Parenting adult children

Which parenting season of life would you say is the hardest? Newborns when they need you for everything? Toddler, when they are into everything? Teens when they think they know everything?

I don’t think we can really make light of the challenge of any parenting season, but one stage that is somewhat ignored or minimized is parenting your adult children.

Being in the midst of this season myself, I am struck by the level of anxiety I have about doing this phase of life well. That anxiety comes from placing a very high priority on the relationships we have had with our kids.

But all the “rules” of parenting change when your kids are adults. Does that mean that we toss relationships out the window? I certainly hope not, but it means we have to venture into new territory of relating and communicating. This territory may not rely on the framework of the past, as we quickly learn.

Here are some very simple examples of the struggle that parents have living life with their adult children.

My daughter and I were always close. We shared a love for several sports, both participating and watching. It seemed like a priority for us both until she landed a new job and relationship. Now I am left longing for that common ground and struggling not to feel hurt or forgotten. I know it is affecting our communication. I don’t know what to say, do or even how to be.

My son graduated from college and dove into his career. All through high school, he would come to ask for my advice about relationships, career paths and spiritual issues. Now it is like he assumes he knows what I would say, and he doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t seem to want to share his perspective or experience with me. When did the rules change and what are they now?

Yes, the rules do change and they are not a neat set of constants. There are multiple factors that complicate the relationships—factors such as kids returning home in adult years after job loss, relationship and lifestyle choices, grandparents raising grandchildren while a parent does recovery and, more recently, quarantine putting families together unexpectedly.

Some parents assume relationships will end or be severed in adulthood, and they make no effort to transition their relationships. It is too hard, too messy, too painful, too humiliating.

Other parents try to hold on to the relationship as it was in the past, and all parties involved end up feeling disrespected and offended. In either case, the loss is real because there is so much to be gained in the multi-generational family system.

I place a very high priority on these family relationships. The accounts of family dynamics in Scripture make it clear how important adult-to-adult relationships are to the heritage of God’s people and how damaging those relationships can be when left unattended. Look at David’s life with his sons and daughters in their adult years. I would rather struggle through the awkward, painful and confusing interaction if it means that I can establish a foundation for a relationship with my children as adults.

So, maybe we can have a place to support one another in this effort. Southeast’s Care Ministry is going to offer an eight-week workshop called Adult to Adult, to explore how we can position ourselves in relationship with our adult children. We can’t control what they do, say or think, but we can determine what we bring to the table and what we can offer to the relationship.

Based on material from Jim Burns’ book, “Living Life with Your Adult Children,” we will explore what might be the new rules for this stage of life and even grapple with how we feel about these changes. We are not going to fix our children, but we may be able to find a position or posture that reflects God’s best design for family in this season, adult to adult.

The Adult to Adult workshop starts Thursday, Sept. 16, and runs through Nov. 4. It will meet from 7:45 to 8:45 p.m. in WC 436 at the Blankenbaker Campus following worship. No registration is needed. If you have questions, email Linda Allen at lallen@secc.org.

Linda Allen is an equipping associate in Southeast Christian Church’s Care Ministry.