I was talking to another dad. We were comparing notes. Both of us are empty nesters. We equally recognized that being the parent of adult children is sometimes more difficult than when the children are still at home.
That’s hard for some parents with teenage children to believe, isn’t it?
Or the parent with multiple children still in diapers, right?
But, it is – sometimes.
When adult children leave the home you don’t have much control over their lives. You are no longer “raising” them. Your only hope is to influence them.
The “raising” part was mostly done when they graduated from high school. Maybe even when they got their driver’s license. Parenting moves primarily to influencing when they are away from you more than with you and when they can pretty much do what they want to do when they are away from you.
That’s why it’s important to grab their heart early so your influence sticks. And, still, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t and there’s little you can do about that when they are on their own. But, it doesn’t lower your concern for them, your desire to help them, or your thoughts about them — hence the hardness at times.
So, what should the parents of adult children do?
Well, I’m still fairly new and still learning at this one. I have learned a few things. And, I’ve learned a few more from countless hours spent with other parents of adult children – and their children. As a pastor, parenting adult children was a common struggle in our churches.
I can’t tell you how many strained relationships, bitterness, hurt and even anger I’ve witnessed over the years with adult children. I know some young adults who, though they still speak, avoid their parents influence because of the way it has been offered to them. I know some parents of adult children who are miserable watching their adult children make bad decisions, but not knowing how to reach them.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my two adult children. They are two of my best friends. But, I’m careful. I want to protect my influence in their life. And, I know the lines are delicate at times.
So, I offer these thoughts with reservation, knowing that I don’t know it all, but I do have some “experienced” thoughts.
Here are 7 suggestions for parenting adult children:
Pray continually – Pray like crazy for your adult kids. Intercede for them. You don’t even have to tell them you are – although occasionally I suspect they’d like to hear it, even if they act like they don’t. In fact, discipline yourself that when you’re tempted to worry about them you start to pray for them. It’s far more powerful and one of the best ways you can influence them.
Speak reservedly – Don’t share every opinion you have about how they should be handling their life. That’s a key word. It’s “their” life. And, they may not tell you in so many words, but most adult children want to live their life. Just like you probably want to live yours. You can share on occasion, especially when asked or you know they are about to make a major mistake, but if you share everything it will eventually be noise not influence in their life. The sobering reality is when you offer too much input into, again “their” life, you diminish the impact of your voice when they need it most.
Model for them – Be the maturer one in the relationship. That makes sense, right? You’ve got more experience, shouldn’t you have more maturity?
I’ve known parents who give the silent treatment to their adult children, because they didn’t call when they should or perform as they expected. Is that the mature response? And, does it work? It may guilt a response, but it doesn’t promote health in the relationship.
I know others who use manipulative innuendos or put undue pressure on their adult children to call them, be at certain events, or just to respond to them emotionally in a certain way. (And, I get it. You miss their attention and long for it.) But, again, depending on your skill of manipulation it may guilt a response, but it doesn’t build the long, lasting and healthy relationship you will eventually want to have with your children.
Model the behavior you think your adult children should have. They will likely follow actions more than words.
Remember you were once their age. That’s a key. Remember what it was like to be their age. You wanted to explore. You had dreams. You were scared at times. Confused. Not sure what steps to take. Some days you were just trying to hold it all together. You didn’t know everything. You were still learning. (Hopefully you still are.) You got aggravated at parents at times. And, those parents got aggravated at you. Remember? Try to identify with them by remembering you at their age again. You can influence them better if you can identify more with their season of life.
Keep the door open. Always be available to them when they make themselves available to you. (Even when they wander. Remember the Prodigal Son story we love so much!) As soon as you close the door to them, when you draw hard lines on the ground or place strict rules upon the relationship, it will be much harder to open the door again. That doesn’t mean you have to let them take advantage of you. (That’s not even good love.) You can set boundaries, especially those, which are in your home or for their ultimate good. (But, make sure it’s for their good and not for your personal preferences.) There may be some non-negotiable issues, but let those be rare. Be generous with grace and forgiveness. Remember, you’re trying to develop a long-term opportunity to influence them.
Love them more than their life. You may not love all the decisions they are making. You may even think they are making a mistake. Again, if there’s an open door to share your insight — share it. I find writing a letter is sometimes the best way, especially if communication is strained. But, the fact is again, you are not raising — you’re influencing. And, they may or may not accept your influence. So, love them — generously and unconditionally — more than you love the current decisions they are making with their life. And, make sure they know how unconditional your love is also. It will guard your influence — if not now — in the future. And, you’ll be very thankful you did in the days ahead.
Guard the heart. Guard your heart and theirs – above all else (Proverbs 4:23). Keep in mind you want the opportunity to speak into their life for years to come. Be intentional here. Be careful making statements or doing things you may later regret or that will push them further away from you. When you pray, pray for their heart – and yours. Just as you tried to protect their heart all those years they were in your home, keep protecting their heart.
Hopefully, if influence is protected, if they can understand your intentions towards them are good and you will have invitation to speak into their life, from your success, your failure, and your experience.
And, lastly, remember, you raised them for this. You raised them to be adults and to embrace the world and to take risks and to be themselves and to be who God designed them to be. They’ll explore just as you did and they’ll make mistakes just as you did. Lord willing, and with good intentionality, your best days (and some of the funnest days) are still to come as a parent. Happy parenting!
I’m still learning, so what insight do you have for me – those of you who have had adult children even longer than I have?