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SALT LAKE CITY — The transition from childhood to adulthood brings a change of roles that can be difficult to maneuver. Parents often feel a lot of pressure for their children to launch into adulthood successfully. Here’s some advice that can help parents as they let their adult children be adults.
1. Respect healthy boundaries and allow autonomy
Parents spend so many years rearing their children that it can be difficult to relinquish some of that parental control and allow their children to be an adult.
One example is of a teenager learning to drive. Initially, the parent needs to be in the car with that teen to coach them and to make sure that they are driving correctly and safely. But as the teen gains experience behind the wheel, the parent does not need to coach as much, and eventually no longer needs to be in the car with the teen. It’s the same with growing children.
When the child is small they need a lot of care. But as the child grows, they no longer need the same amount of coaching and eventually they need space to be autonomous.
Adult children need to be allowed to be adults. They need boundaries in order to figure out what it means to be an adult. As that happens, the child could possibly stray from some of the lessons their parent taught them. They may disagree on religion or politics, for example, but they need that autonomy to develop into healthy adults. They need a chance to develop a separate identity.
2. Listen more than you talk
This is good communication advice for any relationship, but especially in this parent/adult child relationship. Part of a parent’s role for 18 years has been to give advice. For the adult child, advice can be difficult to accept from parents — especially when it is unsolicited — and in some cases could cause the adult child to feel insulted, belittled or affronted.
3. Don’t avoid conflict
Conflict is going to happen. Trying to avoid it can lead to tension, arguments and misunderstandings.
Things don’t need to come to a boil. It’s important for both parties to express themselves, listen to one another and come to a resolution.
When kids are young, conflicts usually involved them needing to brush their teeth, go to bed and do chores. The conflict was generally resolved with the parent saying “you will do it.” Those children are now adults and conflicts will be different.
Parents should come to the conflict recognizing that they no longer have that same control over their child’s life and that they will need to communicate with their adult children in a different way than they did when the child was younger.
4. Accept those who are important to your children
As a parent, if a family friend approached you and began to criticize your child, you may become upset and defensive. As a parent, you may dislike a child’s friend or not agree with your child’s choice of a significant other, but unless the child is in mortal danger, it’s important to be accepting of those who are important in the adult child’s life. That can be done by showing interest in the person, include them in functions and by not speaking ill or criticizing them.
5. Don’t overlook your children for your grandchildren
Have you ever been at a family event when the adult child and grandchildren walk in, and the grandparents go right to the grandchildren? They say hello to their own children almost as an afterthought. Adult children love to see their parents loving their children. But as parents, it’s important to remember the continual need to nurture a relationship with their own children as well as with their grandchildren.
About the author: Triona McMaster, LCSW specializes in helping individuals overcome life's challenges, including depression, anxiety and trauma/PTSD by using highly specialized modalities, such as EMDR. Learn more about her and her services at www.lifestonecenter.com.