Reinventing Your Relationship with Your Adult Children: Express Your Expectations; Have An Honest Discussion about Money

Two more thoughts about reinventing your relationship with your adult children and teens. 

Express Your Expectations.

It’s quite possible they left your home as teenagers or at least as very young emerging adults, but now they are coming home as adults. You need to treat them as such and be respectful of their change in status. At the same time, you hope they will act like the adults they are and still be respectful of your new role and your house. No, it’s not going to be easy, but with some careful planning and a give-and-take dialogue, it can be easier.

When our daughter Becca moved back into the house, Cathy and I were semi-prepared. Experience is a better teacher, and we had not done as well when our oldest daughter, Christy, had moved in the previous year. We had a short list of expectations and a bucket with a toilet brush to help her with the responsibility of cleaning her own bathroom. We tried to set the expectations to a minimum. We asked for a clean bathroom, two meals a week with us, and texting or calling us if she was going to be out past 11:00 p.m., because whether she liked it or not, we would be waiting up if we didn’t know when she was coming home. We also asked that she follow the moral code in our home. We were fortunate this was not a problem for her, but it can be and often is for many families.

Without any planning on our part, I asked her if she had any expectations for us. In my mind this was a one-way conversation, but I was quickly corrected. Becca smiled and after thinking about it for a while rattled off several expectations for us that mostly had to do with our treating her like an adult and not reverting to the teenage years. Developing a short agreement about household expectations, establishing ground rules, and setting some boundaries is always helpful. Negotiation, setting expectations, and compromise are always easier before a child moves in.

If we were doing it all over again today, I probably would have come more prepared to ask for my child’s expectations of us even before giving her ours. But I’d want it to be natural and not seem like I was just trying to listen before sharing my own list.

Have an honest discussion about money.

Keep in mind the high cost of money on relationships. Don’t make it complicated. Even if you have the money, understand that many times, saying I love you to your adult child means saying no to enabling their lack of financial responsibility. Consider charging a nominal rent. One single mom we know said the extra money helped her greatly. Another couple we know charged a small amount of rent money, and then when their son moved out, they gave all the money back to help him with his housing. When it comes to finances and stewardship, the goal is to foster independence and financial responsibility. You never want to become a money tree. That’s why it is always beneficial to develop an exit strategy if you are helping with finances. You are teaching them healthy stewardship at the same time.

My son-in-law is a pilot. I remember when he first went to flight school. He said the landings were a bit wobbly and sometimes a little bumpy. Over the years, landing the plane became second nature. Most of the landings were silky smooth. Sure, occasionally the air gets choppy, and the landing can still be rough, but time and practice make the landings much better. It’s the same in your new relationship with your adult children. As you reinvent the relationship from parent-child to adult-adult, you’ll encounter some bumps in the road. But when you hand them the passport to adulthood, treating them as adults without offering unsolicited advice or enabling them, they eventually get past the awkward years and become responsible adults. This is especially true if we live by the thought at the beginning of this chapter: “It’s really not about you anymore. As he makes the shift to adulthood, he won’t need to see you as much as you want to see him.”


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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Closer, and Doing Life with Your Adult Children. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve and Matt, and Andy; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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