How to Have Meaningful Conversations With Your Adult Kids

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell
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woman holding a cup of coffee sitting in a chair and looking at the camera talking about having meaningful conversations with adult kids

As empty nesters, your heart longs to have meaningful conversations with your adult kids. Me too! Just like you, as Bob and I raised our kids, we kept in mind that we were their parents, and not their friends. Still, the goal of our parenting was friendship with them — and not only that — but that they turn out to be people that we wanted to be friends with and truly enjoyed.

I can say that we do genuinely like and enjoy all of our adult kids! But the road from parent to friend was — and is — not always a smooth road, and we are definitely not perfect when it comes to parenting our adult children!

Today I’m sharing the issues you must navigate if you seek to have meaningful conversations with your adult kids, and what you can do about those issues. I’m also giving you conversation starters and sharing ideas for what you can do when things go wrong (as they did for me a few weeks ago).

The Problem

Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
Proverbs 16:24

It’s challenging to shift from parenting, character training, giving advice, and offering “suggestions.” Right? After all, you spent 18+ years doing just that! As challenging as it is for you, know that it’s difficult for your adult kids as well. Just as you’ve always seen them as children in need of parenting, advice, and instruction, they’ve always seen you in the role of parent — the giver of all of those things!

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Altering that mindset isn’t like flipping a light switch for either of you, which is what can make this area a tricky one. Doing it well requires intentionality, self-control, and thoughtfulness.

Even if you work on not parenting when you talk to your kids, because of the roles you’ve always played in each other’s lives, they can often hear what you say through the paradigm of parenting. Your observations and questions may sound like criticism to their ears, and your suggestions may sound like you don’t have confidence in their ability to run their own lives.

In addition, their ideas of privacy may be different than yours, and privacy preferences can shift over time. Is it still okay to share one child’s struggles with their sibling? What about grandparents who may be hungry for news about their lives? The road to good communication and meaningful conversation with your adult kids can be strewn with potential pitfalls and landmines everywhere you look.

What You Can Do

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6

But be encouraged! There are things you can do to proactively navigate this tricky road with your adult children.

  • Have an open and frank conversation about the nature of the relationship you want to have with them.
  • Be honest about the challenges of shifting the way you view each other’s roles and acknowledge that it will take some adjustment and work.
  • Do your best not to give advice unless asked for it — and even then, keep it brief and ask them what they think about the advice. Sometimes when I truly believe I have something especially meaningful to share, I say something like, “I have a thought! Do you want to hear it? You can say no.” (They almost never do.)
  • Keep the focus on them. When they share something, don’t fall into the (very common) trap of bringing up a similar situation from your own life.
  • Work on your listening skills. When you listen, do it with your heart, empathetically “hearing” what your adult kids are saying. Don’t spend the time when they’re talking thinking of your response. Bob and I remind each other to “LMTL” — listen more, talk less. After all, you can’t say the wrong thing if you’re listening!
  • Do what you can to emphasize the longevity and intimate nature of your parent/child relationship. It’s special and unique! You literally saw them grow up, and because of this, you may be able to share helpful information about their childhood. My 20-something daughter is a good friend to those in need. She loved it when I told her that she was always a good friend and shared some stories from her childhood that illustrated that.
  • Do something together that you both enjoy. This will prompt easy conversation.
  • Watch their face and body language. If your questions are starting to irritate them, move on to another topic.
  • Be positive and encouraging. Ask thoughtful and intelligent follow-up questions, and find honest, praiseworthy comments to make. Use phrases like,
    • That’s amazing!
    • I always knew you’d be good at _________.
    • I am completely in awe of you!
    • Congratulations. That’s phenomenal!
    • I’m so proud of you!

Conversation Starters With Adult Kids

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 

To launch into a meaningful conversation with your adult kids, avoid “yes” or “no” questions. Instead, try some of these open-ended prompts that cannot be responded to with one-word answers.

  • Tell me about _______________________? Asking intelligent questions about their areas of expertise allows them to be THE expert! Let them tell you about their job, their career field, and why they love it.
  • What do you think about ___________________?
  • What does a typical day look like for you? We used this around the dinner table with two of our adult kids a few months ago, and they loved sharing their days and hearing about each other’s days as well.
  • How is ____________? My kids are always grateful when I remember names and ask about their friends.
  • What do you remember about ____________? (There’s nothing wrong with a quick reminder of your shared family history!)
  • How did you know how to handle ____person/situation____ or what to do? This will show them that you admire them and want to learn from them. Plus, it will set you up to be able to encourage them!
  • Ask their advice — and be sure to tell them what it is about them that makes you specifically want their advice. (This demonstrates that you realize your relationship is evolving and acknowledges that they have wisdom to share that is valuable to you.)
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What to Do When Things Go Wrong

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 
James 1:19

I can pretty much guarantee you that at some point or another, a conversation will not go the way you hoped it would.

  • Be open to their criticism. Listen non-defensively, and don’t explain, rationalize, or push back. Try to see the conflict as an opportunity to be closer. (I majorly messed up with one of our adult kids a few weeks ago in this area.)
  • If you’re hurt by something your adult child says, don’t react immediately. Take the time you need to humble and examine yourself. You want to be a person who can tolerate criticism, be self-reflective, and empathize with their feelings.
  • Remember this phrase and repeat it to yourself when you feel slighted or wronged by something your adult child says: “Relationship OVER Right.” Your relationship is more important than who is right or wrong.

I’d love to know your tips! What do you do to prompt and encourage meaningful conversations with your adult kids? Leave a comment and share, okay? Your comment might be just what someone else needs to hear!

Resources for Conversation Starters

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29

Need more help? Here are some resources that might help.

I’ve written a lot about parenting adult children! Click the links below to read other posts you may find helpful and encouraging.

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34 Comments

  1. I love all your fashion tips but adult children are really your forte’!!! Great ideas to enrich the next phase.

    1. Jeanell,

      Hahaha! You are too sweet! Thank you! This post came from lots of mistakes and prayerful hours asking the Lord to help me parent and love them better!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      xoxo
      Suzy
      Suzy

  2. Good one, Suzy! Realizing that the relationship evolves, even as our children get into their later 20’s and 30’s, is a big help! A younger adult in early 20’s sees the world differently than after having a few more years of life experience under his/her belt. We need to adapt and grow, too! “Relationship over Right” is the best motto ever! 🙂
    Thanks for all your encouragement!

    1. Betsie,

      It is so true that with aging, our kids evolve, just like we do! Thank you for reminding me of that! You’re so wise! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with everyone!

      xoxo
      Suzy

    2. This was exactly what I was hoping to fin! I thank you immensely for your insight, your loving thoughtfulness around conversations with our adult children and how you reference Scripture. I needed these biblical reminders!

        1. He is so good and faithful Suzy! I don’t know why conversations have become more challenging for me, but they have at this stage with my 23 year old son. He isn’t a Believer, but I am trusting in the Lord and His perfect plans for my son. I really love the way you wrote this article. Everything you wrote resonated with me with such loving tenderness and I thank God that I saw your blog. Thank you so much again, Suzy. God bless you!

  3. This advice is so very timely and helpful!! Our daughters are 21 and 19 and I’ve already seen the value in using some of your tips to improve our communication. I’m sure that I, too, will make mistakes along the way, but I plan to revisit this post often to remind myself of how to do it well!

    1. Tracey,

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! It definitely takes effort, prayer, and thoughtfulness! Keep working at it, Mama, and know that when you mess up as I did a few weeks ago, your response to confrontation is the most important thing! (That’s where I double messed up!)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know you found the post helpful!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  4. Suzy
    You give the best advice from grown kids, to grandchildren, I phones, clothes. I love your advice. Thank you so much. You are a true blessing in my life.

    1. Holly,

      Aw, your sweet comment made me all teary! Thank you! Serving and blessing you is my great joy. Thanks for taking the time to say thank you. That means a lot to me.

      xoxo
      Suzy

  5. Love this post so much! I feel like with our adult kids that we almost have to “earn” the privilege to get in deeper with them. And we earn it by not crossing their boundaries. Like you so eloquently said – don’t give unsolicited advice! It comes off as criticism. Thank you for the post and all the wisdom and encouragement!

    1. Thank you so much Suzy for your wise words. My children are 39 & 44. I’ve always struggled with my relationship with my son (44) and his wife. I truly messed up last year but thankfully found your post and with your guidance have made a turnaround.
      “Relationship over Right” is a great motto!

      1. Jane,

        I am so glad to hear this! What joy! I find that when I mess up and humble myself, ask forgiveness, and pledge to do better, my kids are so gracious and forgiving! They truly WANT to be in relationship with us, and that makes all the difference.

        Thank you so much for sharing your victory!

        xoxo
        Suzy

  6. Thinking of you and your family. I may have mentioned that my daughter was married at Casa Ybel..and her in laws have two condos near there in another development. Hoping for the best….sanibel is so beautiful…nothing will change the ocean and the view. ❤️

    1. Holly,

      Thank you so much. Our hearts are broken. The island means so much to us. But God is good, and He is Lord over His creation. We trust Him!

      I’m so grateful for your kind words. Your daughter must be so sad!

      xoox
      Suzy

  7. I’m so very thankful for your posts on parenting! There’s really very little about parenting adult kids…and is much needed. I feel like I’m muddling my way through it, but your post gives great and timely advice. I SO APPRECIATE YOU!

    1. Amy,

      Thank you! It can be tricky, for sure! It takes intentionality, prayer, thoughtfulness, and a whole lot of self-control. I’m so happy that you found this post helpful!

      Thank you for taking a minute to let me know. That means a lot to me!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  8. Talking to our adult children is tricky! I have a 27 year old daughter and son-in-law, and a single 25 year old daughter. My daughters do not like me to ask too many questions, because they feel like it is an inquisition! haha I try very hard just to listen and keep the focus on them. Sometimes, they do like to hear about my past experiences when I was their age. My take-away from this post is – asking for my advice before giving it by saying, ” I have a thought! Do you want to hear it?” Thanks Suzy!

    1. Marjie,

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one with kids who bristle at too many questions! When I say the whole, “I have a thought…” thing, I am often in the middle of giving unsolicited advice! Once I realize it and apologize and say it, my kids always die laughing! Then they tell me to continue. Still, I think they appreciate the fact that I catch myself and try not to do it! Hahaha!

      I’m so glad you liked the post! Thanks for the comment!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  9. Suzy,
    These are great tips and I love the Bible verses you attached to each section. The Word of God never fails and is our guide to leading and loving on our children! Thank you for the resource here. Well done!
    So very sorry for your Florida situation. I know the unknown must be scary but you know the Lord will walk you through this time as He has in the past.

    1. Lesa,

      Thank you so much for your encouragement! I know not every ENB reader is as faith-centered as I am, but I so agree with what you said. Any wisdom from me is (hopefully) a reflection of the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:25). I’m so happy to pass it along, but I can’t claim to be the Source!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  10. Thank you very much for this post. I saved it until I had time to really soak it in. Your advice on adult children and communication is very helpful and much needed as my children are 26 & 31.

    1. Katy,

      I am so happy you found it helpful! Communicating well with our adult kids is tricky, for sure, and it takes work! You can do it, Mama!

      Thank you for reading and for leaving me a comment!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  11. Thank you for all of these words of wisdom. So appreciate you sharing what works, and doesn’t, for you!

    My friend and I text each other “🤐” when we are soon to spend time with our adult children. It reminds us to listen more and talk less . . . and hopefully not put our foot in our mouth!

  12. These are my favorite posts from you. My children are 28 and 30 and I also have two stepchildren in their twenties so I must be especially careful not to step on toes. I love the motto Relationship over Right.

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