Parenting adult children is hard.
In fact, 70% of my adult patients have a problem with their parents. That’s a lot!
This problem plays an active role in their life and is often the root of my patients’ issues.
When your child grows up and develops their own family, they often feel stretched between their family of origin (your family) and their new families.
Parenting adult children is hard. If you do not transition correctly, it can affect your relationship with your child going forward.
Parenting Adult Children: Signs Your Adult Child is Struggling In The Transition
Parenting adult children is hard. So how do you know if your relationship with your adult child is teetering on the line between healthy and unhealthy?
Look for signs.
What should you look for?
- If when your adult child spends time with you, they seem withdrawn or distant.
- If they are overly irritated, act up, or lash out.
- If they’re not thriving in life (issues with significant others or jobs).
If your child is exhibiting any of these behaviors, you might need to work on transitioning your relationship.
Steps Parents Can Take To Help The Relationship Transition
Parenting adult children is all about balancing two things; being too close and being too far.
What does this mean?
Getting Too Close
When we say “getting too close,” we don’t mean physically… we mean emotionally. While a close relationship is typically a positive thing, being too close can lead to long-term issues.
Assuming Things Won’t Change
If you assume everything will stay the same once your child moves out of your home, that’s a problem. They won’t be coming home for all of the holidays, continuing all of your old traditions, or always wanting to do things together like you have in the past.
Do not just assume everything will continue on how they have. Instead of telling them to come home for the holidays, ask them what their plans are.
Then if they are busy, make compromises like agreeing to see each other on a different holiday or day.
Oversharing Like Friends
While your kid is an adult and your relationship will change to you being more of a friend than an authoritative figure, that doesn’t mean you should treat them like your best friend.
When parenting adult children, it is important you don’t start telling them about your problems. They still want to think you are in charge and capable.
If you are asked to share your emotions with them, do not overshare. Tell them you are having a hard time but that you can get through it. This keeps you from burdening them and teaches them how to deal with their own problems.
Expecting To Always Be Their First Priority
As they get older and find a significant other, get married, and have children, your relationship will change. Don’t expect them to always put you before their family.
Being a parent is the most altruistic thing you will probably do in your life. You don’t have children expecting they will pay you back.
They had no choice, no contractual obligation. You give to them selflessly, and one day they will do that for their family.
Don’t be resentful, and instead see it as a testament to how great of a parent you were.
Being Too Far
As your child becomes an adult, you will want to give them space to grow and live their own lives. BUT you don’t want to overdo it and give them too much space. This can lead to them feeling sad and maybe even resenting you.
If you haven’t heard from your adult child in a long time or they are acting out of the norm, reach out to them. Be careful to do this without scolding.
Reaching out with a hello or a funny picture is a great way to show them that you are there if they need it without pushing yourself on them. It presents an opportunity for them to reach out and share.
When they do share how they are doing, you don’t want to criticize their choices, belittle them, or take over. Don’t tell them what to do without being invited to do so. I recommend when they present you with a problem, ask if they just want to vent or if they are asking for advice.
So now that you understand the importance of balance, let’s break these two down into how they present themselves in day-to-day struggles.
Common Issues When Parenting Adult Children & What To Do
Now that you understand the two extremes to avoid, let’s discuss how you can apply this to common situations.
What To Do When You Don’t Like The Significant Other Of Your Adult Child
Now this is something I hear a lot, and it is usually followed by things like “it’s my job to tell them” or “they will get hurt.”
Unfortunately, this is a burden that comes along with parenting adult children.
While it may be true that the relationship can end badly, it is not your job to point this out to them. Here is what you should do if you find yourself not liking your adult child’s significant other.
1. Don’t Tell Them Your Viewpoint
No matter how well-intentioned you are, in your child’s eyes, it is just criticism. This will not help your relationship with them. In fact, they may distance themselves from you because of this.
To form a closer bond with your child and keep them in your life, you need to support them. It is not your job to fix, correct, or protect your child; you are supposed to do that for yourself.
This brings us to step two…
2. Find A Way To Deal With The Significant Other
Instead of trying to fix your child and their relationship, try to fix what you can change: how you react.
One idea is to look back at what worked in the past when you are together, or at least what is most tolerable.
For example, if you think the significant other acts better when you are out in public than when you spend time together, take them out!
This is an example of a way that you can – in a way – control the situation to ensure a better outcome for everyone.
3. Set Boundaries
Finally, and most importantly, set boundaries. Just say no, in a respectful way.
These boundaries can help protect your relationship with your child.
For example, if they ask you to go on vacation and you don’t want to spend time with their significant other, you can say “I’m sorry, that won’t work” or “Accept my apologies, but I had something else in mind.”
Don’t lie, but you don’t need to over-explain either.
Your child is not going to accept the decision unless they make it themselves. So, by setting boundaries, you are allowing your child to get the message and then make the decision about their relationship on their own.
What To Do If You Feel Like Your Adult Child Is Severely Pulling Away
Now as I mentioned before, it is natural for your adult child to pull away a bit. But if you feel like it is severe or out of the norm, here is what you should do.
1. Don’t Take It Personally
The first thing you should do is assume it’s not personal. There are many reasons it might feel like they’re pulling away. Stress at work, a vacation, or they just want some time alone.
If you jump to conclusions, it can turn into you attacking them and only push them further away.
Keep reminding yourself that a child is supposed to move on and be independent- it is not an attack on you as a parent.
2. Ask Them About It
If you feel like your relationship is being negatively affected, reach out to them. Just make sure you phrase it as a you-problem, not a them-problem.
For example, you can say, “I feel there is a distance between us, and it’s making me feel sad. Can we talk about it?”
By positioning it this way without criticism, it is easier for them to hear and opens the relationship up.
3. Tell Them How You Feel
Finally, your children aren’t mind readers, so they can’t tell if you need something from them. If this is something that is bothering you, you need to tell them.
For example, you can say things like “I think the issue is that I’m missing you” without trying to guilt them. Or you can flat out ask “Can we see each other more frequently?”
If there was a problem that lead to them pulling away, tell them it would help you if they told you the problem in the future instead of becoming distant.
Don’t give up on what you need, but also don’t push anything either. Find a compromise that benefits both of you.
This keeps you from getting resentful, but also gives your child a template on how to deal with this type of problem in their life with other relationships.
Now, while your child being distant can be a problem, so is them being too close. This brings us to the next problem.
Ah, yes. The beauty of parenting adult children.
What To Do If Your Adult Child Is Clingy Or Too Dependent On You
There is no better feeling as a parent of an adult than them asking you for help. But if they begin to lean on you too much, this can become an issue.
1. Realize This Is Abnormal
The first step to fixing a problem is realizing that there is a problem. Healthy adult children are supposed to move away from us and distance from us.
It is not normal for your adult children to constantly need you. They should start to become more and more independent.
If they aren’t…
2. Understand You Can’t Change Them
You can’t “fix” your child or wait around for them to figure out on their own how to become independent. If you try to change them, it can cause resentment and anger and end up hurting your relationship.
If you continue to comply with their requests, you’re fuelling the problem. The only thing you can do is change yourself and how you parent them.
3. Break The Pattern
You may not be able to stop them from asking for help, but you can say no. Put up boundaries, and frame it as a decision you had to make for yourself.
Say “I can’t do this.”
If they continue to ask for help, you can say something like, “You are bright, and I am sure you can do this yourself.” If they are still unsure, you can walk them through different solutions.
Either give them some options or ask them what they think they should do. But, don’t do all the work.
By gently nudging them, you prove to them they can do this on their own without making it seem like you aren’t there for them when they need it.
Make the Transition Easier With Relationship RX
Looking to transition your relationship with your adult child? Need help figuring out your new role in your adult child’s life?
You can also equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to be the best parent you can be in the privacy of your own home with my complete Parenting eBook.