May 15, 2022 | Doug Sauder
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When asked why he wrote his book Doing Life with Your Adult Children, author and Speaker Jim Burns replied, “Desperation.” This is not an easy stage of life and when he found himself there, he researched the subject. His book and seminar by the same title help parents navigate the tricky terrain of loving their adult children.
It is critical for parents to understand where their children are coming from. Each generation of parents must become knowledgeable about their kids’ generation. If parents judge their adult children by the rules and norms they grew up with, they will severely misjudge the beliefs and ideals of that generation.
These parents grew up with cassette tapes and CDs, cable television and HBO. They called friends on the telephone and started using personal computers when they were teenagers. They rarely switched jobs during their working careers and believed you had to work hard and put in many hours to get noticed and get ahead in their careers. Men of this generation got married at around 27 years of age, and women were about 25 years old (in 1995).
Young adults today grew up with digital media and Netflix. Cell phones and computers were a regular part of their lives since they were young. They will have multiple jobs and careers throughout their working life and strongly believe in work-life balance. They assume that they will be rewarded for merely showing up for work. In 2020, the average age for young adults to get married was 31 for men and 28 for women.
With such differences in their basic beliefs, there are sure to be misunderstandings and frustration. Parents look at their adult children as if they were from another world. In some respects, they are. These young adults grew up in a post-9/11 world, one that is very different from the world their parents grew up in.
Despite all these differences, the hearts of adult children are still the same. Even at this stage in life, your children still want to know that you love them. As their parent, you need to show your adult children you still love them even if you disagree with them or their life choices. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary. For the kids of this generation, tolerance is a sign of love.
As you continue loving your adult children, the dynamic needs to change from a parent-child relationship to an adult-adult relationship. Your kids still need you, but they no longer require a parent. People at this stage of life need a mentor, coach, and support system. They will often let you fill these roles if it is done in the structure of an adult-adult relationship.
As you move into your new role, be encouraging. As you see your adult children make good choices, cheer them on. Don’t be intrusive. If your child is about to make a mistake, ask, “May I offer some advice?” If the answer is “no,” then you need to learn to accept that. As you move forward, you will find that experience and natural consequences are better teachers than advice. Your child will learn the lessons they need, even if they come the hard way.
When your kids need you, be caring, but do not enable dependency. You know you are enabling dependency, when your kids look to you to for things they should be doing for themselves. Treat them with respect and dignity. Talk with them, not at them, and speak words of grace and love. You will also need to bite your tongue sometimes. For emerging adults, unsolicited advice feels like criticism.
Most of all, have fun! You all love each other, you have history together. Keep old traditions like barbeques or days at the beach. Find new things to enjoy together like zip-lining or taking a cooking class. Try an escape room together. This is a great activity to practice teamwork, respect, listening to one another, and holding your tongue.
Think of “adult” as a new job description for each of you. As you and your kids transition into these new roles, there will be periods of adjustment. None of you will get it all right all the time. You all need to work at keeping the lines of communication open.
Most importantly, you need to entrust your children to God’s love and care. Turn to Him for help and comfort and turn your kids over to Him when they need advice and direction. Jim Burns has a Prayer of Relinquishment in his book Doing Life With Your Adult Children.
God, I relinquish my children to Your care and watchfulness. Give me the courage to let go as they move, sometimes ever so slowly, toward responsible adulthood. Grant me discernment to know when to carefully intervene and the restraint to do so only when absolutely necessary. I acknowledge that this is one of the hardest transitions I have ever had to make, and that I need Your guidance and insight. In all things, help me to love my children as You love them – lavishly and with grace. Amen
Elizabeth Wheeler is a content creator and copywriter mainly for the Christian and homeschool markets. She lives in Boca Raton with her husband and their two children. She enjoys writing, reading, and spending time with her family.