We will always be parents to our children no matter how old they are. The what-where-when- and how of communication with our children, however, is ever-changing. We as parents have an opportunity to model and teach how a healthy relationship works. We need to analyze our communication regularly and ask ourselves: Is my relationship with my child as good as it can be (given any major differences we may have) and if not, what can I do to make it better? We cannot change our children but we can make adjustments ourselves to better the relationship.
Here are some thoughts on where to start with your young adult children:
- Be respectful of their boundaries. It is normal and healthy for them to have a separate identity, make their own decisions, and navigate the adult world on their own. Be available when needed but also communicate that you believe that they are able to manage things on their own.
- Discuss with them how much contact you’ll have, and if you have different expectations, work on a compromise that is acceptable to both of you. Ask them what their preferred mode of communication is, and then use that mode most of the time. You may prefer emailing or leaving voicemails, but if they don’t, then you are not likely going to hear back from them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t care about you or are being rude or disrespectful; it is because they are bombarded with hundreds of “messages” daily from Facebook statuses, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, texting, e-mail and face-to-face interactions. There is only so much a brain can take before it is overloaded. Remember that each child is different – what works for one may not work for the other – treat them as unique individuals and don’t compare them.
- Be selective in how and what you communicate. If you send a lot of texts or e-mails, especially with advice, no matter how well-intentioned you are, they will start to tune you out or even push you away. They will be much more likely to heed your advice if they ask you for it first. If you encourage them to come to you for everything, you are actually discouraging them from figuring things out for themselves. They need to learn to problem-solve on their own instead of continuing to be dependent on you.
- Remind them often that you love them dearly and are their biggest fan. If you haven’t heard from them in over a week, it’s ok to reach out and say something like, “hey, I was just thinking about you and praying for you. Let me know when you might be free to call and catch up”. When they do call, do more listening than talking. Ask them a few questions about their lives, committing details to memory to ask them about the next time you talk, but don’t ask too many questions and don’t probe too deeply (unless you are concerned for their safety – probing can be necessary in some unique cases).
- Praise them for their accomplishments and good choices. Reserve negative and critical comments for only when they are doing things that might harm themselves or others. Don’t take on their failures as your own. Expect that they will probably not make decisions just like you would have, and that’s OK.
- Be very careful about how you interact with them in regard to finances. Your adult children need to figure out their finances on their own once they are financially independent of you (hopefully you worked on financial planning together when they were still under your roof). If you hear them complaining about not being able join their friends on a trip and then give them the cash to join them, they won’t learn how to budget and save for a goal. It’s the same thing if they amass a huge credit card debt that you rush in to pay off. If your child is truly facing a monetary crisis, first let him/her come to you for assistance. Then, if you’d like to help them out, come up with a financial plan together. Once they do show themselves to be financially stable, it is ok to occasionally pay for things – perhaps a plane ticket for them to visit you, a meal out together, or a gift card to their favorite store.
Every kid is different so none of these suggestions are hard and fast rules; it all depends on the individual child’s personality and on the previous dynamic of the relationship. Also keep in mind that your child is also learning to navigate your changing relationship; honest, open communication about the ways you both are learning to navigate the relationship will go a long way. It will take some hard work and will be painful at times, but a good relationship with your kids is so worth the effort.