En español | When your children reach their 20s, the balance of connection between you and them seesaws. The challenge becomes how to find common ground without overstepping the comfortable boundaries between you. The issues become how much time to spend together and how to spend it, how much information to share and about what, which battles to fight and when to turn the other cheek, what advice to give and when silence is golden.
In interviews for our forthcoming book, When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?, 75 percent of parents said that their current relationship with their adult children was better now than the relationship they had when their kids were 15. The best part, most agreed, is "the friendship that emerges along with the adult."
But even a good relationship with grown kids may have its pitfalls. Parents still may be tempted to give unsolicited advice, do whatever's needed to protect kids from harm — and remind them to get car insurance. And grown kids may be frustrating friends who don't return parents' calls, cancel dates at the last minute or text their buddies while dining with the family. Just when you think you're dealing with an equal, you may be brought up short.
Forgiveness is the name of the game, but don't be afraid to set some ground rules— such as no cellphones at the dinner table, or asking that they return a text from you that begins, URGNT.
Emerging adults need a different kind of closeness than when they were young. They need emotional support that helps boost, not stifle, their confidence in their own coping skills, and they need parents to bear witness to their increasing capacity to take on responsibilities, even if there are setbacks or mishaps along the way.
Here are five strategies to nurture the friendship during your kids' 20s and beyond:
1. Observe respectful boundaries
For emerging adults, keeping a privacy buffer is a crucial part of defining a separate identity, building confidence in making decisions, and learning to stand on their own. Parents who have cherished a close relationship when their children were younger may feel hurt if they sense their grown kids pulling away. Suddenly kids are balking at coming home during their vacations or are no longer available for lengthy phone chats. While it's natural to miss the former intimacy, it helps to understand their increased need for distance is appropriate for this stage of their lives and not to take it as a personal affront.
2. Listen more than you talk
Restraint is the elusive virtue now required of you, to keep from giving too much unwelcome advice or asking too many nosy questions. After years of hands-on parenting, you may bristle at how often you must bite your tongue as your children make both smart and foolish decisions. You may struggle with the want-to-fix-its, but if you jump in too quickly to unravel grown kids' dilemmas, their important problem-solving muscles won't have a chance to develop.
That said, there are still times during your kids' 20s when you do have to voice your concerns and get involved even if your kids don't want you to (and even if you aren't happy stepping in yourself). If you're wondering about whether to say something, ask yourself if the behavior that's bothering you is serious, dangerous or simply unpleasant. For instance: If your son appears unshaven and scruffy for the family reunion, well, that may not be pretty, but it's not life-threatening. But if your daughter shows signs that she's smoking pot on a daily basis, that habit can be harmful. You need to address it directly with her and be ready with resources of outside professional help.