Build a stronger, stress-free relationship with these simple tactics.
Like any relationship, a parent-child bond has its highs and lows. When kids are young, you’re their everything. When they become teenagers, you’re their enemy. When they’re full-fledged adults, well, things get complicated.
As grown children enter their 20s and 30s, parents’ roles fade from the foreground to the background. You become more like equals. And yes, it’s normal to grow apart as your kids are more occupied by their careers, social circles, and spouses, says Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along.
Not only are adult children busy building their own lives, but you may find that those lives are a far cry from what you were doing at that age. “Today’s young adults have a much different experience than older generations had—they’re trying to swim in uncharted waters,” says Jane Isay, author of Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents.
For example, while the boomer generation started jobs they kept for decades and married young, today’s generation has far more opportunities available, which makes a clear path hard to find, Isay says. This can be a source of tension, as parents struggle to understand what’s going on with their adult children.
Another factor: When your children get married and have kids of their own, their spouse becomes their primary bond, so there’s another voice in your communication. And if your relationship with your son- or daughter-in-law is strained, chances of conflict rise, Coleman says.
All this is to say that if you’re not seeing eye-to-eye with your adult kids, you’re certainly not alone. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to strengthen your bond—without ever feeling like a pushy parent. Here’s how.
1. Embrace Their Preferred Modes of Communication
While the telephone used to be king, you now have seemingly endless options for communicating with your kids. If you’re not having much success, make sure you’re reaching out via the right method, Isay says. For example, if you call and leave a voicemail, your kids may not even check their messages. Instead, learn the medium your child uses most often—whether it’s texting, FaceTime, or Facebook—and use it. That’s a gesture of acceptance too, she says.
Once you find the right method, there’s a good chance you’ll stay in regular contact. A survey from AARP found that 31 percent of adults between the ages of 21 and 26 communicate with their parents more than once per day. There may be a small learning curve, but it’s worth it.
2. Explore Common Interests
Whether it’s a favorite TV show or movie you both love, or a shared passion for hiking or playing golf, schedule quality time together around these activities, Coleman suggests. They will create opportunities to strengthen your relationship.
Another idea: Spend time taking a trip down memory lane, Isay says. “When your kids are home, take out the albums or even the iPhone, and look at old family photos. You’d be amazed at how it brings back so many happy memories.”
3. Keep Your Wisdom to Yourself
We all know that with age comes wisdom. And when you’re older and wiser, it can be tempting to dole out advice for any and every situation—from financial to personal. But try to resist.
“Even when parents make the most well-intentioned suggestions, all that grown children tend to hear is criticism,” Isay says. “You say, ‘Are you sure you can afford the rent?’ They hear, ‘You’re probably going to end up on the street,’” she says.
Instead, find something to compliment: an accomplishment at work, their clean house, how well they’re burping their baby. “Young people warm to praise and chill to criticism—and it’ll push them away,” Isay says.
4. Think Like a Consultant, Not CEO
Once you’re good at #3, your kids will be more likely to seek your advice. That’s when you can offer your honest opinion, Coleman says.
But think of it this way: Rather than a management-style role, you’ve moved into more of a consultant position in your child’s life, Coleman explains. If they come to you for advice, ask them: “Do you want my advice or allegiance?”
In other words, ask whether they’re simply seeking your support and backing in a decision, or if they want your real-world knowledge and honest opinion—even if it’s not what they want to hear.
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