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Re-learning how to parent your children as they become adults

The whole goal of parenting is to teach our kids how to be independent people, and how to function in society without us. Of course, we always want to be there to support them, but as they grow into adults and go into the world, parents start to fade into the backgrounds of their lives.

The thing is, this is the way it should be.

We don't want to have our 40 year old still living in the basement, asking us when dinner is going to be ready, or when their shirts are going to be washed. Teaching teens and young adults essential skills helps them learn to be more and more self-reliant and able to live on their own.

Emerging Adulthood

I have older teens now, and I keep referring to them as my 'kids' for lack of a better term.

However, according to The Hartford, "experts are using the term “emerging adulthood” more frequently, thanks to the work of Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties. "

The term makes sense to me, because I see in my kids sometimes that in many real ways they are adults already. But in others, they still seem more like kids. These years in the late teens and early 20's are full of firsts and milestones for them.

According to The Hartford,

There may be overlap and outliers in these decades—for example, more than 10 million millennials are currently caregivers for a parent or grandparent—but these are among the general milestones and markers for young adults:

  • Life in the 20s. Finishing college (or attending other post-secondary institutions), applying to/attending graduate school for an advanced degree, looking for jobs, dating, exploring identity, defining career and life success.

  • Life in the 30s. Career advancements, relationship changes (longer-term dating, marriage, cohabitation), travel, saving for/buying a home, starting a family.

  • Life in the 40s. A more focused career (or perhaps a career change), raising children, starting to think about retirement, planning for caregiving as parents and grandparents age, continued education.

Being almost 40 myself, I find it strange to see the research referring to people through their 40's as young adults! It makes sense that there are many changes that our children go through as they grow through each decade of their lives. Our parenting will change as they get older as well.

The Role of Parents in Adulthood

As our children grow into older teens and early twenty-somethings, we are no longer (hopefully) telling them to do their homework, or get home by curfew. We are letting them make more and more choices themselves.

According to Stromont Vail Health, here are some tips for parenting adult children still living at home:

  1. Set boundaries — and be clear about them.

  2. Respect your child’s choices and independence.

  3. Avoid the blame game.

  4. Make informed decisions about money.

  5. Embrace the change.

Instead of micromanaging their lives, we can take on more of a consulting role.

We can show them that we are still available if they need help, and we still want to spend time with them. But we don't need to have a say in every decision that they make. In fact, it is better if we let them make more and more decisions on their own. That way, they will be able to move out and be self sufficient.

For example, my daughter wanted to get a cat. I told her that if she did, I wasn't going to take care of it for her. She would have to do all the care herself, and if the cat got sick she would have to take him to the vet.

Once she got the cat, she was able to step up to the plate and do everything that needs to be done for her new pet. She takes care of his vet appointments, shopping for his food, and cleaning his litter box.

The more your kids show that they are responsible, the more responsibility you can give them.

Instead of having a curfew for my 19 year old, I just tell her to be quiet when she comes in and that she needs to lock the deadbolt. It has given her a degree of autonomy to make her own decisions, and I feel like it has been well placed. She never comes home drunk, or past midnight. And resultingly, she never lies to me about where she is going, because she doesn't feel like she has to.

Granting our kids autonomy helps create trust

The more freedom we give adult children to make their own choices, the more they will trust us as well. This makes them more likely to open up to us about what is going on in their lives.

They know that we trust them, so they are willing to trust us in return.

Trust inspires open communication. When kids know that we trust them, it lets them know that we are safe people to talk to about important decisions. Whether it is a new love interest, a tattoo or piercing, or what city they should move to after college, they are more likely to ask for our advice when we have shown trust in their decisions.

By allowing kids to make their own choices, and only giving input when asked, it can help our relationship with our teen or young adult make the transition to an adult relationship.

It can be a struggle at first to let go of control as a parent, so it can be something we do gradually. We can show that we trust our child's choices in small things, and then when they prove responsible, in larger things as well.

From parent to friend

As our kids become adults, we make the gradual shift from being their bosses, to being peers. Meaning, we are all adults now.

Sure, we are older and more experienced adults. We still have some lessons to teach them, but nobody wants to be around a busybody who is trying to teach them something all the time. It's no fun.

The older our kids get, the less they are going to need us. So, we want them to want us instead. That's how we make the transition to being friends with our adult children.

We all eventually navigate this in different ways, and there is some trial and error involved.

One thing we can do is try to spend quality time with our adult children doing enjoyable activities together. Do they like fishing? Go fishing. You get the picture. By spending leisure time together doing something that is mutually enjoyable, we make it so that family time isn't a drag.

We want to have relationships with our grown children for years to come, so we want to make sure we are doing things that are based on common interests. That way, we have a relationship that is based on more than a sense of vague family obligation.

Do you have young adult children? What strategies have worked for you? Let me know in the comments!

Picture of mother and daughter taking a selfie with text that reads, "Relearning how to parent your kids as they become adults."
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