Parenting a Young Adult

Read the do's and don'ts of mothering an adult child.
Table of contents

Parenting a Young Adult

Children grow up whether you're ready for it or not. They begin to make choices and decisions—and even have relationships—that you know nothing about. In other words, they begin to build lives that are separate from their parents. And they seem to start the process when you're not looking. While you're still relating to the traumas of teendom, they're quietly making the shift to adulthood.

The Dos and Don'ts of Mothering an Adult

The secrets of handling this transition gracefully are pretty basic. Here's a quick overview of how to manage it:

Do Don't
Be available with advice and counsel when it's requested. Rush in and impose your way of doing things on your child without being asked.
Be willing to share stories of your own early days of independence. Badger your child with comparisons of how you handled things better when you were her age.
Make it clear that your child is still a vital part of your family, even if she is living independently now. Close the doors to your child if she needs to come home for a little mother love when the going gets tough in the grown-up world.
Womanly Wisdom

At this age, communication with your child is crucial. While she's more self-reliant, she's also more vulnerable to making dangerous errors in judgment. Now more than ever she needs to know that she has your support and love, no matter what.

The essential message is this: You can't be so smothering that you undermine your adult child's sense of independence, but you want to avoid being so completely accepting of her independent status that you give the impression that you don't care about her anymore. Your goal as parent at this stage in your child's life is to help her to feel empowered to take charge, and that's best accomplished if you make it clear that she always has a home and family to turn to when life gets tough.

Some things you can do to build a strong dynamic in your new relationship:

  • Make it clear that you still hold to your rules and values, and that you expect your child to respect them.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Make it clear that you welcome an opportunity to contribute to your child's life, and that your child is still a part of your life, too.
  • Be willing to let your adult child turn to you for comfort when the responsibilities of independent living get a little overwhelming. Make it clear that you believe in her ability to cope with her life, but that you can empathize when she expresses a need to admit weakness every once in a while.
  • Be receptive if your child is willing to talk about his plans, goals, and dreams. And, if he's open to your input, offer guidance to help him create a strategy to achieve them.

Evaluating Your New Role

Mothers do not know what to do when their children come of age. After 18 years or more of being at the core of our children's lives, it's hard to find that they've moved on to build a life of their own. It's easy to feel rejected and lonely, and to express those feelings by interfering in the life they're trying to build for themselves. But resist that urge as strongly as you can—your child needs your support, not your control.

Your adult child can become your buddy. For the first time in her life, she's beginning to confront adult problems that she's never had to recognize. As she does so, she will begin to develop an understanding of many of your actions and priorities that previously were inexplicable to her. This gives you both new ground on which to build a bond.

Staying Connected

Keep in mind that even though your child has achieved young adulthood, there will still be plenty of opportunities for you to do some good mothering. You may even find that this is the age when you do some of your best work. Your goal is to find a way to provide that gentle push your child might need in order to successfully leave the nest, while still extending a hand for support when she needs it. You want to help your newly matured child to feel secure and loved, and to know she always has a place in your home, while encouraging her to step further and further into full adult autonomy.

This requires that you strike a very delicate balance. As your child is moving off into his own life, you too are beginning to build a life—one that is no longer centered on his needs. And, however mature he may think he is, he will be sensitive to this change in you.