One of the most difficult things for a parent is to stand back and let adult children solve their problems.
In the past three months, I’ve watched my adult son change jobs, sell his house, buy another house, and move to a different city.
It’s been an unbelievably stressful time for him and for our daughter-in-law. It’s also been stressful for us as it was our custom to take a 20 minute drive to have dinner together at least once a week. We will now need to travel two hours to visit with them.
Some of their decisions seem quite risky as both quit well-paying, stable jobs with excellent benefits. However, they wanted to leave the big city environment of Toronto for a quieter lifestyle in a smaller city in Southern Ontario. There is a special twist to this decision as they have moved back to the city where our son was born and where we lived until he was twelve years old. He characterizes the move as going back to his home town.
I’m proud of the fact that I’ve minded my business through this period of change. I’ve dealt quietly with my discomfort and misgivings. I’ve refrained from giving unsolicited advice or offering an unsolicited opinion.
Instead, I’ve given emotional support and encouragement but have left them solve their problems in their own way. This has meant backing away and allowing them to deal with the issues that these changes have brought.
How to let adult children solve their problems
When asked for advice, offer it — but only offer advice when requested. Further, don’t be offended if the advice is not taken. Times and circumstances are different so advice based on your experience may not be helpful. Ultimately, the decisions and the consequences of decisions are their issue. Let them listen and then back off.
We are fortunate to have a good relationship with our son and he often seeks our opinion. He listens and appreciates the information, wisdom, and guidance we offer. However, he often follows a different course of action.
Respect boundaries. As an adult with a family of his own, our son’s primary responsibility is to his wife and child — not to his parents. They have their own values, their own child-rearing ideas, and their own priorities. I know that he still loves us as parents but our needs and preferences are no longer his primary concern.
I respect their privacy as I understand that what happens in their marriage or their immediate family is not my business — nor is what happens between my husband and me their business.
We want a long-term. respectful relationship with our adult son and daughter-in-law, so we are careful to keep strong boundaries.
Recognize their capacity to solve problems. Our son and daughter-in-law are independent and capable people who have responsible jobs and who are parents themselves. They know a thing or two about the world and are quite capable of solving the daily problems of their lives. They like recognition for their accomplishments but need space to manage situations.
As parents, we have the parental instinct to protect children from harm. This instinct doesn’t go away just because they are adults yet the parental urge to protect never stops. Recognizing that adult children may experience such protective urges as meddling is important for good relationships.
Give concrete help when needed. Adult children often need and appreciate concrete help. Often, it is financial help to get through a crisis. For many adult children, knowing that they can move back home when things are rough is security and concrete help.
During this time of change, our son and daughter-in-law needed our help with caring for our grand-daughter while their house was shown to prospective buyers, while they were house hunting, and during their move. We did this willingly as we had the benefit of spending many hours with our grand-daughter and strengthening that relationship. Their move was less stressful because they could count on us for child-minding.
This time of change for our family has been a time for personal growth. I’ve realized that I have the ability to ‘let go’ and to let things evolve. In the past, I may have tried to be more involved, to provide guidance and to give direction. Backing off made life easier for me and gave me time to purse my retirement happiness.
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