How Do You Parent Adult Children?



What is the best way to offer parental support when adult children face adult problems?



My husband and I spent 24 years actively parenting our three children from infancy to age 18, society’s declaration of adulthood. I was mostly a stay-at-home mom, giving my growing children mostly my full attention. My motivation: to rear capable, independent, contributing adults. And you know what? It happened. Our three children are capable independent, contributing adults who are now starting families of their own. But just because they are adults forging their own lives, it doesn’t mean that I have – or can – shut off my parenting button.  I am just as anxious, interested, and opinionated with their life experiences as I was when they were growing up.

So, when one of my children and her spouse recently experienced 3 MAJOR LIFE EVENTS IN ONE MONTH, I was really in a quandary. After all, it was THEIR 3 MAJOR LIFE EVENTS. How then was I to observe a healthy balance of being a loving, concerned, caring mother while at the same time allow my adult children to make their own way — and not butt in?

What were the 3 MAJOR LIFE EVENTS IN ONE MONTH that my adult children faced? In order, this happened, to this couple, in January 2015:

  • First home. After seven years of living in seven different residences, these adult children were finally ready and able to bite the bullet and purchase their first home.Holdaway house
  • Cancer. My son-in-law was diagnosed with thyroid cancer just before the holidays in 2014. While this form of cancer is highly treatable with a relatively low chance of spreading and/or reoccurring, still, cancer is scary.Jesse surgery
  • First Baby. After several years of dealing with infertility issues, our daughter was finally able to get pregnant, enjoy a relatively hassle-free pregnancy, and after a rough delivery, give birth to a healthy baby boy. Baby Beckham

Any one of these events is pretty significant. But all three in a span of 31 days was awfully significant. How did I cope with being a parent AND a supportive, innocent bystander at the same time?

  • Trust in their decisions. I needed to remember that half of this adult couple was raised under my roof with my standards and beliefs. Hopefully some of her upbringing comes through with how she makes decisions with her husband. And if not, at least I know that both have had enough life experiences to rely on to make wise choices.
  • Offer advice- when asked. When they were sharing their events, concerns, findings, course of action, I had to bite my tongue and just listen. I offered my point of view only when the door was open for me to do so. And when that tiny crack was given, you bet I talked as fast as I could so that I could give as much perspective as I was allowed. Once said, there was nothing more I could do but observe.
  • Be supportive. Some of the choices they made, I might not have agreed with, but in the end, it was their choice. They felt good about it so I needed to feel good about it too.
  • Be available. Adult children need the latitude to forge their own way. Sometimes, they might need some help and so I want to be available to them when the call goes out. We live in another state, so we couldn’t help with the move or be there for the surgery. But we could stay in touch and follow their journeys by calling, texting, Instagram pictures and Facebook posts. And when the baby was born, I was able to clear my schedule and help out when the baby came home from the hospital.
  • Pray. Sometimes, turning parental concerns over to a higher power is the best remedy for not butting in. Praying daily for peace, safety, health, and protection is a great relief and comfort for parents of adult children.

So how did it go? This little family made it through their crazy January and came out the stronger for it, ready to tackle what life throws at them next. As for me? I learned that adult children still need and want parental involvement. Just on their terms. And that is OK with me.