What No One Tells You: Parenting Adult Kids

Everybody knows about certain parenting stages. Newborns mean you no longer sleep, and parenting two years olds can be terrible (I frankly always found 3-year-olds tougher.) Parents fear teenage angst for years prior to its inevitable approach. These parental challenges are known and documented. Whole books are written on how to navigate and survive.

But parenting adult kids- no one told me about this. 

Almost every one of these precious children are now adults. I remember thinking that this stage of parenting was the hardest. But  parenting adult children offers its own set of challenges.

Almost every one of these precious children are now adults. I remember thinking that this stage of parenting was the hardest. But parenting adult children offers its own set of challenges.

Actually, that is not true. One person warned me. At church, sixteen years ago, our pastor did. At the time I was sitting in the pew with my seven children, ranging from a 16-year-old to a 6-month-old. My husband was on the other side of the globe, a few months into a deployment. I was exhausted from the single-parent status and the stretching required to cover parenting teenager to baby, that would have challenged Gumby.

That morning, as I listened to my pastor, I tried to calm my heart and mind. After a tough morning with more than one confrontation with more than one child, I needed lots of Jesus and possibly a heart transplant. Then he said it. My pastor burst every future-hope bubble I owned. He said, "Now that all our kids are adults and out of the house, we are finding this to be the most difficult stage of parenting yet.”

What? Are you kidding me? It gets harder? Then stop the train and let me off! All this ran through my mind as I maintained a calm exterior with a slight smile while nudging the 12-year-old to wake up and pay attention.

I thought about what my pastor had said for days, as my happy, white-picket dreams evaporated. You know, the dreams where my kids, who all lived in homes of their own, came to visit often, always thrilled to see me, and bringing arms full of grandchildren. And then they went back to their own domiciles, leaving my husband and I alone in our clean abode. I would finally have time to work on the writing and publishing projects that crowded my mind, but never managed to be produced. I would have hours of silence. My kitchen would stay clean and Mt Garment would shrink to a mere mound.

Once the kids were grown, educated, and married, I would no longer have to worry. That was the assumption I had been working under for years. I worked like a Trojan now, but I just needed to get them to adulthood and then I was done. Right?

I have often thought back to that moment in the pew, when I began to realize that maybe this job of parenting never ended, and it probably never got easier, and there was a good possibility it just got harder and harder. That moment solidified my understanding that this trust given to me by the Lord to love and care for these kids, was not a phase. It was a lifetime commitment. 

Parenting Adult Kids

I want to be clear that are GREAT things about having adult kids. I love the new level of relationship and watching them establish their own homes. And, just in case any of my kids are reading this, be assured, my loves- you are awesome and I love you and am proud of you. Now go away, because this article is not for you.

Now back to ONLY the parents: while parenting adults is great, it is also challenging, confusing, and just plain hard.

The perspective from my end of life often makes my opinion on many topics different from theirs. But when do I speak and when do I put duct tape on my mouth?

There are simple challenges- are parents still required to pay for every meal when the family goes to a restaurant? If a adult child calls with a car problem do you still drop everything and run to the rescue? Where do your responsibilities end and theirs begin? The lines are blurry for both parties.

There are much bigger challenges- if you see them making a big mistake what can you do about it? You can have an honest conversation, but after that, as an adult, they get to make their own decision. What then? Adult decisions carry adult consequences. When those come knocking at the door, do you show up to help or should you let them deal with their own issues?

When do you help and when do you step back? What actions empower and which cripple?

Full disclosure: I have more questions than answers these days. This is a new dance and I am still learning the steps. But I have experimented with some ideas.

I haven’t figured out most of the questions I posed above. Sorry. But I can share a few simple rules I have made for myself regarding conversations. I do not claim they are all correct. But they are where I am working from now.

I give myself freedom to edit and change the rules as I continue down this path. I desire a long, fruitful relationship with my children and I will do what it takes to preserve that, though not at the cost of my personal convictions. It is exactly as difficult as it sounds.

Sitting, talking, laughing, sharing, being together. I want to do everything I can to keep these lines of communication open.

Sitting, talking, laughing, sharing, being together. I want to do everything I can to keep these lines of communication open.

Parenting Adults: Conversation Ideas

Here are a few simple ideas. I used the word “rule” earlier, but I think that may be too constricting. Like I said- I am still learning. These are more like suggestions on how to carry on conversations.

  • I am making __________ (fill in with FAVORITE food) on Sunday if you want to come over.

  • The family table full of delicious food draws adult kids like a magnet. Whatever was their favorite meal as kids are still the go-to meals as adults as well. I was surprised one night when the unanimous request for dinner was homemade pancakes. That night we served them hot and buttery, slathered in syrup, and surrounded by warm childhood memories. 

  • NOTE: Dinner Suggestions: Don’t talk about controversial stuff you know you will disagree about. Laugh. Bring up pleasant memories. Enjoy. DON’T. NAG. Sit the siblings that like to poke each other at opposite ends of the table. Put on happy music. Enjoy your kids!

  • Really? That’s interesting.

  • That is how to respond to something they say that you want to scream, “Are you crazy! No way. You are not allowed to do that.” Sometimes they might be going for the shock value and to poke the bear. (NOT that I am calling you a bear, but your kids might, especially on a few hot button topics.) I like to think of these conversations as spy trips into the enemy’s camp. NOT that my kids are the enemy, but they have one and so do I. When they say off-the-wall stuff or share a shocking revelation, then I KNOW about them, I know EXACTLY what to pray about. And I PRAY.

  • If you want to talk about this or hear my opinion, just let me know. (Accompanied by a smile and a hug if that would be received warmly.)

  • Leaving an open door that the adult child can chooses to walk through is healthy. But BEWARE, if they ever knock on your door for the conversation, it needs to be pleasant and not condescending, even if you are expressing a different opinion, if you ever want to talk again. (Come prepared with about suggestion rehearsed: That’s interesting.)

  • How do I ______? What do you think about _______? Can you teach me how to _______?

  • Listen and learn from my kids. ASK their opinion and seek their expertise. I adore talking to my kids who are believers about things of Jesus. But I also ask for help or advice on other things as well. They have such a variety of interests and talents. My kids and their spouses are a treasure trove of information. I build relationship with them as I recognize the blessings they are in my life. And why should they ask me for advice if I never ask them for some?

  • I can pray about anything for you?

  • Talk to God about them much more (like 100x’s more) than you talk to them about the Lord. Praying for my adult kids is a privilege and a HOLY CALLING. I had years of discipleship and training in my kids’ lives. But now I have handed them over to Jesus. I am not their Holy Spirit. Getting prayer requests from them is a way I can partner with them through challenges. I also have my “forays into the enemy camp” prayer requests from anything they have let slip or shared. All there is left to do is: PRAY!

Please Share

What are ways you build relationship with your adult kids?  Please share in the comments below.

We all need help. We parents of adult kids, who have kept our cool and our tongues while with them, need to be able to get together and vent, “You know what my child said?!” Or, “You know what my child is DOING!?!”

We need to pray for them and pray for each other. 

So please leave your idea of ways you build relationship below. And if you have prayer request, leave that below as well.

And no matter what: KEEP PRAYING! For your kids. For my kids. For your neighbors kids. We have a holy trust and holy calling in this new dance. Let’s help each other learn it well.