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).
Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 8 Practical Ways to Be a Great Parent to Your Adult Kids
- How to Pray for Your Adult Children | 6 Bible Verses to Use
- 6 Practical Ways to Show Love to Your Adult Children
- 10 Ways to Help When Adult Children Are Questioning Their Faith
- Check out all of my Parenting Adult Children posts HERE.
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