Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Build Great Relationships with Your Adult Children

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jan 12, 2011
Build Great Relationships with Your Adult Children

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of  Jim Newheiser and Elyse Fitzpatrick's book, You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship with Your Adult Children, (P&R Publishing, 2010).  

Your job as a parent isn't done once your kids grow up. When they're adults, your kids still need your love, guidance, and encouragement - but your relationship with them should be different than it was while you were raising them. If you learn how to relate to your adult children as respected friends, you can build great relationships with them that can last for the rest of your lives.

Here's how you can build great relationships with your adult kids:

Remember the goal of parenting.  Keep in mind that the goal you were aiming for when raising your kids was to help them become independent adults who live faithfully and productively. If they're already mature enough to live that way, congratulations. But if they're still struggling with independence as adults, it's time for you to show them the way to independent lives. So ask God to help you stop interacting with them in any ways that are preventing them from becoming independent. Pray for the ability to let your adult children make their own decisions and experience the consequences of those decisions so they'll learn how to live independently.

Teach key life lessons. Work to make sure that your adult children learn crucial lessons that will help them live as God intends. Teach them that God's love is found in Jesus, and show them how t live for God's glory by worshipping Him out of love, put other people ahead of themselves, communicate with wisdom and humility, relate romantically according to God's design for sex and marriage, choose their friends carefully, make adult choices, work hard, and manage their money wisely. Learning these lessons will help your adult kids avoid getting trapped in sins that often harm young adults, such as sex before marriage and credit card debt.

Listen rather than demanding to be heard. Listening when your adult kids share their thoughts and feelings with you encourages them to open up to you more, because it shows them that you respect their opinions and their right to differ with your own opinions. In contrast, demanding that they choose what you want for them or nagging them until they give into pressure will only damage your relationships with them.  Recognize that your adult children are responsible before God to make their own decisions about all issues - including who they'll marry and what kind of career they'll pursue - even when you feel strongly that their choices are unwise.

Pray often. God is always ready to listen to your prayers for your adult kids. Express your concerns to God regularly, and trust Him to respond by working powerfully in their lives.

Forgive. If your adult children have hurt you through something they've said or done, don't let bitterness poison your relationships with them - or your relationship with God, who commands you to forgive as He has forgiven you. Rely on God's help to forgive your adult kids and pave the way for closer relationships with them.

Deal with living arrangements wisely. Today, many young adults still live at home with their parents, or move back home after living elsewhere for a time. If your adult kids are living in your home, be sure to clarify the reason why they're there (such as that they're attending college, helping to care for you or your spouse, or need support following a recent crisis like a divorce). Clearly define the amount of time they can plan to stay at home, to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. But keep in mind that your adult children may stay at home indefinitely as long as they're productive (such as contributing fairly to household expenses and doing chores) and you all agree that living together is best. If your adult kids aren't working hard to contribute equitably to your household or aren't respecting your house rules for living together well (such as refraining from drunkenness or sexual immorality), it's time to have them move out. Don't hesitate to make your adult children move out for those reasons, since having to move may motivate them to change in healthy ways. If you've had to make your adult kids move out, you can still invite them over regularly for meals and family events together.

Let them experience the consequences of their mistakes. Realize that your adult children need to suffer the consequences of the wrong choices they make to understand how to make better ones. If you try to rescue them from consequences, you may be preventing God's work in their lives that could help them mature.

Help them learn to be financially responsible. Teach your adult kids the value of hard work, and refrain from giving them what they can earn on their own. Never lend them money or cosign a loan for them. Help them discover, develop, and use their talents so they can find good jobs. Show them how to budget their money wisely.

Build positive relationships with your in-laws and grandchildren. Do all you can to develop good relationships with your adult children's spouses and children. Be as involved in their lives as they invite you to be, but respect their boundaries and don't try to control their choices. Avoid conflicts and work to enjoy your time together.

Interact with humility. Ask God to give you the humility you need to relate to your adult children by: speaking little and listening a lot, communicating clearly instead of expecting them to read your mind, respect their individuality, admitting your own mistakes and asking their forgiveness, forgiving them when they make mistakes, being kind to each other, and enjoying each other's company by sharing fun activities together.

Love them unconditionally. Just as God never stops loving you no matter what you may do, keep expressing love to your adult kids even when they're living in ways that grieve you. Remember that you can powerfully communicate the Gospel to them simply by giving them unconditional love, since that models the love that God has for all of His children through Jesus Christ.

January 12, 2011

Adapted from You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship with Your Adult Children, copyright 2010 by Jim Newheiser and Elyse Fitzpatrick. Published by P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ,  

Dr. Jim Newheiser is a pastor at Grace Bible Church, in Escondido, California, and he also serves as director of counseling for the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD) and Fellow of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). He holds M.A. and D.Min. degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary in California. He is also author of Opening up Proverbs and When Good Kids Make Bad Choices (co-authored with Elyse Fitzpatrick). Jim and his wife, Caroline, are the parents of three adult sons.  

Elyse Fitzpatrick counsels with the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. She holds a certificate in biblical counseling from IBCD and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary, and she is a member of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors. Elyse is the author of 11 books, including When Good Kids Make Bad Choices (co-authored with Jim Newheiser), Afternoon of Life and A Steadfast Heart. She and her husband, Phil, are parents of three adult children and live in California.