Parents of young children are often told, “Your job is to be their parent, not their friend”. But what about when your child becomes an adult?
Most parent-child relationships take a hit or two while navigating the teenage years. The good news is, it’s possible to survive these blows and develop a relationship that thrives—as long as you are willing to adjust your expectations and boundary lines.
Moving from childhood to adulthood is a massive time of change and upheaval for kids. As Dr Henry Cloud puts it, “Finding your sea legs in the rocky waters of adulthood can mean temporarily pushing away from those closest to you.” As a parent, this can be hard to deal with: you might be tempted to exert more control over your child, but that’s the opposite of what they need or want.
“We just have to be there, waiting, respectful of our adult child’s autonomy, agency and hard work… Letting them come back to you on their own terms is a way of acknowledging their adult freedom,” says Dr Cloud. He suggests six steps to help our relationships with our adult children.
When you recognise you’re still trying to ‘parent’ them, apologise for any hurt caused and signal that you want to work on being friends. This opens up the conversation on what that looks like and how you’d both like to make that happen.
Treat your adult child as an equal
No-one likes to be talked down to, especially from their parents. Have you ever heard someone say, “Well if you’re going to treat me like a child, I’ll behave like one”? Seeing them as an equal levels the playing field and fosters mutual respect.
“Mother knows best” can no longer be your mantra to your adult child. Yes, you might have an opinion on what they should do, but guess what? No-one likes to be told what they should do, especially from someone close to them. If they ask your opinion, remember the goal is friendship not compliance to your way of doing things.
You’re not involved in everything your friends do; the same should be true for your children. If you’re feeling hurt because you weren’t invited or you’re the last to know about something, perhaps take a look at the richness of your own life. Are you just waiting for your kids to involve you, or are you out experiencing life, developing friendships and hobbies of your own?
Being able to make our own choices is both powerful and freeing. Trying to control others by taking away their ability to choose is a dangerous habit. You won’t agree with all their choices and they won’t agree with yours. Learning to respect their right to choose frees you from the angst of needing to control them.
Live in acceptance
Be careful how you communicate.
No-one likes a passive–aggressive person. Don’t slide guilt or judgment into your interactions or they’ll soon realise you’re still holding onto the role of parent and they may just say, “Bye Felicia!”
First appeared in War Cry New Zealand