Parenting Tips for Staying Close to Your Adult Child, While Letting Go

Nurturing the new, empty nest, parent-adult child relationship

Caucasian mother and daughter sitting on sofa
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Remember back when your kids were young and the parenting advice was, they don’t need a friend - they need a parent? Now that your kids are grown, it’s the reverse. Like any adult, they don’t want a micromanager vetting their playmates, fretting about how much sleep they get or kibbitzing about how they spend their time. Instead, they’re looking for the very thing you once fantasized about: a wise and loving friend and mentor.

Question is, how do you, the parent or empty-nester, restructure the relationship so you’re neither too involved, nor so hands-off there isn’t much of a relationship there at all?

  • The new you: advisor extraordinaire. It may be helpful if you think of yourself as a consultant instead of a 24/7 manager. Just like in the corporate world, good consultants offer expertise only when asked, couch it diplomatically and expect that at least half of what they say will be ignored. That’s OK. It’s no reflection on your superb (of course!) advice. Your input is just a part of what your now-grown child may be using to make a decision and in any case, it’s not your choice to make. But you can avoid hurt feelings on both sides if you preface your advice with phrases such as “One possible solution might be …” or “You’re probably looking at many issues, but one thing to consider is …”
  • Don’t zip it. Keeping communication lines open is even more important now as your roles shift, says Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of "Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children." Talk frankly and openly about what both of you want, need and expect in this new relationship. It may be as simple as a Sunday evening call home, or another regular way to keep in touch.
  • Be respectful. You probably wouldn’t criticize a friend’s choice of spouse, profession or hemline, yet it’s common to blurt those well-intentioned, but oh-so-poorly-phrased criticisms to an adult child: “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” or “What kind of job is that for an adult?” If you truly thought your friend was making a terrible mistake, you’d tell him, but carefully and tactfully. Exercise the same respect and compassion with your child. At the same time, be aware that your child will probably hear implied criticism in just about everything you say, including "Gee, you look tired." Talking it out helps.
  • Nurture the relationship. Here’s the best part: Friends do stuff together. They talk on the phone, send texts and spend time together exploring shared interests. They respect each other’s busy schedules but find ways to stay connected. Enjoy it.