Parenting an adult kid: It’s the same, but different


I have two kids: a 12-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter.

Talk about bad family planning.

Most of my energy, naturally, is spent on my son, Connor, since he still lives with me. But my parenting duties aren’t over with Elyse.

For instance, I still pay her health insurance because she couldn’t afford it on her own. If she moves to a new apartment, I help her move.

Because Elyse is almost 30, I’m stepping back a little each year in the help I offer. Naturally, I want her to always feel she can talk to me in a crisis. But soon, I’d like Elyse to pay her entire health insurance premium and handle some of life’s frustrations on her own.

How does a parent of an adult child know how and when to let go? For example, do you speak up if you disapprove of your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you push your child or daughter toward certain jobs and away from others?

These are tough questions with no rigid answers.

“So you thought it would be clear sailing from here on out?” writes Penny Lemov, who has a blog called “The kids may be adults now, but the parenting isn’t over.”

How true.

I like Robin’s site for a number of reasons. One, she has a list at the top of her site called “Notes to Self: Daily Reminders.”

Some of the examples:

  • It’s their life.
  • If they want advice, they’ll ask for it.
  • Be enthusiastic. It beats being critical.

Wow. Those comments really speak to me. I find it so tempting to want to offer just a little advice or constructive criticism to my daughter.

It’s as if Elyse is a sculpture I’ve created, and I want to remove a little here and add some there.

Stop – that’s what I have to tell myself occasionally. Elyse is a human being, not a sculpture. She’s an adult, not my little girl.

She’s entitled to make decisions I disagree with. In fact, it’s a sign of her maturity that she can have different opinions than me.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman wrote an article for Huffington Post called “Seven Common Mistakes of Parenting Adult Children.”

“Many of today’s parents are confused about how involved or uninvolved they should be with their children when they leave the nest and are often hurt by the sometimes-sudden decrease in intimacy that comes with their independence,” he said.

Some of Coleman’s advice:

  • Don’t criticize your son or daughter’s choice of romantic partners.
  • Don’t criticize their parenting style.
  • Don’t try to make them feel guilty for not staying in closer contact.

Another psychologist, Carl Pickhardt, says young adulthood starts in the early 20s and ends about age 30. During this period, the parent struggles to adapt to a changing, less influential role.

When our children are young, our task is to get them to fit into our lives, to learn what we think is important, and to fulfill our agenda for what needs to happen. When they become adults, however, to a significant degree our roles reverse. Now our task as parents is to fit more into their lives, to understand what they believe is important in their lives, and to respect their agenda for what needs to happen in their lives.”

Parents of adult kids will struggle and fret if they don’t accept a reduced role in their child’s life. Ironically, the more the parent tries to remain part of the child’s life, the less likely it is to occur.

If your adult child wants to break free from your influence, you’ve raised a responsible, well-adjusted adult. You should be happy, not sad.


In some ways, parenting an adult child is tougher than parenting a minor. Why? The lines of authority are much clearer when your child is young. When he or she becomes a grownup themselves, accept the role of a consultant instead of an instructor. If you don’t, you’ll never enjoy the rewards of an adult-to-adult relationship with your child.

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