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.
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! Our daughter is doing a college internship at Walt Disney World this semester, and in a few weeks, we’re taking our law student son there for his fall break. We’re flying in a day and a half early so that we’ll have one-on-one time with Becca before her brother arrives. 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? Please share them with me in the comments.
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