As summer approaches, many adult children return home from college for the summer. For those who are new to this transition, it can be a delicate process of trying to re-establish rules and boundaries, but in a different way from when your child was still a child living under your care full-time. I remember so clearly the first year this occurred in our home, and I wished I had been better prepared for the balancing act that it can be. While we made it through with trial and error, I look back at that time and wish I had some more tools in place to make the transition smoother.

Parenting is a lifelong journey, and the dynamics between parents and their children evolve significantly as those children transition into adulthood. The shift from a dependent child to an independent adult brings new challenges and opportunities for growth within the relationship. In this blog post, we will explore key aspects of parent and adult-child relationships, offering insights and practical advice on how to maintain a healthy and supportive bond.

Personal Story: Coming Home from College

Raising four children required lots of rules and organization. Without them, it would have been complete mayhem. Mark, my husband, worked long, odd hours, and as I was the primary caregiver, it became second nature to a house full of teens. 

Year by year, another child flew off somewhere for college. They are all close in age, and I could see the excitement in their face to experience the new and start their academic journey. 

I recall a time when we had two kids already in college, and they came home for Thanksgiving. It was so good to have them back home. They seemed more mature and so grateful to be home. Our oldest son was going into his second year and our daughter just made it through the first three months of being away. The saying goes, if they can make it for the first three months in college the odds that your children will be successful in staying the college course. 

We were thrilled to have the entire family back for Thanksgiving, and like my husband said, we got the joy of looking at all of our children once again at one table. While they were home, it was family life as usual. We stepped back into our usual routine of being with the children. They saw their friends, we hung out, and Mark and I did things like usual. 

As I was getting ready to leave one evening, I told my two college kids what chores needed to be done, that I had made dinner and that it was in the refrigerator, and that one of them should drop off the wheelbarrow that I had borrowed from the neighbors. 

I quickly scurried around the kitchen, picking up my purse and keys and being careful not to get my perfectly clean blouse dirty from the sticky remnants on the counters. I barked off, “Can someone clean the counters, too?” Both kids just stared at me, and my son calmly shared that they knew what to do. It was more of a “Duh, we know.”

My daughter, Hannah, seized the moment and bluntly expressed what was on her mind, telling me that both of them came home for Thanksgiving by choice. That one of them could have stayed in Arizona and that she could have had Thanksgiving in Cabo with a friend and that they like us as people and want us to prioritize them as much as they do us. 

Dumbfounded, I said, “Ohhhh,” with complete shock, thinking, how did I not know this? My husband was just as flabbergasted as I was. We had a good conversation about establishing more of an adult relationship with our children. Finding a way to still guide them as parents but on friendlier terms. They were ready, but were we? Suddenly we saw ourselves as getting older. 

It was a transition for Mark and me not to dish out spontaneous remarks or advice on a whim. I always had to remind myself to think before I spoke. It was a new skill, and it was a gradual one. 

My husband would remind me to talk to the college kids with grace as I do with my own friends. For the children who were still at home, we still barked at them and enforced household rules. I don’t believe they were even aware that their older siblings had transformed into young adults. 

I had so much gratitude that our children grew to like who we are and that we made mutual time to be together. It’s the ultimate compliment as a parent when your children love you for you and find pride in their family. It was only a concept of a dream when beginning our family. To watch it come to fruition has been priceless.

Evolving Roles and Dynamics

As children reach adulthood, the roles within the parent-child relationship naturally shift. Parents move from being primary caregivers and decision-makers to becoming advisors and supporters. This transition can be challenging for both parties, as it requires a delicate balance of guidance and independence.

Tip: To strike this balance, try setting regular “check-in” times with your adult child. These can be weekly or bi-weekly sessions where you discuss any concerns, offer advice when asked, and, importantly, listen without judgment. This structured approach provides a consistent avenue for support while respecting your child’s growing autonomy and decision-making capabilities.

Communication Challenges and Overcoming Them

Effective communication is crucial in any relationship, and it becomes even more important as children become adults. When expectations and assumptions are not clearly articulated, misunderstandings and conflicts can arise.

Tip: Practice active listening. Allow your adult child to express their thoughts and feelings without interruption and respond thoughtfully. This fosters mutual respect and understanding.

Setting Boundaries and Respecting Independence

One of the most significant adjustments in the parent-adult child relationship is setting and respecting boundaries. Both parties need to understand and appreciate each other’s space and autonomy. Parents must differentiate between offering support and wanting to control their child’s life. Respecting each other’s decisions and independence fosters a healthier dynamic where both parties feel valued. 

Tip: Establishing what is and isn’t acceptable through mutual agreement helps prevent misunderstandings and conflicts. Empathy and open-mindedness play key roles in this process. They help people appreciate each other’s perspectives and needs, ultimately strengthening the bond.

Navigating Financial and Emotional Support

Financial and emotional support are often issues of contention in parent-adult child relationships. Striking a balance between providing support and encouraging independence is essential, and this balance will look different for every family.

Tip: Have open discussions about financial expectations and limitations. Encourage your adult child to develop financial responsibility while being available for guidance and support when needed.

Building a Friendship with Your Adult Child

As children become adults, there’s an opportunity to build a deeper friendship. Shared interests, mutual respect, and open communication can transform the parent-child relationship into a meaningful friendship.

Tip: To find common interests, try engaging in new activities together. Attend a cooking class, start a book club with just the two of you, or explore outdoor adventures like hiking or biking. Experimenting with different hobbies can help uncover shared passions and create lasting memories.

Dealing with Conflicts and Disagreements

Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship, but how they are handled can make all the difference. Approaching disagreements with a calm and open mindset can lead to healthier resolutions.

Tip: Focus on the issue at hand, avoid personal attacks, and seek to understand the other person’s perspective. This approach promotes a constructive dialogue and helps maintain a positive relationship.

Celebrating Milestones and Creating New Traditions

Celebrating milestones and creating new traditions are wonderful ways to strengthen the parent-adult child relationship. These moments provide opportunities to come together and appreciate each other’s growth and achievements.

Tip: Initiate annual family achievement celebrations. Choose a special date each year, like a family member’s birthday or a significant family anniversary, to gather and celebrate everyone’s achievements. Whether it’s a new job, a completed project, or a personal milestone, taking time to acknowledge and celebrate each other’s successes can build deeper connections and create lasting memories. You can make it even more special by incorporating fun activities, sharing stories, and even creating a family achievement scrapbook to document each year’s highlights.

The Impact of Technology on Staying Connected

In today’s digital age, technology plays a significant role in maintaining relationships, especially when distance is a factor. Staying connected while physically apart makes the transition back to close proximity much smoother. 

It may seem like the effort to stay connected is imbalanced at times, but making the effort to check in with your child and engage in what is going on in their life can go a long way. 

Tip: Consider creating a shared family calendar using digital platforms like Google Calendar or Cozi. This way, everyone can stay updated on each other’s schedules and important events. Additionally, you can use shared photo albums on services like Google Photos or Apple iCloud to exchange pictures and videos, making everyone feel more involved in each other’s daily lives.

Conclusion

The transition from a parent-child relationship to a parent-adult child relationship is filled with challenges and rewards. Parents and adult children can navigate this journey together by embracing evolving roles, practicing effective communication, setting boundaries, and building friendships. Remember, the key to a healthy relationship lies in mutual respect, understanding, and a willingness to grow alongside each other.

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