Relationships between parents and adult children–and vice versa–can be tricky. Today, on More2Life Radio, we discussed the challenges that these relationships face and how to negotiate them more effectively. In particular, we focused on four action-steps that help parents relate more effectively with their adult children and, for that matter, allow adult children to relate more effectively to their parents. We used the acronym RISE.
In general, parents and adult children tend to assume too much about their relationship with one another. Parents assume that their adult children owe them a relationship and often treat their adult children in a rude or heavy-handed manner that they would never use with their real friends. In turn, adult children often take their parents for granted assuming that their parents should always be there for them but they shouldn’t have to give anything back to the relationship.
Parents and adult children need to be intentional about creating a good bond. To that end, both parties need to ask themselves–on an ongoing basis–simple questions like…
What have I done lately (or what might I need to do) to build rapport and good feeling between us?
Are there any offenses I need to repent of (past or present) and seek forgiveness/reconciliation for?
Are there limits I need to set to make a mutually generous, mutually respectful adult friendship possible? (Or at least to stop one party from treating the other as a vending machine or mere extension of their ego?)
Being mindful about the relationship–not making assumptions about what each party owes to the other–is key to transitioning from a parent-child dynamic to a parent-adult child friendship.
Parents: Are you praying daily for your adult children? Don’t just pray that they would change or that God would bless them. Pray that God would help you be the parent/true friend your adult child needs you to be. That you would be given the grace to support and disciple your children well as they try to make their way in the world.
Adult Children: Are you praying for your parents? Don’t just pray that they would stop doing annoying things. Pray that God would strengthen you to be a true, respectful, adult in the relationship; one who knows how to give back to the relationship in appropriately generous ways and set respectful limits when necessary.
BONUS POINTS: Do you pray about your relationship together? Christians should bring all their relationships before God and ask him for his ongoing guidance. Create opportunities to pray together and ask God to help all of you be what you need to be for each other, that God’s will might be done in your lives and that your family would give him glory in all the ways you treat each other and all the things you do together.
Parents and adult children are often good at criticizing each other, but perhaps not quite as good at offering practical support for those positive choices each other is making.
Parents: What things are your adult children doing that you can support or be proud of? Have you asked your child what they want or need from you to support them in these actions or choices? Don’t just do. Ask what they need and be willing to do what you can to provide practical, welcome assistance.
Adult Children: Your parents still want and need your support. Keeping in mind that your primary obligation is to your spouse and children, are you challenging yourself to make time to help out your folks, encourage them, and ask what they might need from you?
Parents: Adult children never stop wanting their parents’ approval or needing mentors for living a full and healthy Christian life. Encourage by example. Remember to focus on your personal, relational and spiritual growth. Face your shortcomings. Continue to develop your capacity to live a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life. Go deeper in your own marriage. Don’t lecture. Give your children a reason to follow your example and encourage them to live a godly life by letting them see the benefits of doing so in your life and relationships.
Adult Children: Parents know they aren’t perfect, but they would like to know that they did somethings right. Don’t forget to thank them for the things they did well. Even if you are living your life or parenting your children differently than your parents did, are there some areas you can seek their counsel in? Keep in mind, too, that transitioning from being a family to being “just a couple” can be a little scary for your folks. Encourage them to take time for each other and to continue to explore ways that they can live meaningful lives. And don’t forget that by facing the challenges in your own life like the responsible adult you are, you enable your parents to carve out the time and energy they need to live their own meaningful lives.
These action steps don’t cover every scenario, but they can serve as a guide to establishing a healthy adult friendship between parents and their adult children. Ask yourself, “What are we already doing and how could we do more of it?” and also, “What of the above is missing from our relationship and what steps do we need to take to include these action steps?” For additional suggestions on managing the complications that often arise in relationships between parents and adult children (and vice-versa) check out God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People.