In my mental health counseling sessions with women at Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow and Tulsa, I come across a common theme of changes to the parent and adult child relationship. The strain of these changes often leave a parent feeling confused, distant, or even depressed and anxious. I’ve seen this issue from both the parent and the child viewpoint and the struggle is real on both sides of the table. Having adult children of my own, I empathize with the difficulties that come in understanding how parent/child roles change over the years.
From the parent standpoint, once they are your child, they will always be your child. Time nor distance can take that away. However, there is a point where you no longer “parent” them. In that parent/child relationship, you, as the parent, move from giving them direction to giving them support. Your child may struggle with confidence, or depression and anxiety may set in as your child navigates new seasons of adulthood; they may look to you for reassurance. That doesn’t mean they are looking for answers, just a nod that they are doing alright. Or, if you believe they would benefit from mental health therapy, they may look to you for implicit approval that seeking counseling is okay. (Please understand that there are times when our children ask us for help and this is certainly the time for you to give your opinion or suggestion, but do take care to not overdo it.) Focus on the Family (http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/parenting-roles/parenting-adult-children) reminds us, “If we do the vital inner work necessary to spiritual and emotional parenting, then relinquishing our children will be easier than we might expect.” The basic truth is there. We have many years in which to teach and build a foundation of character in our children. At some point, we move from teacher to supporter, trusting the foundation we have built will hold them steady through the rest of their lives.
Some Do’s and Don’ts for a Parent
- Listen to what the child is asking and give only that response. “Mom, should I get a new dress for my date with Todd? The response should not include your opinion of Todd.
- Be genuinely happy they have an active social life. Don’t take it personally when they don’t give you their moment by moment schedule. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going out with Todd tonight!”
- Don’t be sarcastic. “I guess you know best.” (eye-roll included). Snide remarks are not usually overlooked and can cause real strain on a relationship.
The adult child can struggle just as hard with this change in relationship. Honor your mother and father, respect your parents and other basic truths about how the child relates to the parent can make the transition away from their parents a difficult one. What greater show of respect to parents is there than an adult child making good, solid decisions regarding their life choices. Just as the parent moves from teacher to supporter, the child moves from student to
free-thinker. It is hard and painful to struggle with disappointing your parents. At some point, though, you, as the adult child, need to break free of that guilt and stand on your own. It may mean a conversation needs to happen to assure your parents that you have the tools you need to go forward in your life, tools that they gave you!
Some Do’s and Don’ts for an Adult Child:
- Share as much of your schedule with your parents as you want. Don’t feel obligated to give more information than you feel comfortable giving. “I bought a new dress today for a party I’m going to on Friday.” It’s not necessary to include that you are going with Ted unless you just want them to know.
- It’s okay to tell them when you’ve made an important decision. “I’m moving to Dallas for a new job. I’m super excited about it.” You can give them as much detail as you want, but don’t feel guilty or like you need their permission/approval.
- Communicate your needs clearly. “I know you hate to see me move away, I hate it, too, but I need this promotion to help my career.”
If you are struggling with the parent/adult child relationship, visit us at www.legacycounselingservice.com to find a mental health counselor who can help. We are conveniently located off the Creek Turnpike between Broken Arrow and Tulsa. We are ready to help you work through this process of change in your parent/child relationship so that you can navigate the ups and downs of life with support of your family.