Parenting Your Adult Child
By Shelley Galasso Bonanno, M.A.
Studies reveal the relationship between a parent and a child is the longest, lasting social tie humans ever develop. When children are born, they are dependent on their parents to meet all of their needs. While the goal of parents is to help their children become self-sufficient and autonomous, it often seems as though children become adults far more quickly than parents expected. Childhood temper tantrums and teenage battles inevitably wane. I often hear parents comment on how unbelievably quickly they feel their children have grown into young adults. Suddenly, or so it seems, once-dependent children have become adults themselves.
As children grow to maturity, their relationships with their parents do not always develop at the same pace. And the transition from raising a child to interacting with an adult child is certainly complex and often challenging. Nevertheless, there are many ways both parents and children can maintain a healthy and meaningful adult relationship throughout their lifespan.
While setting limits and boundaries is important in all healthy relationships, parents may find they have developed a rigid set of boundaries with their children that is difficult to adjust as needed. As children transition into adulthood, previously set boundaries may no longer be appropriate and will likely require re-evaluating. Respecting childrens privacy and encouraging children, without directing their actions, becomes much more important in forming a positive relationship with adult children. It is also important to remember that children are not always on equal footing with their parents, and will likely remain uncomfortable being privy to their parents private matters, such as conflicts with their spouse or details of their intimate relationships. Yet they may need to be respectfully included in other matters, such as health issues and living arrangements.
Embracing children’s choices and differences can be particularly challenging when there are strong disagreements. As most parents discover, as children age it is inevitable that one day they will make decisions of which they disapprove. Respecting their childrens differences can be difficult, particularly when their choices do not coincide with a parents own belief system or entail what seems to the parents is likely to have disastrous results. Respecting that adult children have their own opinions, recognizing and accepting that they will not always coincide with their own, and continuing to provide loving support are essential components to effective interactions with adult children.
Being the parent of an adult child is certainly different than being a parent of a child or even an adolescent. Watching your children make devastating setbacks, lose their jobs, have their hearts broken or even divorce, can leave parents feeling helpless, sad, and even angry. Validating your childrens feelings, as opposed to just trying to problem-solve their difficulties, can help foster a strong and positive adult relationship with your children.
While all relationships can be challenging, the relationship between adult child and their parents is unique. Being there for your children, validating their feelings, supporting them no matter what, and accepting the adult into which they have flourished, encourages a healthy and happy relationship that can last a lifetime.
Shelley Galasso Bonanno, M.A. is a practicing limited licensed psychologist, mediator, and psychodynamic psychotherapist. A lifelong resident of Macomb County, she earned her Masters Degree from Wayne State University in 1987 with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. You can follow her on Twitter@shelleybonanno.