The CrossRoads Journal

Reattachment: Parenting Adult Children

It’s the height of arrogance to think our ‘good parenting’ accounts for the best of what we see in the lives of our children; and it’s a lie from hell to assume our imperfect parenting is the only reason our kids make poor choices in life.”  These are the wise words of Scotty Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Nashville, TN, and author of the blog, “Heavenward”.

Sometimes, I hear a young adult struggling to get a job say through tears, “My parents were probably right, I’ll never amount to anything.” On the other end, I hear parents in tears wondering what their purpose in life is now that their children are gone.   They feel they have lost their identity and are in a season that is heavy with grief.

We are made for connection; this is both a biblical principle and one that neuropsychologists have shown to be a fact.   For 18 years, parents have spent an enormous amount of emotional energy studying their child’s temperament/personality, strengths, and weaknesses and working to create an environment that balances love and acceptance with discipline. It is not surprising that it can be a difficult process for parents to adjust to a different type of attachment when that child is an adult.  As children leave home, how do parents balance their desire to be part of their children’s lives with their adult child’s need for independence?

Here are a few things to consider as you and your young adult navigate new relational territory:

  • Provide love in a way that communicates your child’s worthiness. With careful listening, parents can remind their adult child of their worthiness and reduce the shame they feel when they don’t get the job they wanted, or can’t afford the house they were hoping to buy.
  • Be appreciative when your child reaches out without adding a “throw-away” comment such as “I’m so glad you came to visit, I wish you could have stayed longer.”
  • Consider having a discussion about how your relationship is now adult-to-adult, not parent-to-child. Boundaries are important, so remember your inherent relational power as the parent.
  • Honor their emergence into adulthood by recognizing that your child is not you and may not respond to a situation as you would because they have a different temperament/personality.  Be aware of that difference, study, and respect it!
  • Remember that you’re still a role model.  It is important that you try to make this transition by being resilient and courageous.
  • Believe in your future.  You are still creating your legacy as a parent.  Be persistent as you try new things to fill your time and remember it is a great gift to your child when you build an identity apart from your identity as a parent.

Scotty Smith goes on to pray, “Free us, Father, free us, and forgive us. Oh, the undue pressure our children must feel when we parent more by fear and pride than by your love and grace.  Since our kids are your inheritance, Father, teach us how to care for them as humble stewards, not as anxious owners; as hopeful encouragers, not as self-appointed sheriffs. Grant us quick repentances when we fail them, and multiple kindnesses and words of life for them. Father, we want to love and serve our children, “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

So very Amen we pray in Jesus’ faithful and powerful name.