Being a parent of an adult child is certainly different than parenting a toddler, a school-age child, or even a teenager. What they needed from you five, 10, or 20 years ago is not what they need from you today.
If your bond with your adult child isn’t what you want it to be, don’t despair. We asked therapists who deal with family issues to share with us the top things parents can do to build happier, healthier relationships with their adult children. Here’s what we learned.
1. Stop giving unsolicited advice.
When your adult child comes to you with a problem regarding their career, their relationship, or their own children, it’s easy to assume that they will seek your trusted advice on the matter. But keep in mind that they may just be looking for a sympathetic ear.
The best way to find out what they need is to ask, “Are you looking for advice or do you want to vent?” said the Dallas marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein.
Adult children “may not want consistent feedback on their decisions,” Epstein told HuffPost. “If parents accept only giving advice when asked and learn the skill of thoughtful listening, their relationship will almost certainly become stronger.”
Winifred Reillya marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California, said it’s important to “stay on track” as a parent of an adult child.
“There was a time when we could take our children under one arm and carry them from the playground. It was our job to make all the decisions,” said Reilly, who is also the author of “It takes one to tangosaid HuffPost. “Once they grow up, we literally and figuratively have to keep our hands off it more.”
“Once they grow up, we literally and figuratively have to keep our hands off it more.”
– Winifred Reilly, marriage and family therapist
This doesn’t mean that you no longer play an important role in their lives. It just means your role has changed to “more of a trusted advisor,” Reilly said.
“Instead of saying, ‘This is what I think you should do,’ it would be better and more respectful to say, ‘Would you like to hear my thoughts on this?'” Reilly said.
“When we are invited, we can say what we think and ask what they think. If we are not invited, it is a good idea not to interfere,” he said. “The overall message must be one of love and respect, even if we don’t entirely agree with their decisions.”
2. Show your child that you believe he or she is capable of handling difficult situations.
On a related note: clinical psychologist from West Los Angeles David Narang said that one of the keys to building a strong relationship with your adult children is to view yourself as a “resonator for a powerful adult” rather than a “savior to a helpless child.”
In other words, you should assume that your child is capable of handling the current difficult situation, he said.
A common mistake among parents of adult children is getting too involved in their child’s problems, Narang said. Maybe you are a parent who is desperate to get your child to follow your advice. Or maybe you’re so upset about the situation that it’s causing your already stressed child to become even more overwhelmed, he said.
At this stage of life, your value as a parent “lies in your ability to withstand the suffering your child tries to endure,” Narang added.
His advice? Allow your child to “express their grief” and keep the conversation focused on them. Then help them find their own solutions.
“As a parent, your understanding of your child’s suffering has the unique power to make him or her feel supported,” Narang said. “Similarly, your awareness of your child’s inner strength has a unique impact on helping your child recognize that strength within themselves, especially when you remember all the moments when you experienced that strength. “
This approach will help bring you and your child closer together “because they will feel your support and still see themselves as a competent adult,” he said.
3. Stop playing the blame game and instead focus on repair.
Blaming yourself – or your child – for the cracks in your relationship will not improve the situation between the two of you. Instead of pointing fingers, “transform guilt into responsibility to do better in the future,” says a licensed mental health counselor Tracy Vadakumcheryalso known as “The bad Indian therapistsaid HuffPost.
“Your child knows you did your best,” Vadakumchery said. “If they bring up their problems with you, it doesn’t mean they think you’re a bad parent.”
“If you feel the urge to blame someone as part of your problem-solving, it’s important that you recognize this as a defense mechanism against guilt,” she said. “What if there’s no one to blame? Blaming is shameful and does no good.”
It’s more productive to focus on repairing your bond: sincerely apologize for any hurt you’ve caused and promise to do things differently in the future.
And if you’re not already working with a therapist, it might not be a bad idea to find a psychologist to talk to. Vadakumchery said.
4. Do a relationship check-in.
As a parent of an adult child, you might assume that no news is good news. If your adult child hasn’t brought up any issues recently, assume that everything must be fine between you. Or perhaps you sense that the relationship isn’t on good footing, but you’re not sure where things went wrong. In any case, a relationship check-in — where you have “a comprehensive conversation about the health of the relationship” — is a great step, Epstein said.
“Checking in can include questions like, ‘How does our relationship make you feel?’ “Do you enjoy our conversations?” “What do you enjoy most or least?” ‘Do you feel supported?'” she said.
Initiating a check-in shows that you are open to hearing feedback and having potentially difficult conversations, and that you are willing to change your behavior to improve your connection.
“In some families, parents dictate what their relationship with their adult children should look like and enforce this out of a sense of duty. They explain expectations to their child without ever asking them what they want from the relationship,” Epstein wrote a recent blog post for Psychology Today. “An audit like this instead signals a desire to learn your adult child’s needs in the relationship and create a commitment that works for both of you.”
5. Avoid telling your adult child how to think or feel.
If you’re having a more difficult relationship with your adult child and they finally open up to you about something, “you know it took a lot for them to feel comfortable enough to do that,” Vadakumchery said.
“How you respond will either confirm or refute their belief: ‘That’s why I’m not telling you,'” she said.
That means staying away from language that demeans or demeans the experience, such as “That didn’t happen,” “Don’t feel that way,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way,” Vadakumchery said.
“While it is true that memory can be unreliable, even when you are right, telling your child that what he experienced is not happening will not only make him feel unheard or unseen “I don’t come to you about things,” she said. “Listen first before you answer.”
And keep in mind that most arguments between two people who care about each other tend to be about underlying feelings rather than the issue at hand, Vadakumchery noted.
“Instead of focusing on the details, focus on their emotions,” she said. “When you don’t know what to say, sometimes the best answer is to just be there. You don’t necessarily have to say anything. Just show that you’re listening.”
6. Respect – and encourage – boundaries in the relationship.
Adult children may set boundaries with their parents on certain sensitive topics of conversation, such as their appearance, their finances, or their career choices. Or the boundaries can be physical, such as “Please call before stopping by the house,” Epstein said.
Instead of being annoyed by these requests, “SParents can listen and respect those boundaries and even praise their child for advocating for what they need to make the relationship work,” she said.
It can be helpful to remember that the intent of boundaries is to help people connect in a better, healthier way. So having your child set some guidelines isn’t an attempt to push you away – it’s a way to create more honesty and trust in the relationship that will hopefully bring you closer together.