How To Parent Adult Children

Moms and dads often learn that parenting does not stop when your kids become adults. Here are a few guidelines that may help.

For many moms and dads, parenting does not end when their children become adults. Instead, parenting skills adapt to a reduced level of authoritarian guidance. Having gradually raised your children to make careful decisions and accept personal responsibility, you now hand them the key to their future and sit on the sidelines for occasional coaching or consulting advice.

Some parents find it difficult to stop controlling adult offspring. They nearly strangle their kids by keeping them tied to the proverbial apron strings. Or they cut them adrift too soon, and then wonder why the now-grown children drift away and seldom return.

If your children have reached legal age and you're unsure of your new role in their lives, the following suggestions may come in handy.

1. Bow out gracefully. Rather than make an abrupt departure from an adult child's life or linger too long, adjust your withdrawal to each child's individual needs. Some teenagers come of age promptly and resent a parent's intrusive expectations or advice. But other kids seem to grow up slowly and are grateful for parental encouragement and even marginal support, whether financial or emotional. Prepare your children to leave the nest as they mature, but with the understanding that you will be there to help them to lift-off or to monitor from a distance in case the flight plan falls flat.

2. Display trust and confidence in their maturity. Even children who are not fully self-supporting at age eighteen or following college graduation should sense their parents' faith in their ability to succeed. Verbal praise, notes of encouragement, or family celebrations send the message that you are proud of your adult children's achievements.

3. Provide advice only when asked. Instead of insisting that your way is best or right, let young adults learn things on their own. Even mistakes can be fruitful when they allow us to learn from them. Give your adult children plenty of room to try things for themselves, even if it means doing them differently than you would. Avoid an overbearing presence or a judgmental attitude.

4. Limit criticism. Sometimes we get nervous when adult children appear to be headed in the wrong direction. Afraid they'll get hurt or make a major mistake, our fear turns to anger and we lash out in a harsh tone. This only drives our children further away, instilling them with the inclination to make even more choices on their own without our help. While an occasional warning or caution is helpful, don't overdo it in playing the alarmist when your adult son or daughter makes decisions that you do not agree with.

5. Don't coddle them. It's typical for each generation to want to make life easier for their offspring. Gifts of money, time, and assistance should be reserved for times of need or special achievement; otherwise, young adults fail to develop self-reliance skills that will help them navigate life's choppy waters. Then, when parental support dries up, they become frustrated failures. Give help when it's critical but don't overdo it.

Parenting is a life-long vocation. The role of mother or father doesn't end when a child becomes an adult. But the role does change, and we must be prepared to change with it to continue providing appropriate support that will guide our children throughout the mature years of their life.

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