You never stop being a parent, even when your children are adults. Despite this natural inclination, disagreement that places you in the proverbial parent role can't be done so fairly. This is because you and your adult children are arguing with different approaches and at times, with different expectations for an outcome. While you remain the parent, it's important to argue fairly with your adult children, adult to adult. This can mean setting aside your instinctual urge to protect, prevent or control your children. It also means being confident that your parenting has been effective enough to raise adults who can argue fairly.
Don't make attempts to control the conversation or your adult children. Psychologist Jim Burns, Ph.D., explains in the homeword.com article, “How to Resolve Conflicts With Adult Children," that while your children are always your children, you should not attempt to have the same control over them that you had when they were young. This includes attempts at controlling them to agree or concede out of guilt or obligation to you for having raised them. A fair argument can quickly become heated, particularly when both you and your adult children are passionate about being right. Escalated emotions are normal and can be diffused by using a calm tone, but don't resort to what worked to control your children when they were young.
Provide constructive advice instead of attempting to be right. You and your children are no longer restricted by differences in age or the strata that are inherent in parent-child relationships. You have a wealth of advice from your experiences that you can share with your adult children. Avoid attempting to force your children into using your advice and remain confident that you have raised capable adults who are able to make their own decisions. If you feel that their safety is at risk, express that without demanding that they take your advice. Mistakes, like successes, serve to make your adult children better decision-makers.
Identify and work through your feelings, especially anger and resentment that occurs in arguing. According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, in its publication "Building Positive Relationships," conflict resolution can sometimes be uncomfortable or downright painful. Within the context of your argument however, are some very real feelings that may or may not be related to the topic at the forefront of the disagreement. Put your pride aside and back down from being verbally aggressive if you truly want to create an environment for a fair disagreement. Do some self-reflection to identify what it is you are feeling in the argument and possible reasons why you feel that way.
Admit when you're wrong and accept your adult children's apologies. It's easy to perpetuate an argument by refusing to apologize, admit you're wrong or accept an apology. Arguing fairly however, should be an opportunity where you agree to be vulnerable, and fallible. Conflicts often become a verbal pushing match because one or more participants is clinging to vulnerability and can't or won't admit when he has been wrong. Don't take blame for something that isn't yours but listen to your adult children with an open mind.
Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.