Parent of Adult Kids



    Dear Miriam,

    Now that my children are grown, I find I have to navigate a new world of parenting questions. I have a friend who talks to her daughter every day and often begins the conversation by asking, "Is this information, or are you asking for advice?" Despite my own instincts as a caring parent, I am learning not to give advice unless asked. Any suggestions on navigating this relationship where one is both the parent and also a co-adult?

    Parent of Adult Kids

    Dear Parent,

    While I am only just starting to understand the intricacies of parenting a baby and can't relate to this one from the parental perspective, I happen to be an adult with parents, so maybe I can help.

    I actually love your friend's approach: Just ask! If your relationship is strong enough that you're talking with some regularity, asking that question will be easy and effective and will help the conversation flow. If you're talking frequently, pay attention to your child's cues. For example, if I call my parents before 10:00 a.m., they know someone is probably sick. If they hear street noise, they know I'm calling on my way somewhere and may not have a lot of time. If your child typically calls at night when her cell minutes are free, a midday call could signal that she really needs something.

    If you don't talk as frequently, it may be harder to gauge what kind of call you're receiving, but it's not so different than greeting a younger child when he comes home from school. Ask open-ended questions that can't be answered with "fine," or "nothing," and let there be a little pause for him to answer before you go on to the next topic. You can always ask a slightly softer version of your friend's question, maybe something like, "Would you like to hear what I think?"

    Separate from phone calls, I encourage you to think about the best parts of your relationship with your own parents, and also the worst parts, and before you offer advice, consider your own reaction if you heard the words you're about to say come out of your own mother's or father's mouth. Since I ask my parents for advice all the time, I asked my mom to weigh in on this one. She says, "No one wants to hear 'If you had only listened to me, this wouldn't have happened,'  or 'I told you so,' and adult children especially don't want to hear this from their parents." She knows what she's talking about. So as much as possible, serve as a sounding board and follow your child's lead rather than jumping in with your solution.

    You undoubtedly have a lot of wisdom to offer to your children, but don't be surprised if your child asks for advice and then tells you you're wrong. I may be guilty of that tendency, but miraculously, my parents still answer when I call. It's difficult enough to envision sleeping through the night again, let alone having an adult child, but I hope that someday I have the same quality of relationship with my daughter that I have now with my parents.

    Wishing you a happy lifetime of healthy relationships with your adult children!

    Be well,