Parenting Adult Children: 3 Decisions to Help Guide Your Conversations
When your child was three years old, you had one way to communicate. Due to their immaturity, chances are you were more directive and direct with them. “Don’t touch the hot stove!” or “Let’s go use the potty!” These were the ways we communicated based on the needs of the moment.
Through the years, you had to go with the flow in talking to your child. Middle child brought another shifting. In the teen years, you might have felt like you were talking to an alien.
While your 3-year-old might have experienced separation anxiety, maybe your 30-year-old is creating “want you to go away” anxiety in you!
Factors in Communication When Parenting Adult Children
How you will communicate with these recent adults will depend on the quality of your relationship as well as the communication style of each of you. For sure, it will be somewhere on a continuum of daily texting and calls to little or no communication.
As far as the emotional impact of communication, it is also on a spectrum. If you respect their space too much and don’t initiate often, they might think you don’t care. If you’ve overinvolved in trying to connect, you run the risk of driving them crazy!
To be sure, it is a delicate dance for many parents, with at least three components: How, how often, and what.
The How Component
I lived in an era where we often had to wait for the mailman in order to communicate with our loved ones. Today, we may see our kids in person, talk on the phone, text, or Skype. The possibilities are exciting, but tuning in to your child’s preferred method will make them more likely to welcome your communication.
Texting is a new dimension in communication. Some view it as a boon, allowing immediate impact and response. Others feel it is lessening our ability to connect on deeper levels. As the parent of an adult child, use texting with care. Even with emoticons, texting does not communicate real feelings and you often can’t read the other’s emotions. It’s a perfect medium for exchanging perfunctory information, but avoid it for deep or emotional discussions.
Phone calls never go out of style. Many 30-somethings do not answer their phones, preferring to hear messages or texts. This may cause you frustration as voicemail after voicemail is ignored. When this happens, you can assume one of two things. Either (1) they are out having fun and will get back to you when they can; or (2) they are in crisis or dead by the side of the road.
Moms generally go to assumption two as their default response. Consider the entire circumstance. Are they usually a little slow to call you back? Or has it been days or weeks and that is unusual behavior for them?
Facebook is a mixed blessing. Parents love it because they can see slices of their child’s life on display. Adult children may want to have a place where they air their feeling and thoughts and don’t particularly want Mom and Dad reading along. Respect your young adult’s wishes on this one.
Consider this: Would you want your adult child hanging at your elbow when you were out with your friends for dinner and fun? Maybe, maybe not.
The How Often Component
Let’s face it, your young person is pretty much in charge of how often you communicate. When they are no longer under your roof, they will determine how often you’ll connect. I loved it when my young adults were home and I loved chatting with them and having meals together. But now, it’s their call.
Don’t take it personally. They are making a life, which is exactly what you raised them to do. It would be reasonable to send a quick text to ask how they are, but don’t try to come off as too needy or demanding.
The What Component
This is where the delicate dance steps can become really complicated. When we talk to our adult children, we have to remember they are adults. You’re not talking to a 3-year-old and you have to treat them like a fellow adult if you want the words to continue to flow.
There are three watchwords here:
MYOB. Minding your own business is really hard for some of us. As adults, there are many things we no longer have a significant say in. These include our opinions about their partners, their marriage or relationships, how they raise their kids, how they keep their house clean (or not!), or where they live. They have made adult choices. You can continue to bump heads with them, or you can continue to try to enjoy them as much as you can.
If they want to talk about relationship issues, ask them about their feelings and thoughts rather than immediately sharing yours. Chances are they want you to listen. If you listen and don’t continually meddle, chances are they will continue to talk to you.
Part of MYOB is waiting for them to ask. As parents, we’re pretty accustomed to freely dispensing our advice and some of us have a lot of it. Here’s a hint – if they want your advice, they will ask for it! Instead of offering the whole of your substantial wisdom on any given topic, wait for them to ask you for advice. Then and only then are they possibly ready to listen.
Finally, don’t criticize. You may have strong feelings about your child’s choices or situations. How would you treat a true friend in these settings? Would you say, “Man, I can’t believe how you live in such a dirty house!” Your friend would be hurt and your child would be as well. Or imagine saying to your best friend, “I can’t believe you’re dating that idiot!” While that may be your true feeling, it doesn’t need to be voiced.
Modern life is challenging. Staying engaged with our adult children can be easier if we know when to shut up and consider only speaking words that convey love and acceptance for them.
If you can’t figure it out from their clues, ask them what they would prefer. Getting their preferences out in the open will help the communication process.
Is it hard for you to MYOB? From prior conversations with them, determine their hot button issues and make a decision today to keep your nose out of their business and keep the communication open and upbeat!
What it comes to parenting adult children, what do you think are the keys to good communication? Have you determined your adult child’s preferences as to how and how often to communicate? What have you found works best for the “how” and “how often” components of communication? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Christine Field is an author, attorney, speaker, listener and life coach. She has four grown kids, mostly adopted, mostly homeschooled. She provides MomSolved© resources and reassurances to moms facing common and uncommon family life challenges. Christine helps moms rediscover their mojo for wholehearted living after parenting. Visit her website and Facebook Page.