Stop Parenting Your Adult Children.

January 30, 2024

Stop Parenting Your Adult Children.

May 29, 2023

Chip's editorial comment: Mike chronicles a topic we don’t talk about a lot in Wisdom Well: the evolution of being a parent.

You become a parent the day your child is born. For many of us, the day that you stop being a parent is a little harder to pin down.

I was a school counselor. I watched parents work really hard to raise good kids. My bride and I also worked hard to raise our son and daughter.   

Eventually all that hard work pays off and your kids become adults and then move out on their own to live their lives. Yay! You’re done, right? 

According to our culture they are now adults.We let them vote, drink, get married and all kinds of other adult stuff. But sometimes our parents' radar screams, “Stay diligent! Mistakes can still be made!”  

I often have parents ask, “Are you ever really done being a parent?” My simple answer is, “Yes!”

This advice seems easy enough. Your kids are now adults, let them fly or whatever? But I know how hard we all worked, and I also know it’s really hard to take your hands off the steering wheel.  

We can still be of help to them, right?

Truth is, we can only really help our newly adult humans when they ask for help. They want to live their own lives now. And get this, they want to make their own mistakes. They actually learned that from us! 

We taught them that they can make mistakes, learn from them, pivot and move forward. They watched us do it too. They are ready!

When we continue to try to actively “parent” our adult children, we start to cause friction, and maybe even fractures, in our relationships with our kids.

So, what do we do? Do we not say anything? We can help and give advice when they ask, but they might not ask if we don’t adjust the roles that we have had as parent/child for all these years. That is where most of the friction is. Our advice, as parents, comes with too much authority and it threatens their independence.

This is where the term “elder” is handy. Elders don’t push their agenda. They make themselves available and they offer their advice when asked. Once the advice is offered, the elder leaves it to the person to choose the direction that most aligns with how they want to approach the problem.

How do we change the roles of parent/child? Well, here is how I started that process. A few years back, I took my adult kids out for lunch individually. I basically said this, “I’m always going to be your father. I’m always going to be available to try and help you. I’m always going to cheer for you. I’m always going to be interested in hearing about your wins, your losses, and your dreams. First though, I’m asking if we can get on the same page with something?”  My kids were like, “Sure Dad. What?”

I restarted the discussion, “I am always going to be your father, but I want to be done being your parent.”

My kids were onboard instantly! Probably because they had NO intention of letting me parent them anymore anyway. Just FYI though, neither do your kids! You can try to parent your adult children, but you risk stifling them or having them drift from you.

By naming the role change and putting it in the open to discuss, the friction goes away. The relationship can now change. If I overstep, my kids know they can stop me because they are adults, and they have that right. I’m careful not to overstep, I want to be available when they do need me.

After my career as a school counselor, I have continued to work in mentor/elder roles helping young adults thrive. These young adults have often asked me for advice on getting their parents off their backs. Parents also ask for advice in this new stage. I explain that I see my role now to be more of an elder. I’m available to listen and give advice only if it’s requested. Then I tell them what I told my kids, “I will always be your father, but I want to be done being your parent”, here is the enthusiastic reaction that I get:

Parents:  “Yes, that! Can I use that?”

Young Adults:  “OMG – Yes, that! Could you call my parents?”

Both generations are full of love for each other. They just don’t realize they need to openly discuss and adjust their roles now that everyone is an adult.

-Mike

Mike Armstrong is a Journeymen, COO, and Founder/CEO of choose2advance.  He was a Crisis Counselor working with at-risk high school kids for 35 years (Depression, Suicide, Substances - usually all 3).

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