As our kids get older, our relationship with them inevitably alters. They are now independent, our equals, with their own lives. Adapting to the shift can be tricky – some of us find it easier than others to loosen the reins when it comes to parenting adult children.
Personally, I found one of the best things about my own kids growing up was the friendship we developed. Giving them space to become their own people wasn’t always easy, but as a result we have mutual respect and trust, as well as a deep affection. My 25-year-old son says that one day he wants to be the kind of parent I am – hopefully, that means I’ve done a decent job.
1Take a step back
When your adult child first ventures into the world, it’s tempting to metaphorically hover over them – even if you’ve never been a helicopter parent before. Are they getting up for work on time? Have they remembered to pay the phone bill? Can they really afford to go out every weekend and still cover the rent?
The thing is, none of this is your concern. And if you keep interfering, your child will never learn to take responsibility for themselves. It’s natural to worry, but sometimes you just have to let them get on with it. When my son’s car insurance was due, his grandfather called nearly every day to ask if he’d sorted out his new policy. He couldn’t understand why we weren’t hassling the lad too. Yes, as the deadline drew closer we got a little anxious, but we knew it was the right thing to do. And he did sort it out on time (even if it was at the last minute).
2Be clear about any help you’re prepared to give
One of the hardest lessons your adult child will learn early on in their independence is how to manage their finances. Earning their own money and living in their own place is a heady combination. It’s not surprising the freedom to do as they please is hard to resist. Then the bills start arriving, and it’s two weeks to pay day. Can the Bank of Mum & Dad help?
No parent wants to see their child struggle. But if you’re always there to make up the shortfall, you become the easy option. Before they strike out on their own, have a conversation about the circumstances under which you’re prepared to lend them money if they need it. Setting out how you expect to be repaid is a good idea, too.
3Only offer advice when you’re asked
We’re used to guiding our kids and sharing our opinions. All their lives, we’ve been the ones with the answers. It’s hard to accept what we have to say may no longer be welcome. In fact, if we’re too quick to comment on decisions they make or how they’re handling their lives, they’re likely to see it as criticism.
Our grown-up children need to know we trust them to tread their own paths. Make sure they know you’re there if they need you, ready to listen and be their sounding board. If you’re seriously concerned about something, find a subtle way to introduce the subject on a general basis. Open the way for them to talk to you, rather than confronting them.
4Agree on communication channels
One of the most frustrating things about my son is his tendency to drop off the planet occasionally. I know he’s busy. I know he has more important things on his mind than letting me know when he plans to visit this summer. But it’s really annoying when texts, Facebook messages, voicemails and even tweets disappear into the void with no reply.
Now, we have a simple solution. If a message starts with ‘IMPORTANT’, he knows he needs to answer fairly quickly. ‘URGENT’ needs a response as soon as he sees it. For everything else, we’ve set up a family chat group for anything random, general or otherwise unimportant.
5Accept their choice of partner
At some stage, it’s likely your adult child will find a significant other. There’ll probably be a succession of potential partners before ‘the one’ comes along. You may like all of them, some of them, or none of them. However you feel, it’s important you play nicely.
One father I know was convinced that, when it came to the crunch, his daughter would choose him over the ‘undesirable’ (in his eyes) she’d lost her heart to. She didn’t. Chances are, your child won’t either, so don’t issue ultimatums. Like it or not, this person is in your son or daughter’s life, possibly for ever. You need to be the grown-up you are and find a way to deal with it. Polite tolerance is fine if that’s all you can manage.
6Respect their space
While the kids are young, occasions such as birthdays and Christmas tend to be spent together as a family. Once they’re grown-up, that changes. And it can be really, really hard to accept.
I can remember the first time my husband told his mother we weren’t attending the traditional Boxing Day get-together with his extended family. After spending Christmas Day with his parents, we were visiting my clan instead. She was visibly shocked. I probably reacted the same way when my son decided he was going out with his mates for New Year.
You don’t have the right to impose yourself on them, either. Don’t announce that you’ll be staying with them for the weekend – ask if it’s ok. Your door might always be open to them, but they don’t have to apply the same rules to you.