Guidelines for Helping Your Adult Children Grow Into Friends

Shante Abdo

1. Call your grown children by their given names, rather than childish nicknames. If you have teenagers, they may already have asked you to do this. “Suzie Q” type nicknames are fine for small children, but as children begin to grow up, they feel more respected when called by their given names. By doing so, you also remind yourself to treat your children as young adults.

2. Discuss adult topics. As your children grow, don’t limit your conversation strictly to family topics or questions about their personal life. Involve them in discussions of current events and the like, just as you would with a friend. Take a minute to think of “adult” topics you’d like to talk about with them. Politics, events, sports, work issues (just facts and events-avoid complaining) political or local neighborhood issues are all suitable topics. Nagging and constant reminders are ineffective with young children and inappropriate with grown children. Of course, you should set limits and make sure that irresponsibility and bad behavior have consequences, but you needn’t patronize your children. If they want something from you, don’t respond unless they ask you in a polite, adult manner. Include them in your planning discussions and expect that they will take appropriate responsibility for family issues.

3. Share with your children on a parent-to-parent basis. If your children have children of their own you have expertise they can benefit from, but be willing to learn from them as well. If they’re reading books or taking courses on parenting, discuss the information as you would with another parent your own age. If they parent their children differently than you did, don’t take it as a personal affront, and don’t interfere unless you’re asked to.

4. Don’t react if your grown child does or says something annoying. Just ignore it and change the subject. Treat your adult children as politely as you would the grown children of a friend. If they are doing something to annoy you, and you don’t react, they will stop. After all, if you were with a friend’s family, and someone did something odd, you’d just ignore it, and you wouldn’t let yourself be drawn into family squabbles. You’d just be polite and pleasant, for your friend’s sake.

5. Ask your children for opinions and advice. Even in early childhood, children can be encouraged to develop their own opinions about events and decisions you face as a family, as they get older, you can ask for their ideas about what to do. When your children become adults, you can request advice about work issues, investments or other concerns. Sharing advice as friends and equals will create the friendly connection you want.

6. Pay attention to the balance of your interaction. As a parent, the role of nurturer and caretaker is familiar, and perhaps comfortable, for both you and your children. But you don’t want to foster that relationship when your children are grown. Don’t let your part in the relationship slide into all giving (or all receiving). Remember, the objective is to create a friendship with your children. If your children always seem ready to take from you, make some suggestions of what they can do in return.

© 2020 Tina B. Tessina from The Ten Smartest Decisions A Woman Can Make after Forty: Reinventing the Rest of Your Life

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