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Letting Go and the Art of Parenting Adult Children

By Becki Cohn-Vargas December 15, 2021 Family

Have you held a baby lately? I recently held little Ezra, a 10-month-old who had recently learned how to do a high five. Once he got the hang of it, he did it over and over. How juicy and delicious.

My babies are David, 28, Melania, 33 and Priscilla, 38. Holding Ezra brought back that wonderful feeling that comes at the start of motherhood.

While I am hoping to be a grandma one day soon, holding Ezra made me think about the stages of being a parent. I realized that parenting adult children is actually another stage. So I did what any modern parent does, I googled it.

Where’s the Advice for Parenting Adult Children?

What did I find? Next to nothing. There are so many books about parenting kids at all stages, especially toddler and teens. As for parenting adults, I only saw one or two links including a CNBC investment blog: “When to cut off children who aren’t financial grownups.” I have included the link, just in case this is your issue.

3 Ways We Need to “Let Go” of Our Adult Kids

As I began to reflect on my own role as a parent of adult children, I realized that parenting adults is all about loving and accepting, while letting go. I want to share what came up during this thought process and ask you about your thoughts on the topic. As far as I can see, letting go requires us to face three important challenges:

Letting go of worry – We need to let go of the fear that something will happen to our kids. It will. That is just life.

Letting go of giving advice – It’s all about accepting their choices. Clearly, they won’t always be the same as the ones that we would have made.

Letting go of guilt-tripping – We need to find a way to accept the fact that our kids have their own lives. We shouldn’t guilt-tripping ourselves for their choices either.

See also: How To Enjoy Your Adult Children After 60

Letting Go of Worry

Letting go of worry is the hardest of these 3 challenges, for me. As parents, we are wired to protect our kids from the day they were born. David, my youngest son, turned blue in the first half-hour of his life. They sent him in an ambulance across the bridge from Oakland to San Francisco to check out his heart. They would not take me along, so I just had to sit in my hospital bed and wait. I spent a few terrified hours waiting. Luckily, his heart turned out to be fine – and now, he’s 28.

Even now, when the phone rings at an odd hour, my heart goes into my throat. Like the other day, my son called after I was already in bed. My husband picked it up and I heard him say “oh no.” My insides turned to jelly. It turned out that his transmission had gone out. “Whew.” Although, I hate to admit it, I was relieved. It could have been something really terrible.

I have no silver bullet for letting go of worry. In my case, just being aware of my tendency has helped.

See also: How To Divorce Your Adult Children And Restore Your Sanity

Letting Go of Giving Advice

This is something I have had to learn over and over. I can’t seem to help myself. When I get into judgmental advice mode, the response of my kids is to instantly remind me when advice is not welcome. Here are a few things I have learned never give advice about:

Breaking up – I learned this lesson a long time ago. If they complain about a girlfriend, husband, or partner, I jump in and say a bunch of stuff in agreement – “yeah, she really is a jerk.” They might just get back together and then be mad at me.

What to eat or not eat – This is a big one. Nobody likes someone to be constantly “weighing in” on everything they put into their mouth, especially their mother. It never works.

Telling them not to quit a job before getting a new oneThis is so tempting. At the end of the day, it’s not worth it and they wouldn’t listen anyway.

Also, I make sure to just listen and NEVER defend their “horrible boss.” This goes double for saying “I told you so,” even if they have to foreclose on a home they bought with no money down.

Letting Go of Guilt-Tripping

This brings me to the last point, “guilt-tripping.” Guilt-tripping can go either way. We can guilt-trip our kids or guilt-trip ourselves. Neither one is useful.

Guilt-tripping our adult children about how much they call or visit does not make them want to be with us. We need to give them the space to live their lives. So, we should not mind if they like to do some activities with their friends or without us. We have our own lives and they have theirs.

I love to spend time with my kids and their partners. I’m also glad that they like to come for family celebrations, Hanukkah – or, just to hang out. That said, I still recognize that they are now working long days, while I am enjoying semi-retirement.

Guilt-tripping leads to the “r” word when it comes to adult children, resentment. Just like worry and advice-giving, guilt-tripping leads to no good.

We can also guilt-trip ourselves. My goal is to not feel guilty and blame myself for anything my children do or don’t do. I can’t change their career choices, significant others or financial decisions. Life is not easy. It wasn’t easy for our generation and it isn’t easy for millennials. We are all just doing the best we can.

See also: 5 Ways To Tell If You Are Being Too Financially Generous With Your Adult Children

We come from the generation that didn’t want to “trust anyone over thirty.” We also blamed our problems on our parents. So, if anything, this is payback!

My children are much kinder to me than I was to my parents. I have come to appreciate my parents much more now that I am one. Accepting ourselves and our children is an act of compassion that flourishes and feels so much better when we do it without finding blame or guilt.

I have fond memories of each of my children as they grew up. They were as sweet as little Ezra, the baby I held last week. But, I also love this stage of our relationship. I love having them as adults, friends and confidants.

I enjoy sharing this part of my journey with my husband. I am also truly proud of each of my three children. I am grateful for each of them and their partners who are also, by extension, my children now: Melania and her wife, Roya, David and his fiancée, Patti, and Priscilla and her long-time girlfriend, Rina. When it comes to parenting, the wise counsel is to “let go and let live.”

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause 100 veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally to take a step without feet. – Rumi

Which of the parenting adult children challenges mentioned in this article do you find most difficult and why? What advice would you give to the other parents of adult children in the Sixty and Me community? Please join the conversation.

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One of my sons (works with me in a business I own) just stormed out of my office telling me he is almost 40 and to stay out of his business. The problem is that I pay him for barely working and he was addicted to cocaine for approximately 10 years. The phone bill shows him making repeated calls to a number during the night repeatedly on some nights and his little girl told me that her Mom is mad at him for leaving the house during the night. That is addictive behavior and terrifies me.

My other son is 42 and will not work. He lives in a house we bought for him and has literally torn it to pieces. He has many cats and will not get them neutered (even though I offer to help take them and of course pay for it) He suffers from extreme anxiety and is anti social.

I am the one who finances our entire family and my business. I am scared to fire my one son because I am afraid he will “fall off the earth” and resume his addiction and the other one, I am afraid he will kill himself. I feel so stuck, used and unappreciated.


Such a thoughtful and helpful article. Thank you!
My main struggle is my daughters mental health struggles that twist her perception of reality. They echo that of my mothers. I feel like a sandwich with challenging bread. I am already worn out having lived this with my mother which ended in estrangement. I am at a total loss.

Becki Cohn-Vargas

I just took a very meaningful course called Mental Health First Aid. It was like a first aid course for people who are not professionals to help us support people with mental health issues. I don’t know where you live, but it is a national program in the US>


I’m struggling with letting go of the anxiety knowing they’re having a hard time finding love. A couple of my “kids” would love to have a relationship & children but they are getting older (30’s & 40)….& it seems it’s getting harder. I try to be supportive but I do hope & pray it will happen for them. In the meantime I have a hard time being completely happy myself!


Marian, I wonder if this clip recorded by Eckhart Toll might help you. I watched it this morning. Don’t pray too hard that they find someone: pray that they are able to love and sustain themselves.

Anna Donatto

Letting go of worry because it’s not my adult children that I don’t trust their judgment it’s the influences of bad people or people who take advantage of young adults.


Exactly. The world has changed so much and there are bad people out there preying on the inexperienced and vulnerable. 😥

The Author

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D, has been blogging regularly for Sixty and Me since 2015. She is a retired educator and independent consultant. She's the co-author of three books on identity safe schools where students of all backgrounds flourish. Becki and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have three adult children and one grandchild. You can connect with her at the links below.

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