A friend says that when her adult children ask her for holiday gift suggestions, she tells them, "I want you. I want you to keep coming around, to bring your kids around. I want you to ask me questions, ask my advice, tell me your problems."
That's the wish of many parents, but it's not so easy to influence and remain emotionally close to our adult children when they are living on their own. Ron Edmondson, pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., often advises parents on how to relate to their older kids. He offers several suggestions for how parents might build trust and stay relevant in their children's lives.
Choose your words carefully. Don't share every opinion about how they should be handling their life, even if they're posting 2 a.m. selfies on Facebook. (Telling them nothing good happens at 2 a.m. will fall on deaf ears.) Boomers often have very different views from their children on social and political issues. "If parents start offering their opinions too often, the kids are just going to shut them down."
Take the high road. Some parents use the silent treatment with adult children because they didn't call or perform as they expected. "Be the mature one. Vent to your partner or to other parents. You can't get mad every time your children hurt your feelings."
Keep the door open. When we take a hard stand or place strict rules on the parent-child relationship, it's more difficult to open the lines of communication again. "Remember, by shutting them out we lose any opportunity to influence their lives."
Write a letter. Sometimes when talking is difficult, the best way to reach adult children is to write a letter — on paper — not email. "I've used this technique with married couples when communication is strained. The letter should get information across, not be a list of accusations. The advantage is that it's usually reread several times so the conversation lives longer than it would on the phone."
Remember the effect of criticism. A young woman was asked how long she had been wearing bangs. Her answer: "Ever since my father told me my forehead was too large." Be careful saying things you may later regret, and be generous with positive words that affirm and validate your adult children. "Your words can make a great impact."
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. A New York University journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.com