Online Course

SESSION 1: You’re Fired! (So Be Quiet)

Doing Life With Adult Children

We will discuss two principles that are foundational for cultivating a vibrant relationship with your adult children, and it starts with a simple phrase: You’re fired!

Welcome to our discussion for Doing Life With Your Adult Children. I’m so glad you’ve taken time to invest in some of the most important relationships you’ll ever have. Today, we’re going to be discussing two principles that are foundational for cultivating a vibrant relationship with your adult children, and it starts with a simple phrase, “You’re fired.”

So you’ve invested at least two decades of your life being a day to day parent and now you have an adult child. So principle number one, your role as a parent must change. Now, it’s a parallel journey. We’ve never parented adults before, and we’ve definitely never parented our own adult children, and our adult children have to learn a new role as well. And so that’s not easy for either way. So there was an old description, we kind of had it finally down pat, or at least tried and now we have to find this new one. So guess what? You’re fired as a day to day parent. Okay? That just has to be a part of it. We have to fire ourselves. They still call you Mom, they still call you Dad, but you are moving your parent-child relationship to an adult-adult relationship, and that’s not easy for anybody. So again, you fire yourself, you’ll reinvent the relationship.

So ready or not, you are now with this new job description, and you got to lean into it, identify it. You have to give them the passport to adulthood. You rewrite the script basically is what we’re saying, and you rewrite the script by letting them have control. You got to be encouraging but not intrusive. I was talking to a woman who had a mom who is somewhat intrusive, and she’s 45-years-old, and she’s a tech executive in the San Francisco Bay area.

She’s done very well with her business, and her mom said as she was going out the door, “Put on your coat, it’s cold.” And she said, “Well, Mom, I’m pretty capable of deciding if I’m going to put on my coat or not.” And she started to walk out without. She said, “Hey, I’m your mother put on your coat.” And so I said, “Well, what’d you do?” She goes, “Well, I put on my coat,” but her mom was probably being intrusive, didn’t have to tell her 45-year-old daughter what to do.

Be caring but don’t enable dependency. Way too many parents are still enabling dependency out of their own need, not out of their best needs for their kids. So invest in your emotional and physical and spiritual health. Letting go of your children must be counted as a necessary loss. And sometimes we have to almost grieve that loss of they are not babies anymore. Our job has changed. So again, we have to practice self-care. Someone once said to me, “Untended fires soon become nothing but a pile of ashes.” And I think I understood that greater as my kids became adults, that I needed to attend to fire within my own soul and take care of my own self emotionally, spiritually, and physically so that I would be ready for this new role, and also you got to have serious fun.

So again, while your role changes, your voice does too. Now, if I could show you the scars on my tongue from having to bite my tongue with my adult children, I’m just telling you I’ve had to keep my mouth shut and at the same time keep the welcome mat out. And really that’s the second principle, unsolicited advice is often seen as criticism. So experience can be a better teacher than advice, and we have to remember that. So basically, we don’t give advice, they don’t like it, they don’t want it, frankly, they resent it, and what they really want from us is respect. And they see us giving them respect when we actually listen to them.

So when we speak to our kids, adult kids, I think we kind of have to ask permission. I mean, not in a weird way, but I remember saying to [Christie 00:03:49] one time, my oldest, I said, “Christie, can I talk to you about something right now?” And she goes, “Not now, Dad.” I’m going, “Wait, people pay me to give them advice, but she didn’t want it.” Later on, she came back, and she said, “Hey, what were you going to say?” I think we have to ask open-ended questions like, “Hey, so what are you thinking about the summer?” I mean, I have a plan for their life, but the open-ended questions, “What are you thinking about?” Get them talking.

We talk with them, not at them, and in reality, when our kids were little, we talked at them, and you kind of have to, but today we have to move it to talking with them. And then speak words of grace. Your words have power, and they have the power to bless your adult kids. They also have the power to curse meaning in a negative way. It’s so important that we do speak words of grace. I love the story. Ruth Graham told me this story. Her father is Dr. Billy Graham. Her mom was Ruth Graham Sr., very well-known people.

And Ruth’s story, which she has talked about. She’s written about it, but her 18-year marriage dissolved because her husband had been living a life that was kind of a secret life, and it didn’t work out. And there was deep pain and agony in that. And then she got married on the rebound, and she was telling me that her mom and dad actually said, “We don’t know if this is a good idea.” So I’m thinking, “Wait, Billy Graham and Ruth Graham are saying to their daughter, ‘We don’t think it’s a good idea.'” But she said she got married anyway.

And after a very short time, actually, within 24 hours, she knew it and then not too much longer she realized she was in an abusive relationship, and she again has documented this story many times. And so she gets in her car, she piles as much stuff as she can and she starts driving. She was in Florida, her parents live in Montreat, North Carolina. And they were driving, she was driving to Montreat, not even sure if she was going to go home, but you kind of go home when you’re in trouble and even as an adult. And so she said, “What are my parents going to say? They were the ones who had suggested that I don’t do this. It was too fast. It was a rebound. And it was.” So she finally calls them and said, “You know what? I’m in the area. I want to come and see you. You were right. It was an abusive relationship. I made a mistake. I need to come home,” and she really didn’t know where to go anyplace else.

And so they have a gate at this compound where the Graham’s lived. And so she calls right when she’s coming up to the gate and there’s her dad, he’s out pacing. And this is Dr. Billy Graham, and as he’s pacing, she’s thinking, “What is he going to say to me? I told you so. You should never have done this,” whatever. And she comes in through the gate, and she just parks her car, and he opens the door and with a tear in his eyes, he just says, “Welcome home, Bunny.” They called her Bunny. “Welcome home, Bunny. I love you. I’m proud of you,” And he never said anything. Those were words of grace. What a great story to remind us that you don’t always have to give advice, but that sometimes you just need to give them grace.


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If you have an adult child, you know that parenting doesn't stop when a child reaches the age of eighteen. In many ways, it gets more complicated. Both your heart and your head are as involved as ever, whether your child lives under your roof or rarely stays in contact.

In this online course, parenting expert Jim Burns helps you navigate the toughest and the most rewarding parts of parenting your grown kids.

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