10 Tips for Parenting Adult Children

I had absolutely no idea that the topic of parenting adult children would be such a key issue when I was writing the book, Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out. I thought this guest blog was very helpful and practical. If you want to read more on the subject and you haven’t read the book, I hope you will make it your goal to read it this year.

10 Tips for Parenting Adult Children

Parenting can often seem like a tightrope act. While it might get a little easier with time, the job is far from over after the kids have flown the coop. Many parents breathe a huge sigh of relief when they’re finally done balancing dirty diapers, whining toddlers, soccer practices and rebellious teenagers; now the relaxation can start, right? Well, sort of. You might not have the day-to-day parenting challenges anymore, but it can be tough to navigate a new relationship with an adult child. Are you a friend? An adviser? A loan shark? When do you give advice, and when do you keep your mouth shut? And what about your handsome son who just can’t seem to find a wife? Here are 10 tips for parenting adult children that will help you learn to strike that balance.

10. Get to Know Them as Adults.

All parents have an aha moment when they realize that their little baby is all grown up. It can be a bittersweet realization — he’s not my sweet little 3-year-old anymore — or a pretty great one — he’s not that back-talking teenager anymore. In any case, he’s different now. He’s his own person. You need to treat him with the same respect you’d give to any other adult, and starting from a place of respect will make your relationship stronger and so much more enjoyable. But please make an effort to come to this realization sooner rather than later — not when he’s 35.

9. Call Before You Come Over.

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people whose kids live in the same town. It’s so easy to pop over while you’re running errands or drop in with a surprise home-cooked meal, isn’t it? While we’re sure your children enjoy parental visits, you need to respect their boundaries, so give them the courtesy of a heads-up call before you come over. At the very least, it will give them a few minutes to straighten up.

8. Don’t Bug Them About Marriage and Kids.

It might seem like your (good-looking, charismatic, perfect) son is taking forever to find his soul mate. What’s he waiting for? You had two toddlers by the time you were 26. Your concern is well-intentioned, of course, but you should stifle the urge to ask him about it at every opportunity. The marriage age has been creeping upward for the past century now: It was 20.8 (for women) in 1970, but now it’s 27.8 for women and 29.8 for men. So relax and don’t bother them. There’s time.

7. Be Firm About the Terms.

Chances are, a time will come when your adult child will ask you for a loan. If you simply can’t swing it, be honest about it. If you do decide to shell out, here are some guidelines:

  • Be transparent. If you have other kids, they’re going to find out about the loan. So be up-front about it and maybe head off some jealousy.
  • Be firm. Interest is up to you, but make sure you have a set repayment schedule.
  • Be optimistic. A 2011 study found that parental monetary assistance actually helps adult children become more independent.

6. Make Them Pay.

Times are tough, and it’s becoming more common for grown children to be living with their parents. If you have a kid returning to the nest, it’s time to set some ground rules. Curfew will likely be a thing of the past, but more will be expected in return. You don’t necessarily need to charge rent (the more they pay you, the less they’ll be saving to move out, right?), but your child should help out in some way — utilities, grocery shopping and cooking meals, household chores, etc. Set a time frame for moving out, and make sure he or she has a financial and employment plan.

5. No Unsolicited Advice.

This is an underlying theme in most of our other tips, but it’s important enough that we’ll make it its own item. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. In a major life crisis or life-or-death situation, by all means, step in with guidance. But on an everyday basis, try your best to keep quiet. If you have a solid relationship with your child, she’ll ask for your advice; she may not take your advice, but she’ll appreciate what you have to say.

4. Let Them Clean Up Their Own Messes.

So, you’ve read the guidelines for giving handouts to your adult kids. Here’s another one: If they keep asking, know when to say when. Sure, we’ve all been in tough spots and needed a hand, but watch out that your darling child doesn’t start taking advantage. If you’re tired of being Daddy Warbucks, march your child over to the nearest bank and show her how to fill out a loan application.

3. Don’t Make Them Choose Between You and Their Own Family. 

Things are easy when your adult kids are single. They can always (well, usually) make time for you. They can come home for major holidays and go on vacations with the rest of the gang. But once they have families of their own, there are going to be scheduling conflicts. There might be fewer family dinners, and maybe Christmas at your house will happen only every other year. Try to be understanding about this, and don’t make your children feel they have to choose. They need time to create their own family traditions.

2. Have an Honest Discussion About the End of Your Life.

This is a tough but absolutely necessary one. No one likes to talk about nursing homes and funeral arrangements, but ignoring the inevitable will only create major problems. Sit your kids down and tell them what you would like to happen if you are incapacitated and when you die. Do you want to live with one of them? Would you move to an assisted-living facility? Would you like to be buried or cremated? Even if you have it down in writing, having a face-to-face discussion will give everyone more peace of mind.

1. Don’t Criticize Their Parenting.

It can be hard to sit on the sidelines when your kids have kids. You’ll want to jump in when you see them making the same mistakes you made — or when you see them raising their children completely differently than you did. But resist the temptation to rush in with criticism. If you see a situation you just can’t leave alone, approach your child in a private, nonconfrontational way. Have an honest discussion, and don’t be offended if your child doesn’t take your advice.

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Alison Cooper

Alison Cooper has written over 200 articles for HowStuffWorks on topics ranging from foods that will survive the Apocalypse to what makes scary music scary.

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