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How To Best Parent Adult Children

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Maria Olsen, Positive Aging Kuel Category Expert

One of the most difficult transitions in my life has been adjusting my parenting approach as my children became teens and then adults.

Respect My Children’s Choices:

I willingly put my career on hold to be an at-home mom for 15 years, and know I was fortunate to have had that opportunity. Our job as parents is to teach our children to be independent. But, boy, did it hurt as my children pushed me away.

“Expectations breed resentments.”

I work on not taking it personally that they prefer spending more time with their significant others and friends than with me. I did, too, at that age. Certainly, when they marry, their principal attachment will be to their spouse, as it should be.

Expectations breed resentments. So my goal is to respect my children’s choices and my evolving role in their lives.

An Advisor To Adult Children:

Child development experts recommend becoming more of a coach to teens and then an advisor to adult children. As an advisor, I try not to offer my advice unless asked for it, or if a dangerous situation has emerged. Practicing the pause before speaking has improved every relationship in my life. Before I speak, I ask myself if what I am thinking really needs to be said. Usually, it does not.

It is hard to bite my tongue when I see my kids heading towards a bad decision or something that is going to cause them pain. I would take on their pain myself, but I know that is not serving them or me in the long run.

Studies show that part of the brain involved in decision-making is not fully developed until age 25 or so, and usually later for men. Because I know this, I sometimes find it difficult to practice restraint and not interfere in their lives. Yet society view them as adults who can serve in the military at age 18. And they certainly view themselves as fully competent to make their own decisions.

“We are all perfectly imperfect humans, and I know that what we focus on becomes magnified in our lives.”

Children Are Growing Up:

I learned to listen more to understand, as opposed to listening with an ear to formulate my response. Our children are growing up in a world vastly different than the world of our childhood. Social media has brought tremendous pressure upon this generation, in various ways. And vernacular has changed. It took me a long time not to assume someone’s preferred pronouns and to use “they” to refer to a single person. My children appreciate it when I do these things, so I try.

My therapist once recommended focusing on all that I love about my adult children, instead of things I find challenging or something I do not like. We are all perfectly imperfect humans, and I know that what we focus on becomes magnified in our lives. This advice is particularly helpful when we are going through rough patches.

Allow Our Children To Make Mistakes:

Of course, I love my children with all my heart. But do I agree with all their choices? No. We must allow our children to make mistakes, however, in order to grow. My overzealous attempts to protect my children when they were teens was robbing them of learning opportunities. But letting go and watching them hurt was difficult.

“We do not get to choose who our children decide to date or marry.”

We do not get to choose who our children decide to date or marry. I am relieved that they both chose well. I am intensely curious about my children’s lives, but I try to limit my questions. It is hard for me to do, though, when even what they had for breakfast on a given day is of interest to me!

Nurturing common interests is a good idea. I often discuss books with my daughter and ask her for recommendations. My son is interested in Broadway shows and pop culture, so I try to stay current. My daughter dutifully calls me once a week, but my son rarely does.

Boundaries And Communication Are Key:

Texting is his preferred mode of communication. I try not to take it personally, and to remember what it was like to be in my 20s. My kids live in other cities, and so I try to respect their space when I visit, by renting a nearby AirBnB and not expecting them to entertain me. And when they are home, I try to plan things and meals that they like.

“I know that many people struggle with how much to help their children and whether to allow them to move back home. Boundaries and communication are key.”

I am lucky that they both are “launched.” They both graduated from college and are mostly supporting themselves. We still help out with health and car insurance, which typically are the last strings to be cut, along with allowing children to remain on parents’ cell phone plans.

But I know that many people struggle with how much to help their children and whether to allow them to move back home. Boundaries and communication are key.

Assist Without Depriving Them:

If your children are having financial difficulties, find ways to assist without depriving them of growth opportunities. Reduce some of the struggles, but don’t enable. Be mindful of allowing your child to reach a higher level of adult responsibility with whatever you do. Set up a repayment schedule, for example.

If we perform our roles properly as parents, we work towards putting ourselves out of a job. I don’t exactly love this unemployment, but I am learning to accept it.

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Maria Olsen

About the Author:

Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show and podcast host in the Washington, D.C., area. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.