How to Be Friends with Your Adult Children
An amazing thing can happen in life. You can have a healthy relationship with your children once they are grown up. Here’s how to be friends with your adult children and strengthen the family relationship.
You might read this post and think I am putting the entire responsibility of the relationship on you. You would be right.
Here’s the thing. You are the one reading this post, so of course, all my suggestions are going to be things you can do.
Some may resonate with you and some may not. You might read some ideas that are new to you. As an experienced counselor and now life coach, I know that they only person you can change is yourself.
The good news is that your relationships can all be better when you are taking care of yourself. We often look to others to make us feel better. But unfortunately, others aren’t here to make us feel better.
The Transition from Young Children to Adult Children
Parents of adult children often face new challenges as their children launch into their adult lives. Your adult kids, that you raised, grow up and start their own lives.
One day they need you and the next, they are telling you that “I’ve got this.”
Our relationship with our children can seem to change overnight. One day we are parenting and the next, we don’t know what to do.
I’m going to offer you a suggestion.
Become friends with your adult children. Of course, you will always be their parent.
At times your adult children will seek your guidance and sometimes they might turn instead to new relationships, a psychologist, or a best friend.
You might feel like you are standing on the outside trying to get back in!
Parent-child relationships will be different. There will be new ground rules and maybe even new people such as a spouse or grandchildren.
I love being a mom and a friend to my adult children. I’ve made my share of mistakes but overall we have built a strong friendship. Here are the ways I’ve found how to be friends with your adult children.
The bottom line is that being friends with your grown-up children means accepting that they are indeed grown-ups and in charge of their own lives.
Mom Doesn’t Always Know Best
Being older, doesn’t always mean wiser. Yet, we think we are.
Okay, in some ways we do have a few years’ experience on our children. And when they ask for some guidance or an opinion, it’s great to share it with them.
However, you don’t actually know what is best for them.
In some ways, they don’t either. Yet, they are the ones that have to choose their path and stick to it. I know it can be tough to watch your children make their own mistakes.
I decided when my children were in their late teens to let them have autonomy over their choices.
I let them pick where they went to college (as long as it was a state school), who their friends were, and how they wanted to spend their free time.
My only requirement was that they attend and finish a four-year degree. Their dad and I could afford to pay most of their tuition (all three got some type of academic scholarships, made use of community college, and held part-time jobs) and living expenses.
We didn’t let them pick expensive colleges that would saddle any of us with future debt. This is an important part of their stories.
None of my children picked a degree that I would have chosen for them. Not one of them.
None of my children went into work that I was thrilled about.
I had to accept boyfriends and girlfriends I didn’t like. Jobs I didn’t like. Behaviors I didn’t like.
I was not always a Zen-like mom. Sometimes I would get really upset.
They all chose to pay their own way in life after college and none of them wanted to move back home.
They found jobs and lived within their means. They chose to be independent and their dad and I chose to accept them just as they were.
Here’s what I know now on the other side. The other side being all my children are well into their 30’s and one is almost 40, all are partnered up, and there are three grandchildren.
All their decisions were PERFECT for them.
My daughter that got a history degree but didn’t want to teach or have a “real” job.
She waitressed and bartended for years before reinventing herself as a mother, wife, and successful blogger who now earns more than her dad and I did together.
My artistic daughter, who I thought should do an art or writing degree, insisted on a practical degree in business, is now a successful marketing executive.
I imagined her living the life of a poor artist or writer. She apparently had bigger dreams for herself than me!
While she has been a success story in her career, I can see her artistic nature in her clothes, her home, and in the way, she does things.
My third child who got an art degree and immediately became a fulltime bartender became one of the most successful and well-paid bartenders in the city.
As I wondered what he would ever do besides that, he started a business with a partner and is an entrepreneur as well.
And trust me on this, I would never ever have picked his business for him. He found it himself, through his bartending.
The point of this long story is this. If my kids had done what common wisdom (or their dad and I) had said they should do, they’d possibly be in mediocre jobs or just repeating what their dad and I did.
They used their 20’s to discover their own interests and path in life and exceeded by miles anything I could have ever even dreamed for them.
Take an Interest in Their Lives
As your children create their own lives—take an interest in them. Listen to what they have to say. Encourage them with your belief that they have what it takes to make it.
We often assume we know what our children are interested in. Or perhaps we nod and don’t really pay attention.
People, including your children, love to talk about what they are passionate about.
This can mean learning about what they do in their jobs, who their friends are, what they do for fun.
This is more than just “okay honey” once they are done talking. It also means asking questions and showing a genuine interest in their lives.
My three children also inspire me and sometimes offer me guidance. I have such respect for their accomplishments that I know I can learn from them as well.
They have been my biggest encouragers and supporters as I’ve embarked on my own entrepreneur path.
Create Your Own Life That You Love
To create your own life that you love is one of the best gifts you can give your adult child. It not only takes responsibility off them; it is a great example.
My own parents created an amazing life for themselves in their 60’s, 70’s, and my Mom is going strong with her own life in her 90’s.
My mom loves my friendship and company but she doesn’t depend on me for her happiness. She has her own friends, her own social life, her church activities, and her own hobbies. And she tutors school children 3 days a week!
It’s fun to be her friend because she has her own life that she enjoys so much.
I’d love to hang out with my own kids way more than we actually do.
However, I am grateful that we do get together often. In the meantime, I have to consciously create my own life and find other meaningful and social activities.
Here’s a secret. When you have a life, you love; you are more attractive to everyone, including your adult children.
Don’t Take Most Things Personally
This is a BIG one. I’m going to give it to you straight. Your young adult and adult children are going to make many choices and decisions you don’t like.
You might even feel like their decisions are a slap in the face or are going against values you taught them.
Or as they get busy with their careers, social life, and new families, they may not reach out to you as much as you’d like.
Don’t take it personally.
Your children are humans as well as being your children. Their job is to figure out this thing called life themselves. It is NOT your job to tell them how to do it after a certain point.
And they aren’t doing the things they do to affect you. I promise you—they don’t want you to take what they do personally.
Concentrate on your own life and let them live theirs.
When you want to see or talk to them, let them know or invite them to do something. With my kids, if I want to see them, I let them know, and we find times that work for all of us.
Don’t Judge Your Grown Up Kids
This ties in closely with not taking anything personally. As well as not taking it personally, don’t judge them for their choices.
Here’s the thing. You really don’t know what is best for your child. We can grieve for them. Pray for them. Love them.
Do all that but seriously, try not to judge. Life is messy at times. People make big mistakes.
And you know what? They often learn from things they do. We learn from failure! A great life is not just a series of perfect decisions. A great life often includes mistakes and failures.
If you don’t judge them—you continue to be a person they can turn to. Judging is one of the best ways to ruin any friendship.
If you want your children to come to you, even in adulthood, it needs to feel open and nonjudgmental for them.
This can result in your children being able to approach you and ask for genuine life advice.
Be Willing to Be Wrong
Be, not only willing to be wrong but be willing to admit it.
Do you know how many families break up because someone doesn’t want to say they are wrong? Don’t be that person! Don’t paint yourself into a corner.
Here’s a secret. Being right doesn’t mean being happy. It doesn’t even usually mean that you are right.
Two people can see things totally differently. And that’s okay.
And don’t even do that smug, “Let’s agree to disagree.” That loophole doesn’t quite cut it either.
Try this. Say, “I’m really interested in your view too.” Then really listen until you get what they are saying.
For bonus points, don’t even bring up your rebuttal.
Adult Children Can Inspire You!
My children inspire me every time that I am around them. They have taught me to be less judgmental, to work harder, and to not hold grudges.
I told you their career stories a few paragraphs above.
Here’s what I didn’t tell you. I’m a blogger because my oldest daughter started hers first.
I work harder because I see how hard my second daughter works.
I believe I will be able to buy my own home someday because I saw my son buy his first home. (This happened in 2022, two years after I wrote this.)
They have not just been amazing children—they are teaching me about life and achieving my own dreams and goals.
You can be inspired by your adult children too!
Love Them Anyway
Love feels good. The more love we have for another person, the better we feel.
Most of us have been raised to think that we feel love because of what another person does or maybe even doesn’t do.
You can love someone, even if you aren’t thrilled with what they are doing.
You can love someone even if they say they hate you.
You can love someone, even if you don’t see them.
Love is something you do for you.
This doesn’t mean you have to tolerate everything in your personal space.
An example of this would be, you have a solid boundary against people smoking or doing drugs in your home.
You can also choose to not be around them when they are using drugs.
That is a boundary.
Yet, you may have a child that smokes and does drugs in their own home.
You love them anyway.
That is unconditional love.
Save boundaries for the big stuff. Tolerate the annoying stuff. Let go of the irritating stuff.
Some children seem easier to respect than others. You know, your golden child.
And the “black sheep?” Not so much.
Here’s a secret. There are probably going to be times when your golden child falls out of favor. Set yourself up for success and respect all your children equally.
If I could show you the future in a crystal ball, you’d easily find respect for both children. You’d see everything that they go through.
You would see the obstacles they overcome.
You would see the people they stand by.
You’d see their impact on the world.
If you could see everything your child will go through in their lives—you would find it easy to respect them now.
I’m telling you to just do it now. Respect the adult that your child is, no matter what you think about how they are living their life.
This is only one small part of it—not the sum total.
You Might Not Get One-on-One Time Like Before
A few months ago, my adult daughter invited me to go to a conference with her. I jumped at the chance since we hadn’t had any “just us time” for years.
I went as her employee!
She is married and has kids and all our time includes her family.
I’m okay with that. I don’t have to just see my children on their own, though I enjoy it when it happens.
And it was so much fun when it did happen and I know we both enjoyed it.
Being Friends with Your Grown-Up Children
A good relationship doesn’t just happen by accident. You might need to set ground rules or see things differently.
Here’s the amazing part of being friends with your adult children—it’s all about you managing your expectations, thinking, feelings, and actions.
Life is messy. Sometimes it may not go as well as you’d like. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, estrangements happen.
Sometimes we are blessed with grace to handle things. Sometimes we really have to manage our thinking and our feelings.
A few years ago, as we were preparing for Thanksgiving, I found out that ALL my children, all my grandchildren, and my ex-husband and his fiancé were going away for the entire holiday week.
Here in the US, Thanksgiving is a major family get-together holiday.
And for the first time in my life, I was going to have zero family in town.
This would have seemed a perfect time to get mad and throw a fit.
For whatever reason, I didn’t. I knew in my heart that no one had done this to hurt me. I did not love that I wouldn’t be a part of that time with them.
They weren’t going somewhere else to celebrate a holiday, they were doing a football weekend like they do every year. It just happened to be at holiday time.
It wasn’t just the holiday, it was that it is so RARE for all of us to be together, that I grieved missing out.
Here’s how it turned out.
I traveled and spent the holiday with a single friend and her extended friend circle.
Because I hadn’t thrown a fit or acted out of disappointment about the holiday, I believe that I demonstrated control over my emotions and a certain level of maturity.
That allowed them to enjoy something they wanted to do without feeling too guilty. They did feel bad though, and they said that they wouldn’t do that again.
For Christmas, we all spent it together. That’s a pretty good result in my book.
Yes, You Can be Friends with Your Adult Children
Just remember that these days they are adults and humans as well as being your children.
Also keep in mind, that they are here to fulfill their own personal destiny. They hopefully have long lives to live and so many things.
However, life can be short and we never know what the next day will bring.
It’s important to cherish, love, and respect your children exactly as they are right this moment.
Not how you WANT them to be.
Not WHEN they are finally acting like you think they should.
Nope, it’s gotta be at this VERY moment.
Because it is that love and true acceptance in any situation that creates a bond of friendship with an adult child.
Keep showing up my friends,
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Hi, I'm Sara Garska and I'm so happy you're here! Big changes can happen with a shift in thinking. Over time, you transform your life into the one you always dreamed of having. As a certified life and weight loss coach, I can help you create a life you love. Click here to schedule a free 50-minute coaching session.