Parenting adult children is just as important as parenting little ones but it is very different. During the phase when they first move away from home, children begin to mature and start finding out how they want to live their own lives as adults. Many of us make the mistake of failing to allow the relationship to mature as our children become adults. If we continue to treat our children the way we have always done, serious conflicts may arise. The way we speak to them, the way we love them, and even how much we give them may need some adjustment.
Take this parenting style quiz to find out whether your parenting style needs attention. Circle the answer that applies to you.
- When you pay a visit to your son, you find his bed unmade, towels on the floor and dishes in the sink. Do you:
a. Immediately organize a cleaning service to come in and clean up his mess.
b. Start washing the dishes and cleaning up yourself.
c. Ignore the mess.
d. Tell him you understand how busy he is with his studies and ask if he would like some help.
- Your daughter tells you she has met a guy and she wants to bring him home. He rolls his eyes when you say grace at the dinner table and openly insults your daughter when she expresses her opinion. Do you:
a. Call your daughter aside and tell her she has to break up with him.
b. Turn on him when you feel he is insulting your daughter.
c. Say nothing and hope your daughter sees the light.
d. Talk to your daughter when a suitable opportunity presents itself and gently express your concerns.
- Your son is having financial difficulties and keeps borrowing money from you. Do you:
a. Ask all kinds of questions to find out where his money is going and criticize his spending habits.
b. Dish out money to him, even when he doesn’t ask for it because you can’t stand the thought of him suffering.
c. Never ask him any questions about where his money is going and just keep giving him loans.
d. Lend him money but make him repay it within a reasonable time period. Find out if he is open to some advice about budgeting.
- Your daughter has decided that she wants to become a Hindu. You are a Christian. and your greatest fear seems to be coming true – that she will abandon the faith she has grown up with. Do you:
a. Tell her that she is going to hell.
b. Try to convince her that she is making a huge mistake.
c. Say nothing for fear of alienating her.
d. Realize that this is a normal part of the developmental transition to adulthood. Make it clear that you respect her choices and communicate openly about spiritual matters.
- Your daughter announces that she is moving in with her boyfriend. Do you:
a. Use every opportunity to condemn her behavior.
b. Worry yourself sick about her and keep calling to find out how she is doing.
c. Take the ostrich approach and pretend its not happening.
d. Give your child unconditional love and accept her partner, even if you do not approve.
- Your son’s girlfriend breaks up with him. Do you:
a. Contact her and give her a piece of your mind.
b. Tell your son he is better off without her and that you never liked her.
c. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t offer any advice and mind your own business.
d. Let your son know that you are there for him but allow him to deal with it in his own way.
- Your daughter comes home to visit. She lives on her cell phone, doesn’t let you in on her plans and seems to want to spend more time with friends than with you. Do you:
a. Confront her about her bad habits and lack of thoughtfulness.
b. Question her extensively every time she goes out about exactly where she is going, who will be there and when she will be back.
c. Act as though you don’t care at all.
d. Keep respectful boundaries and realize that the need for some distance is not a personal affront to you.
- Your son tells you that he is battling at work and his boss is being unfair. Do you:
a. Phone his boss and ask him why he is being unfair to your son.
b. Commiserate with your son and tell him you think his boss is an idiot.
c. Tell him you don’t want to get involved.
d. Give him the emotional support he needs to speak to his boss and try to sort out his problems himself.
- Your daughter wants to buy a car. Do you:
a. Tell her which model she should buy and arrange the whole deal for her.
b. Tell her you think she is not ready for such a big responsibility.
c. Allow her to buy it without giving any input or advice.
d. Give her good guidance but only provide direct advice if she is about to make a massive and potentially irreversible misstep such as buying an unsafe vehicle.
- Your son has gone a few days without answering your text message or voice mail. Do you:
a. Drive to his residence and confront him.
b. Continue to leave voice messages asking him to contact you urgently.
c. Do nothing.
d. Wait patiently until he does contact you. It may be worthwhile following his lead on communications in the future. If he contacts you weekly, contact him weekly. Of course, if the lack of communication goes on for too long, you are quite right to be concerned and to take action.
If you have answered mostly A’s, you tend to be a meddling parent. You are constantly interfering and not allowing your children to make their own decisions. If you answered mostly B’s, you tend to be an overprotective parent. You feel that your child is unable to survive without you. If your answers were mostly C’s, you are an uninvolved parent or you tend to stay silent for fear of alienating your child. Of course, if your answers were mostly D’s, you are confident parents and your parental style is better than most.
If your answers have revealed some flaws in your style of relating, answer the following questions to probe a little more and see where your attitude could need some work:
- Do you try to prevent your children from ever experiencing any hardship or pain?
- Do you still do things for your adult children that they should be doing themselves?
- Do you still tell your adult children what they should and shouldn’t be doing?
- Are you willing to listen to their point of view and openly dialogue with them?
- Do you place genuine importance on your children’s opinions and feelings?
- Do you try to control your child the same way as when they were living at home?
- Do you avoid giving constructive guidance for fear of losing their love?
- Do you give as little input as possible in their lives because you fear conflict?
- Do you allow your child freedom to make his or her own choices and live with the consequences?
- Do you tend to give your children unsolicited advice and become resentful when they don’t listen.
You can develop deep and rewarding new relationships with your adult children if you learn to see them as separate and valued individuals. Young adults need to learn how to deal with their own problems or they will never mature. You cannot short-circuit that process. It is often much more difficult to give love, encouragement and guidance when requested than just stepping in and solving the problem or offering unsolicited advice.
The book How to Really Love Your Adult Child: Building a Healthy Relationship in a Changing World by Dr. Gary Chapman’ and Dr. Ross Campbell was a resource used in building the questions you answered and is a good book to read if you want to explore how to really love your adult child in today’s changing world.
If you are struggling with dysfunctional adult children, Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents by Allison Bottke is written from firsthand experience. She identifies the lies that kept her, and ultimately her son in bondage. She shows how she overcame them and gives other real life stories from other parents.
I would love to hear your comments or stories about how you relate to your adult children.