How to cultivate healthy relationships with your independent adult children

Developing mature wholesome relationships with adult children who do not live at home with you can be exhilarating and deeply satisfying. Yet almost always it is challenging because it requires letting go of a desire to control the continuing development of one’s children. Values and lifestyles change significantly from one generation to the next. In addition, if the children are married, they have a whole new extended family to accommodate.

A young family Skypes with their parents. Photo used under a Creative Commons license.

For a parent to accept all of this demands detachment. It requires giving up the relationship as it was when the child was young. The following guidelines may be helpful:

  1. Remember that your child is a grown-up. Communicate as adult to adult.
  2. Listen intently and with respect. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
  3. Do not interrupt—even if what is being said hurts your feelings, is contrary to your values, or pushes your emotional buttons.
  4. If you sense strong feelings emerging within you, step back to allow time and space for them to settle down. It is important to express your feelings fully and honestly, but wait until you can do so without rancor, in a way that is calm and caring.
  5.  Take pains to be neither accusatory nor patronizing. Avoid evoking guilt or shame.
  6. It is important that you articulate your own needs and desires. Try to do so in a way that is clear, yet does not come across as a demand.
  7. Stay focused on whatever topic is under discussion. Do not throw in other problems and complaints.
  8. Avoid generalizations that use words such as “always” or “never.”
  9. Refrain from giving advice unless it has been explicitly requested.
  10. Ask questions that reflect interest in things that are important to your children. If you sense that one of your children needs attention, pose questions to help draw him or her out. Do not ask questions that pry into their lives or invade their privacy.
  11. Try to be sensitive to desires or pressures on them that may take them away from you on holidays, other special occasions, or at vacation time.
  12. When recollecting incidents from the past, memories of the same situation can be diametrically opposed. Avoid arguing about whose memory is correct. Try to respect whatever differences exist. Articulate your own feelings as dispassionately as possible. Leave space for your child to explore his or her own thoughts and feelings to whatever extent he or she chooses.

Always try to listen with compassion from the center of your being. To the extent that you can be a caring non-anxious presence, you will be a channel for maturing and wholeness.