Online Course

SESSION 2: Keep Learning

Doing Life With Adult Children

We’re going to discuss the importance of understanding the differences between us and our children so that we can have healthier conversations and become the kinds of parents they need and want for this stage of life.

Welcome to session two of Doing Life With Your Adult Children. Today, we’re going to spend our time discussing the importance of understanding the differences between you and your children so that you can have healthier conversations and become the kinds of parents that they need and want for this stage of life.

My daughter is 25. What are the most important things that I need to know about her culture?

Yeah, well, we do have to become students of their culture, and it is different. One is that this culture, this generation, the millennials, the emerging adults, they’re shaped by technology unlike any other generation. It’s how they work. Go to a Starbucks, and everybody’s at work, but they’re at work at a Starbucks because they have their screen up. So, they’re shaped by technology. It’s how they communicate.

Another one that I think is … Whether it’s good or bad is they don’t live to work. They work to live. And so work is as important to them. They’re not going to get a gold watch. They’re not going to stay in the same company, most likely for 50 years like my grandfather did. Their grandparents … It probably got in the way for them, work, and that’s not going to be the case for them at all.

Also, and I think this is really positive. They tend to really want a healthy marriage and healthy parenting. One of the number one things for millennials is that they want a good marriage, which I think is kind of neat. Most of them will get married, and most of them will have kids, but they’re going to meander toward it. So, at the age that their parents had kids, they’re probably not going to have kids. At the age of their grandparents, oh no. They’re not going to have kids at that age. So, they’re going to have kids later. But know that when they do get married, all studies show this, that this generation of young person, they want a good marriage, and they want to do a great job raising their kids.

Also, they see tolerance as a major form of loving. And so, sometimes what we see is a big block with their parents because they don’t think their parents are loving because they’re not as tolerant about some of the morals and values that are out there today. And so, Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving dinner and whatnot can get a little wild and crazy because they’re having arguments about this. But what we have to learn as parents is that they’ve been raised in a different world. So, you don’t have to agree with them. They don’t have to agree with you necessarily, but you can still have a strong worldview and still love them and embrace them.

Sometimes I really don’t understand my daughter. She’s 26 years old, and sometimes she’s not always acting like an adult, but oftentimes she wants us to treat her like an adult. So, do you have any advice in regards to that?

Well, first of all, you’re not alone at all. In fact, I think that’s the cry of most parents, and it comes sometimes as a surprise. Now, Jeffrey Arnett coined a phrase, it’s called emerging adulthood. And that’s actually been really helpful to me. And so, let me help you kind of understand what he says the emerging adults are marked by, and this is definitely your daughter.

Number one is it’s an age of identity. It’s an identity exploration if you would. They’re still trying to figure out who they are, and as they’re still trying to figure out who they are, and they’re still trying to figure out who they’re becoming, they’re kind of moving from one person to another. And so one day it’s one way. The next day it’s the other. And that’s just more normal. I think that happened for me more when I was in my teen years.

Secondly, he calls it the age of instability. And even your question kind of gets to this a little bit. Sometimes they’ll bounce around. They’ll bounce around from jobs. They’ll bounce around from relationships. They’ll bounce around and come back to the house and be the boomerang kid who moves back into the house. And that’s just being an age of instability.

They are oftentimes what Arnett says is the most self-focused time in their life. And so much that is because so much is going on inside, and so it becomes very self focused there. They’re not a child. They’re not an adult yet, or they’re not living like an adult. So, they’re incredibly self-focused. Also the age of feeling in between. Sometimes we have to walk in their shoes, and they’re not a kid, but they’re also not an adult, and they’re not settled.

And so when you’re in that stage, you really do feel in between. And so, there’s times when they, “I’m an adult. I want you to treat me like an adult.” And there’s other times when they actually want you to treat them like they were your little kid again. And then also, and I love this one, he calls it the age of possibilities, meaning they have great possibilities. They have great optimism. They have deep hopes. They have wonderful dreams, and they share it with you. And you might be thinking, “I’m not sure that’s really going to work.” But at the same time, what a time in their life to have those dreams and possibilities.

So, after reading this and after studying Jeffrey Arnett and emerging adulthood, I went, “This guy is living in my life and my home because those are my questions with my kids as well.”

And we have to help them learn to experience their choices. And there’s going to be some circumstances and some behaviors and some choices they’re going to make that you’re not going to be happy about. But again, they’re going to learn from that in a good way.

So, I have a question about personal values. What are we supposed to do when we see our kids living completely at odds with what we’ve taught them? Like how do you address harmful behavior without pushing them away?

You know, I think that’s one of the toughest questions, but also one the most heartfelt questions I ever get, and I get it all the time. When our kids violate values, and most likely they will, it’s a different generation, it’s a different culture, I often ask parents, “Do they know what you believe? Do they know how you feel?” And parents almost always say, “Well of course they do.” Say, “Well then you can’t be a one topic parent.” So they know what you believe, they know how you feel. Now make sure that you broaden the relationship so you just don’t talk about it, even if it’s breaking your heart because you’ve got to continue to shower them with love. And remember, really good parents have children who make poor choices. So, they’re violating values, but they’re not necessarily because you’re a bad parent. It’s just kind of what happens.

And I think this is why we have to keep the welcome mat out. So, sometimes what we tend to do, especially when they violate a value that’s very close to our heart, is we do ignore them or we get mad at them or we only want to talk about that, but there’s more to do.

I have a good friend who his daughter was violating values like crazy, and he said he took her snowboarding, and they never talked about it. And then she said, “I know you probably wanted to talk about some other issues, but thanks so much just for kind of spending time with me [inaudible 00:06:40] “. I think that’s a neat thing.

I think a lot of those values that they’re violating, I think there’s a possibility that they’ll crash. If you’ve been mean, and if you only talk about it from a negative point of view, they’re not going to come back to you. But when they crash, I think they will come home, and they’ll recognize that you were probably right in the long run. But if they know how you feel, they know what you think, then you shower them with love.

Now, I think one of the best ways to address our children who are adults, but any age, and frankly I think it’s for those of us who are married, I think it’s the same way with marriage. I think … I like to call it AWE, parenting with AWE. A stands for affection. So, no matter what our kids are doing, whatever values they violated, they still need our affection.

UCLA comes out with a study recently that says it takes eight to 10 meaningful touches a day for someone to thrive. So, it’s important for our kids, even when they violated our values, to show them the fiscal touch, the affection that way. But also I love you, and I’m proud of you. Because you’re not going to be a one topic parent, it’s very possible to have a good conversation with them with affection, where you can say, “I’m proud of you in this,” when you’re not necessarily proud of him in this other way, still find that. So, affection is a big deal.

Warmth is another one. We oftentimes respond to their negativity, but really you’ve got to set the lead. Parents have to lead on this one, and people are drawn toward warmth. I watched my mom do this so well, family of alcoholism and a family of kind of craziness there that I grew up in, and yet mom was a woman of warmth. She set the tone. She was in charge. Did she have feelings that we were all kind of messing up at times? Absolutely. And she wasn’t afraid to talk about it. Please don’t hear me say that. But she also set the atmosphere of warmth. So affection, warmth, and then encouragement.

I think it was what Mark Twain said, “I can live two months on one good compliment.” So, when we’re showing encouragement and affirmation to our kids … I have a phrase in my office that says, “Every child needs at least one parent who is irrationally positive about them.” And sometimes I guarantee you it’s hard to be irrationally positive. But affection, warmth and encouragement is going to draw them even when they know that you disagree, because that’s called the messy middle. You have a view here that’s different than theirs with values, and at the same time, you embrace them with lots of AWE. I think that’s a good way of parenting.


Welcome to the interactive Digital Session Guide

This contains the teaching outline and personal reflection exercise.

You can use this section to take notes and answer questions. Your notes are private, no one from HomeWord can read them. When you are finished, you can download them, email them, or save them for later--don't leave the page without saving! If you prefer pen and paper, you can also download and print the notes.

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.

  • About HomeWord

    HomeWord helps families succeed by creating Biblical resources that build strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids and healthy leaders. Founded by Jim Burns, HomeWord seeks to advance the work of God in the world by educating, equipping, and encouraging parents and churches. Learn More »

  • Support Our Mission

    HomeWord is non-profit, donor supported ministry. If you would like to partner with HomeWord in our effort to help more parents and families you can make a donation. Your investment will allow us to expand this ministry by offering more resources to families and churches in need.

  • Contact Information

    • HomeWord
      PO Box 1600
      San Juan Capistrano, CA

    • Send us an email

    • 800-397-9725
      (M-F: 8:30am-5pm PST)