How Parents and Adult Children Can Rebuild Relationships

by Lindsey Rich

As an empty nester, your relationship with your grown children may be filled with joy or disappointment. Do you act like best friends and weekly phone conversations, go on weekly shopping trips or seek one another’s advice? Or is their life like adolescence all over again?

Frustration ferments with questionable choices in dating lifestyles, drug and alcohol consumption and spending habits.

Sure, your kids may need to grow up.

But consider this: Maybe you are the impetus of the conflict. The fights increase because you have saddled unrealistic expectations on them; maybe they don’t follow the career path you have set for them; maybe they make choices you wouldn’t make.

If any of these ring to a familiar tone, it is time to examine the source of your conflict.

Causes of Conflict

Researchers at California State University have found that, while some children may have “grown up,” adulthood is fraught with problems, stemming from:

  • Communication style
  • Lifestyle choices
  • The way grandchildren are raised
  • Politics and religion
  • Employment status
  • Household conduct1

Psychiatrist Harry Bloomfield agrees with these findings, adding that almost 90 percent of children in adulthood do not get along with their parents.2

Advice for Repairing the Relationship

If you are a parent whose relationship is strained, Dr. Kathryn Bechkam Mims of Albany State University makes these recommendations:

  • Always tell the truth to one another.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Be sensitive to each other’s feelings.
  • Respect one another, despite differences in opinions.
  • Do not hold on to the past or judge their decisions. We all make mistakes, and each slip-up provides an opportunity for a life lesson.
  • Don’t blame one another. Blame is not always necessary and it’s often unhelpful.
  • Decide that your relationship with your child or parent is more important than most disagreements.3

Love and respect are the most important parts in any relationship. With a healthy dose of each, parents can move past their role as disciplinarian and into their new role as friend and confidant. “Reaching a comfortable adult-to-adult friendship is a growing, changing process, and it’s never too late to make new progress.”4

1 Clarke, Preston, Raksin, and Bengston, “Types of conflicts and tensions between older parents and adult children,” The Gerontologist, 39(3) (1999), 261-270.
2 Carol Kuykendall, Give Them Wings (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1994).
3 K.B. Mims, “They’re all grown up but I’m still a parent!,” Family Information Services, Minneapolis, MN (1998).
4 Chuck Colson, “The Return of Peter Pan,” Breakpoint (July 23, 1992), 5.
Copyright © 2006 Lindsey Rich. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Ron Huxley’s Reflections: As an empty nester myself, I found this a simple, but helpful article on how to maintain a relationship with your adult child. I find that the toughest thing to do is allow them to make their own decisions and know when to keep you mouth shut or when to speak out. I admit, I haven’t always managed this balance.

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