Family•Parenting • 5 minutes to read
The last one left the house. We immediately dead bolted the door, stripped down to nothing, made a sign that said, “Empty nesting in progress…enter at your own risk” and then promptly sighed with relief. We were done raising children. Sort of.
Just like the first go-around, we had no idea what these individual souls would entirely need from us or if we were equipped to fully meet those needs. As I entered into this new phase of life, I reached out to my 20- and 30-something kids and friends to get a little feedback on what they found to be helpful (and not helpful) from their parents as they entered their adult lives. I found the outcome to be eye-opening and I think you might too. Here are the results of what to do—and what not to do—as a parent of adult children. I was both humbled and inspired. I hope you are too.
You’re still the parent, so please act like one.
As much as I was excited to head into the friendship phase with my children, this one truth remained for me. And as it turns out, it does for our grown children as well. They said:
- “I appreciate hearing about my parents’ struggles, but when life hits, I still need them to be wiser, smarter, more experienced, and even-keeled than me.”
- “The world is harder than we expected it to be.”
- “Please don’t lean on us for advice for things we’ve never been through.”
Our adult kids still need us to help them reach their goals. So continue to get to know them, what matters to them, and help create space for them to pursue these things.
Respect your grown children’s own formed opinions—politically and otherwise.
So. Much. Wisdom. Here. In the climate that we live in, this is so important. We have raised our kids to think independently. Let them do so without holding it against them. Now more than ever, our kids need to know we respect their ability to make decisions that best fit them, remembering that God has their best interests in mind—just like He does with us. While we want to be transparent with our values and opinions, sharing our disapproval can drive a wedge in our respective relationships.
Don’t give advice without being asked for it first.
However, do ask your adult children what they need when processing or problem solving. For example, you may want to ask, “Do you need a counselor or a friend right now?” I want to be clear that neither role gives advice or tries to fix things. The counselor asks questions to promote self-discovery and the friend encourages and creates space for the other person to unfold what is weighing on them.
Treat their spouse as an equal.
This one took me a little by surprise. I see my children’s significant others as an extension of themselves. Who they love matters to me and how I treat them matters to my children. My contributors want you to know, it is important that we, as parents, love or at least respect our adult child’s spouse (or girlfriend/boyfriend in the process), even if we don’t approve of them. My contributors also want you to know that spending the same amount on their significant other for birthdays and Christmas makes them feel important.
Same with family photos. Don’t do an “original family photo” with your adult children and exclude their spouses. It’s fine to take the photo but don’t blow it up and hang it over your mantle. Creating an all-inclusive environment can communicate that everyone is seen and each person matters.
I didn’t see this one coming. I am expecting my first grandchild this summer and the following feedback made me rethink my entire approach to my new role. For this reason, I am going to let the adult children speak for themselves here. This is what they said:
“Don’t forget about us when grandkids come along. We want to be seen and loved just the same. It doesn’t change when we become parents or adults.”
“Pursue to know and enjoy us. You are still the parent and you need to pursue a relationship with us.”
“Relationships with grandkids will likely reflect the health of the relationship you have with us. Keep communication open and don’t be afraid to ask questions: “Would it be helpful if I…?” “How would you feel if…?”
“Actions will always speak louder than words. If you say you want to spend time with the grandkids, follow through. Be okay with us setting our own family traditions and boundaries.”
“I appreciate when my parents support me in things that matter to me even though they aren’t important to them, like getting organic berries for the kids. My mother-in-law gets Honest Co diapers and bubble bath when we come to visit even though she doesn’t personally care about this kind of stuff (and I don’t ask them to, they just know that’s what we do at home so they do it for us). My in-laws once drove for three hours to get farm fresh milk for us. We would’ve used Walmart milk just fine but that was so nice and thoughtful!”
“At Christmas, our kids aren’t the only ones who want to be seen.”
“When you act like our children are your children, it gets weird.”
I appreciate this insight and realized that I have so much to learn in this arena. What an incredible opportunity we have to show up in our kids’ and grandkids’ lives in ways that can be beneficial for creating a healthy and connected family dynamic for generations to come.
Don’t forget to show up.
When we remember that being a safe person requires showing up in our kids’ lives with consistency, grace, and a listening ear, we increase the likelihood of earning the right to be heard. Taking an interest in their lives by initiating phone calls and asking questions about their lives communicates that we are still a resource when they need us; but they also need us to give them space when it comes to waiting for a reply from them.
If you miss your adult kids, arrange a time to get together and make an effort to go to them, instead of waiting for them to come to you. Let’s not forget what life was like at their age. Remember, they are doing their best with what they know—have compassion when they don’t hit the bullseye.
Friends, it’s okay to embrace this new season of life; living it and loving it! As parents of grown kids, now is our time to explore our interests and discover new things about ourselves.
Our adult children and grandchildren are an extension of a full life, not the source of it. So get out there and see what’s waiting! Check in with your kids, show up and support and encourage them.
Enjoy this season—we’ve worked hard to get here and the best is yet to come!