10 Tips for Parenting Adult Children

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Although it's usually far less challenging than when your children are young, your job as a parent doesn't end when your kids are finished with school and leave the house. See more parenting pictures.

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10 Tips for Parenting Adult Children

Parenting can often seem like a tightrope act. While it might get a little easier with time, the job is far from over after the kids have flown the coop. Many parents breathe a huge sigh of relief when they're finally done balancing dirty diapers, whining toddlers, soccer practices and rebellious teenagers; now the relaxation can start, right? Well, sort of. You might not have the day-to-day parenting challenges anymore, but it can be tough to navigate a new relationship with an adult child. Are you a friend? An adviser? A loan shark? When do you give advice, and when do you keep your mouth shut? And what about your handsome son who just can't seem to find a wife? Here are 10 tips for parenting adult children that will help you learn to strike that balance.

Did You Know?

You might think that adolescence is a stage we leave behind when we exit our teens, but it actually lasts until the early to mid-20s.

10: Get to Know Them as Adults

All parents have an aha moment when they realize that their little baby is all grown up. It can be a bittersweet realization -- he's not my sweet little 3-year-old anymore -- or a pretty great one -- he's not that back-talking teenager anymore. In any case, he's different now. He's his own person. You need to treat him with the same respect you'd give to any other adult, and starting from a place of respect will make your relationship stronger and so much more enjoyable. But please make an effort to come to this realization sooner rather than later -- not when he's 35.

Do your grown kids and yourself a favor and call before you come over to see them.

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9: Call Before You Come Over

Maybe you're one of those lucky people whose kids live in the same town. It's so easy to pop over while you're running errands or drop in with a surprise home-cooked meal, isn't it? While we're sure your children enjoy parental visits, you need to respect their boundaries, so give them the courtesy of a heads-up call before you come over. At the very least, it will give them a few minutes to straighten up.

Did You Know?

Be careful about criticizing your children's choice in mates -- you may be living with them soon enough. The AARP analyzed census data in 2010 and found a 25 percent increase in multiple-generation families living under one roof.

8: Don't Bug Them About Marriage and Kids

It might seem like your (good-looking, charismatic, perfect) son is taking forever to find his soul mate. What's he waiting for? You had two toddlers by the time you were 26. Your concern is well-intentioned, of course, but you should stifle the urge to ask him about it at every opportunity. The marriage age has been creeping upward for the past century now: It was 20.8 (for women) when you tied the knot in 1970, but now it's 28.2 for men. So relax and don't bother him. There's time.

If you lend money to your children, even if it's a small amount, make sure they know your expectations for repayment.

©iStockphoto.com/Stuart Miles

7: Be Firm About the Terms

Chances are, a time will come when your adult child will ask you for a loan. If you simply can't swing it, be honest about it. If you do decide to shell out, here are some guidelines:

  • Be transparent. If you have other kids, they're going to find out about the loan. So be up-front about it and maybe head off some jealousy.
  • Be firm. Interest is up to you, but make sure you have a set repayment schedule.
  • Be optimistic. A 2011 study found that parental monetary assistance actually helps adult children become more independent.
Did You Know?

Kids' cellphone plans and health insurance are two common expenses that parents continue to pay for after they cut off support for things like daily living expenses, tuition and credit card bills.

6: Make Them Pay

Times are tough, and it's becoming more common for grown children to be living with their parents. If you have a kid returning to the nest, it's time to set some ground rules. Curfew will likely be a thing of the past, but more will be expected in return. You don't necessarily need to charge rent (the more they pay you, the less they'll be saving to move out, right?), but your child should help out in some way -- utilities, grocery shopping and cooking meals, household chores, etc. Set a time frame for moving out, and make sure he or she has a financial and employment plan.

Did You Know?

Thirteen percent of parents in a 2009 Pew Research study said they had at least one adult child living in their home.

5: No Unsolicited Advice

This is an underlying theme in most of our other tips, but it's important enough that we'll make it its own item. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. In a major life crisis or life-or-death situation, by all means, step in with guidance. But on an everyday basis, try your best to keep quiet. If you have a solid relationship with your child, she'll ask for your advice; she may not take your advice, but she'll appreciate what you have to say.

Did You Know?

According to the Project on Student Debt, the class of 2009 had the highest annual unemployment rate on record for college graduates ages 20 to 24, with almost 9 percent unable to find jobs -- an increase from 5.8 percent in 2008.

4: Let Them Clean Up Their Own Messes

So, you've read the guidelines for giving handouts to your adult kids. Here's another one: If they keep asking, know when to say when. Sure, we've all been in tough spots and needed a hand, but watch out that your darling child doesn't start taking advantage. If you're tired of being Daddy Warbucks, march your child over to the nearest bank and show her how to fill out a loan application.

If you expect your children to choose between you and their own family, expect to be disappointed, too.

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3: Don't Make Them Choose Between You and Their Own Family

Things are easy when your adult kids are single. They can always (well, usually) make time for you. They can come home for major holidays and go on vacations with the rest of the gang. But once they have families of their own, there are going to be scheduling conflicts. There might be fewer family dinners, and maybe Christmas at your house will happen only every other year. Try to be understanding about this, and don't make your children feel they have to choose. They need time to create their own family traditions.

Long-term health care and end-of-life financial decisions are difficult to talk about but are necessary. Your last wishes shouldn't be something your children have to figure out themselves.

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2: Have an Honest Discussion About the End of Your Life

This is a tough but absolutely necessary one. No one likes to talk about nursing homes and funeral arrangements, but ignoring the inevitable will only create major problems. Sit your kids down and tell them what you would like to happen if you are incapacitated and when you die. Do you want to live with one of them? Would you move to an assisted-living facility? Would you like to be buried or cremated? Even if you have it down in writing, having a face-to-face discussion will give everyone more peace of mind.

If you can't bite your tongue, never criticize your adult children's parenting style in public.

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1: Don't Criticize Their Parenting

It can be hard to sit on the sidelines when your kids have kids. You'll want to jump in when you see them making the same mistakes you made -- or when you see them raising their children completely differently than you did. But resist the temptation to rush in with criticism. If you see a situation you just can't leave alone, approach your child in a private, nonconfrontational way. Have an honest discussion, and don't be offended if your child doesn't take your advice.

For more information on parenting adult children, keep going to the next page.

Lots More Information

Related ArticlesMore Great LinksSources
  • AARP. "Parental Support Doesn't Turn Grown Kids Into Slackers." April 11, 2011. (April 28, 2011) http://www.aarp.org/relationships/parenting/info-04-2011/parental-support-of-grown-kids.html
  • Arnett, Jeffrey, and Fishel, Elizabeth. "In Sluggish Economy, More Adult Children Are Banking on Parents' Aid." AARP. Jan. 6, 2011. (April 28, 2011)http://www.aarp.org/relationships/parenting/info-01-2011/bank_of_mom_dad.html
  • Coleman, Joshua. "Seven Common Mistakes of Parenting Adult Children." Huffington Post. Oct. 30, 2007. (April 28, 2011)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-joshua-coleman/seven-common-mistakes-of-_b_70502.html
  • Fleck, Carole. "Multigenerations Living Under One Roof." AARP. May 2010. (April 28, 2011)http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-05-2009/wo05_intergen.html
  • InfoPlease. "Median Age at First Marriage, 1890-2010."http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005061.html
  • Pickhardt, Carl. "Parenting After the Adolescent Becomes Adult." Psychology Today. June 21, 2010. (April 28, 2011)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201006/parenting-after-the-adolescent-becomes-adult
  • Segell, Michael. "New Rules for Parenting Grown-Up Kids." Prevention. May 2008. (April 28, 2011)http://www.prevention.com/health/health/healthy-living/advice-for-parenting-adult-children/article/30349f63293c8110VgnVCM10000013281eac____/