During a recent interview about parenting adult children, the host asked a question I hear often.
“How do you respond when your adult children make choices you don’t agree with? Choices that disappoint or concern you? Do you express your feelings or do you just keep quiet?”
It’s a good question: It’s one I help other parents work through and one I wrestle with at times myself. So here’s the advice I give to the woman in the mirror and to other parents.
First thing we must do is to listen. We talked about that last week and it’s an important step to remember, especially when we’re concerned. Certainly, it sounds obvious. And yet, when we know that what we’re hearing isn’t setting well with us, patient listening can be difficult.
When I have a conversation with my adult children and hear something that concerns or disappoints me, I find it helpful to take some deep breaths. Then I ask God to help me set aside my opinions, fears, disapproval and concerns, so I can establish clear understanding.
Once I get a handle on the situation, I need to check my emotions. I know if I’m upset and respond right away, my children are likely to hear my emotion rather than my reasoning. And they’re apt to get defensive or concerned about how I feel and miss the points I most want to make.
In times like that, it’s helpful if I say that I’d like to think about what I’ve heard, and I ask for a follow-up conversation. Then I allow myself time to work through my emotions. To express how I feel in safe ways and perhaps talk with someone who will offer a safe place to express my concerns and help me work through my thoughts as I plan my response.
I also know I need to talk to the Lord about the situation, to seek His wisdom and guidance. Sometimes He prompts me to share my heart and other times He tells me to be quiet and wait on Him to act in the life of my children.
Once I’ve worked through that process, I ask my children if I can share my thoughts with them. I’m better able to talk without spewing out my raw emotion. They’re more apt to listen and consider what I’m sharing. They know I’ve thought things through and prayed about the situation. I’m able to speak more calmly, clearly, and respectfully as I share my concerns. If I know I need to step back and not share my opinions or give advice, I simply say that I’ll pray that God will guide them as they make their life choices.
I do know there are times when our children might be in an unsafe situation and we must quickly urge them to get help. Again, it’s helpful in those times to allow a few minutes to take some deep breaths that will clear our minds as we seek God’s guidance. Then we can give the best counsel possible as we support them through troubling times.
When our children were little, it seemed so much easier, didn’t it? To jump right in and tell them what they could and couldn’t do. To tell them our opinions and direct their lives with more control. Now that they’re grown, we must consider when it’s best to step in and express our concerns, opinions, and advice. And when it’s best to stay on the sidelines and offer our encouragement and prayer support as they work through life’s challenges.
Aren’t you thankful God is there to guide us in those times?
For more tips on communicating with your adult children, read Secrets to Parenting Your Adult Child (Bethany House, 2011).