Wish you had a better relationship with your adult children? This tips will help you reach your relationship goals this year. This month’s series will focus on the relationship domain of goal-setting. When our relationships nurture us instead of drain us, we have more energy to spend on other important goals.Self-care involves having good relationships.
“I’m driving Donne’s car to school for the Fall Festival,” I announced one Saturday evening.
“Don’t wreck it,” my older sister, who actually had a driver’s license sat ensconced in a comfy chair with a good book.
“I won’t,” I said, with more bravery than I felt. No one wanted to drive to the event, and I really wanted to go.
My mom looked up, her hands busy kneading a batch of homemade bread. She blinked, then returned to her task.
My younger siblings squabbled over a game of Monopoly at the table, and Dad hadn’t returned from the barn yet.
No-one stopped me, so I grabbed the keys, walked out the door, and headed down the dirt road that leads out of our little valley. When I reached the top of the hill and the main road, I carefully looked both ways, signaled, looked both ways again, and crawled onto the lonely back road.
My hands shook a little as I navigated the curving road (I didn’t feel very sure of myself driving around curves yet) towards the state highway. Nine point seven agonizing miles later, I pulled into the parking lot next to the school gymnasium.
I sauntered into the gym. Half hoping and half fearing that some staff member would ask me how I had arrived. I had just taken my first solo driving trip—and I’d done it without a driver’s license. Sure, I had a permit, but no older sibling or parent had driven with me. I had broken the law.
Why had no one stopped me?
Laissez-Faire vs. Helicoptering
I grew up in an era where “Don’t make me take off my belt!” could quell any argument between the four of us siblings. Our parents bought us ponies, took us backpacking, and on crazy cross-country adventures. They expected us to do our chores from a young age (feeding and milking goats or cows, taking care of chickens, and doing dishes).
They also didn’t hesitate to use corporal punishment. For the most part, they supported us in our wild adventures—digging to China (unsuccessful), selling bread to earn money to go to summer camp (successful), and bringing a pony home in a van (the pony’s head poking between the front seats of the van almost caused someone to run off the road).
We knew our parents loved us, but we understood that they had heavy responsibilities and workloads. If needed, they would interfere or intervene in our lives. You might call it a laissez-faire method of parenting.
My husband lived a similar life of exploration and adventure, only in tropical locations. His parents helicoptered more than mine did. Perhaps immigrating from Cuba to Spain to Jamaica to Puerto Rico, and then the United States had something to do with the helicoptering. No other high school senior’s mom called the school to check on him once or twice a day.
I struggled when the helicoptering included me. Who did my in-laws think they were to offer me counsel and advice? Why did they think I should obey them?
By the time Pedro and I had children of our own, psychologists and educators knew so much more about child development. From what we’d experienced and read, we knew we didn’t want to parent the same way our parents had. We attended a parenting class and mixed what we learned with common sense and how we felt about our parents’ parenting styles.
Parenting Styles Change
Neither one of us mirrored our own parents’ parenting style. I fought my tendency to helicopter, and he sometimes came across as too emphatic for our daughters’ gentle natures.
We strove to parent authoritatively (as opposed to permissively or in an authoritarian manner). For us, the goal of parenting consisted of teaching our kids how to make good choices and learning to live with the natural consequences of bad choices. We often fell short of our goals.
We didn’t crave friendship with our children when they were children; we wanted them to seek friendship with us once they became adults.
We didn’t parent perfectly, and we still have territory to work through as our friendships grow with our adult children. But I’ve gleaned some wisdom along the way. Good self-care means having good relationships.
How to Have a Better Relationship with Your Adult Children
If you think about it, our parent-child interactions go through distinct stages of relationships. Starting out, we act as primary caregivers. Our helpless babies need us for everything. But as they grow, they need us less and in different ways. We act as their coach, their mentor, and finally, we can enter my favorite state of relationship—friendship.
1. Consider Your Why
Why do you want a better relationship with your adult children? Examine your motives. Do you feel estranged from them? Does it make you angry, resentful, or sad when they don’t call, write, or visit?
Take time to think about and write down your goals for your relationship with your adult children. Try to think of them as strangers you just met. List their positive traits and the reasons you would seek their friendship if you hadn’t known them since birth.
If any of your ‘whys’ involves changing your adult children’s behavior. Stop. Just stop. As parents, our official job ends when our children graduate from high school.
You have done your job with the light you’ve been given. If you need to learn how to set healthy boundaries, read this excellent book.
Your child’s character has formed. They need your support and love, but they no longer need you trying to act as their parent. Trust me, when your adult children make horrible decisions, landing your helicopter and resorting to prayer takes a leap of faith.When your adult children make horrible decisions, land your helicopter and resort to prayer. It ain't easy, but it's necessary! #relationships #parenting #prayer Click To Tweet
2. Let it Go
Your adult children don’t need you in the same way they did when they had snotty noses and fell down every time they tried to toddle. While a strong parent-child bond plays a huge role in how your children turn out, your adult children don’t need you the same way they did 10, 30, or 50 years ago.
You need to close the covers to the book called “Childhood” and start a new one called “Friendship.” When I think back to my resentments against my in-laws, each of them stemmed from them seeing me as irresponsible, incapable, and unintelligent enough to make good decisions.
By the time I married at 22, I had a six-year history of making decisions for myself and living with the consequences.
If you did your job right, your children will feel equipped for adulthood. They’ll feel ready to launch out on their own, make mistakes, and live with their consequences. You might not always like their choices, nor the consequences, but you no longer have a vested interest in the process.
Think of your adult children as newly ejected Polaroid pictures. You’ve worked to provide the elements for beautiful results, and now you need to step back and let them develop.Think of your adult children as Poloroid pictures–step back and let them develop! #adultchildren #parenting #relationshipgoals Click To Tweet
3. Remember YOUR Young Adulthood
Yes, your children will always be your babies. But not literally. Train yourself to listen first, to ask questions, and to keep your opinion to yourself unless your adult child specifically asks for it.
I find this very difficult, but if I want to reach my goal of having better a relationship with my adult children, I have to stifle my impulses.
I didn’t (and still don’t) enjoy unsolicited advice. What makes me think my adult children will appreciate it? Maybe you don’t even realize that you offer unsolicited advice. Ask your spouse or a friend to keep track of the times you offer answers in conversations with your adult children.
The results might surprise you. Perhaps my profession (teacher) or personality has ingrained the compulsion to answer everyone’s questions in me. Maybe I can blame it on my Enneagram number. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to remember my feelings of resentment about unsolicited advice whenever I catch myself wanting to offer it.
Counting to ten helps sometimes, too.
4. Unconditional Regard and Love
Long before I had children, I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. His wise words about our offspring stayed with me.
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts.”Kahlil Gibran
Learn to love your adult for who they are—unique individuals created in God’s image and fellow travelers through life. Your children don’t define you. Once they turn 18, you have no responsibility in how they ‘turn out.’ You can come alongside them as friends for their journey, though.
Love them unconditionally when they get tattoos, go vegan, move in with their significant other, choose a significant other of the same sex, or reject God.
5. Learn How to Apologize
Take an honest look at how you raised your children, and then learn how to apologize sincerely. Better yet, step out in bravery and ask your adult children if they have any resentments about your parenting choices or decisions and have an open, honest, conversation with them. Keep an open mind and have a set of guidelines for good apologies at hand.
Roy Lewicki, a professor emeritus of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business has conducted research with others on what makes a good apology. Participants in the studies felt apologies were most sincere when they included the majority of these elements:
- An expression of regret
- An explanation of what went wrong
- An acknowledgment of responsibility
- A declaration of repentance
- An offer of repair
- A request for forgiveness.
You may already have some idea about the issues that act as barriers between you and your adult children. Take the time to think about how you would apologize and include as many of the six elements as possible.
6. Eradicate ‘Should’ from Your Vocabulary
Part of respecting your adult children involves eradicating ‘should’ from your vocabulary. I know, letting go of the all-wise-parent persona doesn’t come easy. But phrasing your advice with ‘Have you considered…’ rather than, ‘You should…’ will do a lot towards bettering your relationship.
After all, you don’t (hopefully) tell your friends what they should and shouldn’t do all the time.
Muster up your courage and ask your children how you can best support them or be a friend to them. When one of our daughters calls to vent about a problem, I try to ask if she wants a sympathetic ear or advice. And then I settle back to give them what they want.Have relationship goals for the new year? Check out these 7 tips for having a better relationship with your adult children! #relationships #goals Click To Tweet
What Were My Parents Thinking?
I still don’t know why my parents let me drove alone that night. Horrible things could have happened. Maybe they didn’t worry because they knew I’d had hours of practice driving my sister’s car when I drove as she delivered papers on a weekly, rural paper route.
Whatever the case, the fear of getting pulled over or wrecking kept me from driving solo again until I passed my test and got my driver’s license.
I always appreciated my parents for letting me take risks and blaze my own path. We’ve moved from a parent-child relationship to an adult friendship with unbreakable bonds.
And if I could choose to hang out with anyone other than my husband, I would choose my two best friends—our daughters.