Family picture of parenting adult children

Parenting adult children is different than parenting young children. At the only graduation party we attended this season, I was talking with a friend, saying that I’m learning to release with our three young adult children. “You should write about that in your next newsletter,” she said.

So here are some principles I’ve learned for parenting adult children.  

Our three children are 24, 22, and 21. My days of commanding are over. I’ve moved from a position of authority to influence. Many times over the past few years I’ve said something like this to one of our children: “You’re an adult. I can’t tell you what to do and I trust you to make a wise decision. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think about this situation.”

When Parenting Adult Children You Can Remind them Them “This is what you said you wanted

When our oldest was married this month we celebrated the birth of a new family comprised of him and his wife. We knew we were raising a complete human who would have his own beliefs, values, and would make his own decisions. We weren’t looking to keep that cute kid a child forever. So, here we are. We said we wanted a functional adult and we celebrate his emergence.

When Parenting Adult Children Keep In Mind They Still Care About What You Think

It’s amazing how the words of a parent carry extra weight throughout life. When my dad tells me he’s proud of me, it matters. Your young adult children care what you think about them and their decisions even if they go to great lengths to hide that fact. Keep sharing your insights when invited and pray for other adults to speak into their lives when you’re not invited to share your wisdom.  

Hand releases butterfly of parenting adult children

When Parenting Adult Children Remember Releasing Isn’t Giving Up

No one is perfect. We can all mature more fully and become better versions of ourselves – right up to our last breath. By releasing, you aren’t giving up on your children, you are simply acknowledging what is true. You are no longer the one who should be making their decisions. This isn’t an on/off switch but a dimmer that has been growing brighter for years.

When Parenting Adult Children Remember You Thought You Were A Fully Grown Adult When You Were Their Age

At 23, I had a master’s degree and was teaching undergraduates whose parents were sacrificing a lot of money for me to teach their children. I thought I was a complete adult, capable of mixing it up with other adults who were past their prime but, unfortunately, unaware of their condition. Your children are no different. They think they’re grown up and will respond better if you treat them as the adults they are, rather than waiting for them to be the adults you think they should be.

When Parenting Adult Children Two Of The Most Powerful Words – “Mature” & “Trust”

For years, I’ve been telling our kids that I see them maturing and pointing to examples that support that claim. When they have an important decision to make, I tell them I trust them. Why? Because I see them maturing and I trust them, but also because it is amazing how humans try to live up to the expectations of others, particularly the expectations of their parents. I might as well use words that encourage wise decisions.

If They Are Xing (i.e., some undesired behavior)? They Have To Live With The Consequences

We’ve taught our children that we do not support sex outside of marriage and we have made abstinence an expectation within our home. Now that our children are adults we still hold these same core values. Should they choose to engage in premarital sexual activity, that decision is theirs, as are the consequences.

So, I release.

They know what we believe and why. Now it is up to them to act in support of their beliefs and values. I may feel pain in response to decisions they make, but I cannot control those decisions. So, I release.   The point? Days of control, if they ever existed, are past. Days of influence can be here forever if we choose to cultivate relationships that foster influence.   You want a simple first step? Turn off the tracking software on your phone. Then take the next right step. You’ll sleep better and your kids may think you’re the wisest older adults they know.

About Julian Consulting

Dr. Stephen Julian is President of Julian Consulting, a firm specializing in team health, effective communication, and leadership development. He has worked with leaders and their teams for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings – including Africa, South and Central America.

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