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How to Build a Successful Relationship with Adult Children

by Judy Kilpatrick

After the stormy teen years and the anxiety-laden launching of young adult children into the world of education and work, many parents find improved relationships with their adult children. In "Mothers and Their Adult Daughters: Mixed Emotions, Enduring Bonds," Karen L. Fingerman, Ph.D. says, "the parent-offspring relationship in modern America is based more on emotional affection than on economic or cultural imperatives." In other words, parents and adult children stay in touch with each other primarily because they enjoy each other. Some tips will help you navigate this new phase of your relationship.

Communicate respectfully with your adult children. After many years of making decisions and providing authoritarian guidance, you might find it difficult to relinquish your parental role for the more mature relationship of parent-adult child. Reflective listening is your best ally. Adult children are more likely to communicate with you when they realize you will not jump in to give advice or scold. As a sounding board, you can provide your child an opportunity to explore personal resources and ideas for problem solving.

Be a cheerleader. As a parent, you welcome good news and positive anecdotes about your adult child's successes. Offer sincere praise. Sometimes your adult child will share small victories with you - because of the affectionate relationship between you - that might be lost on a friend or someone who is not as emotionally attached.

Promote a relationship of understanding and freedom from unnecessary obligation. Invite your children to celebrate holidays and other special events with you, but give them room to decline without fear of hurting your feelings. Adult children, especially when married or seriously involved with someone, are pulled in different directions. Negotiating where to go for Thanksgiving dinner can create conflict for your child with a significant other. The purpose of family gatherings is to maintain bonds. Through your flexibility, you can help strengthen these bonds.

Offer suggestions when asked. With a basis of mutual respect, your adult child may ask for advice based on your experiences and knowledge. Using restraint in giving unsolicited suggestions is especially important when the grandchildren come along. Adult children might not wish to parent the same way that you did.

Tip

  • Be prepared for your adult children to eventually take on a more protective role toward you, especially if you live alone or have health problems. When you have a relationship with your adult child based on mutual respect and affection, you and your children will be able to navigate this stage of life with less tension.

About the Author

For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.

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