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell
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One of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a parent is making the transition from parenting your children to establishing a healthy relationship with your adult children. You really don’t parent adult kids per se, but if you work to cultivate your relationship, you may win their hearts as a coveted encourager, a trusted advisor, and a faithful friend. So how do you build a strong relationship with your adult children? Here are five tips.

1. Remember Who You’re Dealing With

Your kids are not like you. Adjust your expectations. Millennials and their younger siblings, the members of Gen Z, may appear choosy and even entitled because they want everything individualized. Their concept of a career may involve a lot of job hopping (which may look bad to you) because they want to do meaningful work in an independent environment. They don’t trust systems and institutions, and they question everything. (Don’t get defensive or take their questioning personally!) Keep in mind the fundamental differences between males and females when communicating with your adult children. When we talk to our sons, we get a good, factual run-down of what’s going on in their lives. When our daughter calls, usually she’s feeling an extreme emotion and just needs to express her feelings. Also, keep in mind that the relationship you have with your kids who are single and those that are married will be different. Respect the boundaries that marriage represents and work on your relationship with your child’s spouse.

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2. Stay in Contact Using “Little Touches”

We stay in touch with our adult kids through something we call “little touches”—intermittent texts of things like Bible verses, photos of things they’d find amusing, and topics of shared interest. (My husband and sons text throughout every Dallas Cowboys football game!) It’s healthy for your kids to know you have your own fulfilling life, so you needn’t respond to every text right away. In fact, it might make you seem a little more interesting if you don’t. Learn not to take their occasional non-replies personally. Most importantly, remember that emotional neediness is a big no-no when you’re trying to build a healthy relationship with your adult children. If you’re struggling with adjusting to the empty nest or this new phase in your relationship with your kids, talk to your spouse, a friend, or counselor. Your kids aren’t responsible for your emotions, and they have enough of their own to deal with as they try to navigate life. (An article I wrote for Dr. Laura’s website discusses this further.)

3. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Your goal is to have a meaningful adult relationship with your grown kids. Think about the other meaningful relationships in your life and take some time to think objectively about what it looks like to be a good friend. Good friends are trustworthy, loyal, and dependable. They’re encouraging, positive, kind, and thoughtful. They’re good listeners, non-judgemental, and express empathy. They’re supportive in good times and bad, and they don’t give advice unless asked. They respect your time and are fun to be around. Be that person with your kids.

4. Ask for Help

Ask your kids to help you learn to be a good parent and friend to them as adults. (Your humility will mean a lot to them.) You’ve never walked this path before, and neither have they, so you’ll both need to be understanding and patient. You’ll make mistakes and fall back into parent-mode by accident. Likewise, they may struggle with defensiveness and hear everything you say as instruction or criticism. We told our kids we would do our best, but they needed to try to view our relationship differently as well.

5. Get Them Alone

It’s fun to have all of your kids together and observe their adult sibling interactions, but if you really want to build your relationship with them as individuals, you need to spend time with each of them alone. After all, it would be difficult to grow any friendship without spending one-on-one time together! Kids of any age love to have their parents’ undivided attention, and your adult kids are no different.

What are your tips for cultivating a strong relationship with your adult children? i’d love to know! Please share them with me in the comments.

RESOURCES THAT CAN HELP

Suzy Mighell

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15 Comments

  1. Some very good advice here! I “fall back into mom-mode” too often with my adult children. Need to work on that…

    1. Teri, It’s tough! I do it too, but always try to apologize and tell them I’m working on it – and that seems to help! We’re all there together, gal! xoxo Suzy

  2. I love the One-on-One time in #5 of your article. My grown daughters both moved to the East coast while my husband and I are on the West Coast, so last year I planned a long weekend trip to visit each of them individually for the first few days before their birthday. After a few days I pay to have their sister visit for the rest of the weekend too! We always have a fun weekend of shopping, seeing a movie or concert, and celebrating!

    1. Lyn, I absolutely LOVE that idea! You re a good mom! Those girls need to talk, don’t thiey? But we love it! Thanks for sharing your great idea. One other thing I was thinking about – but didn’t have room to fit in – is the challenge of not “gossiping” about one child to another. (It doesn’t really seem like “gossip” since it’s all in the family, but still…) I’d love to know your thoughts on that! xoxo Suzy

  3. Hi Suzy,

    One of the questions I use with my adult children – rather than give advice is – What do you need from me or What can I do for you? It may be they just need me to listen and support them.

    Can you have one on one time with a married adult child?

    <3

    1. Nancy,
      That is a great question to ask adult children! I’m totally stealing that!!! Thanks for sharing that idea.
      I do think you can have one-on-one time with a married child but it probably ends up more gender-specific. The best thing to do is probably to invest in shared activities. My husband is playing golf with our married son this weekend! I use “little touches” with our daughter-in-law, which builds my relationship with her, thus the two of them enjoy us a couple more, I think. I hope that helps! xoxo Suzy

  4. This is good! Thank you! I have a teenager and as he changes from my “little boy” to being a young adult, I keep thinking and looking for information on ways to mantain our relationship as it evolves 🙂

    1. Nad,
      Thank you for your comment! It is tricky at that age where they are teens one minute and semi-adults the next – and you never know which you’re going to get at any given moment! I’m so glad this was helpful to you! xoxo Suzy

  5. Excellent advice! It’s a whole different ball game when they are on their own and are married or in a committed relationship. My brothers were very wise and one told me, “Your kids won’t live the way you think they should.”. In other words, they are their own people, see the world differently. Another brother told me, “You could have a dozen kids and they would all be different. You love them all but you love them differently.”. One of my daughters moved back to Indiana and is just a few miles down the road. The oldest daughter is in McKinney TX and we send texts, pictures, funny things from Pinterest (recipes too!) and post on Instagram. Both girls are busy but these little connections are sweet.

    1. Donna,
      It sounds like you are doing a great job with your adult kids and I thought your advice and words of wisdom were good. It can be tough when you see them heading in a direction that you know (from experience or from knowing them so well) will not be good, but I think it’s always great advice to prioritize the relationship when trying to decide what to do! Thanks for your comment! xoxo Suzy

  6. Suzy, this is spot-on! We’ve learned the same things about dealing with our adult children. The key is to remain supportive and loving without nagging or lecturing (a pretty tall order for me, that’s for sure!) Thank you for this inspired post.

    1. Thanks, Melody! It means a lot to me that you agree! Parenting adult kids takes a tremendous amount of self-control, don’t you think? It’s challenging! xoxo Suzy

  7. I need help with building back my relationship with my daughter/daughter in law. Estranged from me for almost a year and I miss my granddaughters. They are 1 and 3.
    I needed emergency surgery, and my daughter finally reached out to me. So thru text, she communicates and sends me pictures. I want to talk to her. I miss her voice and I miss talking to my granddaughter who’s 3. My daughter and I had a misunderstanding and she said she needed to live her own life. Slowly she’s coming back. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Elvira,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your difficult situation. It must be so painful for you. I would recommend that you be humble and ask forgiveness (not “I’m sorry, but actually say, “Please forgive me.”) for anything you did to harm the relationship. Then do not blame. She knows what her part was in the estrangement. It’s great to let her know you miss the granddaughters, but let her know that your relationship with her is the most important. And PRAY! Lots of prayers!
      xoxo
      Suzy

      1. Thank you so much for that, I pray everyday that God helps me to soften her heart ❤️ my DIL sent me a really nasty text and it was hurtful. Because I’m a single mom and until my daughter met her we had a wonderful relationship but I love my daughter in law like my own daughter. I’ve been good with giving space and I’m seeking therapy and finally asked for help with an anti-depressant. Thank you ????

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