Midlife Parenting: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Parents and grown up children walking through autumn woods

Having a Grown-Up Relationship With Your Kids

Many years ago a wise person gave me this parenting advice “The days may often drag, but the years fly by.” No truer words have ever been spoken regarding raising our children.

As your children make the transition from adolescent to adult family roles inevitably shift. This is a process that happens over a period of time, the length of which depends on each child. Children mature and become more independent and parents slowly let go emotionally.

Ah, letting go. The term is so short and sweet–but is often not the easiest thing to do. Midlife is about changes, especially when it comes to parenting.

How much and when do we take a step back? This can be confusing, and the guidelines on this depend on your child’s maturity, development, and personality. Some kids are much more independent and strong-willed from day one. These kids charge into independence with great enthusiasm, knowing the exact path to take to get to where they want to be.

My daughter Kyleigh has always been this type of person. I knew she was one of these kids before she was even born just by the pregnancy! These kids know which college they want to attend, the major and minor they will pursue, and what they will do in college to pad their resume.

Then there’s the adolescent who is a bit more leery about going to college, not sure about getting a job, and would rather live in your basement forever… It’s tough to know how to find balance at times. How involved should we be in our child’s decision making? If we don’t question, encourage and even hound them will they ever leave home at all? 

Of course we’re still available as a confidante and support person. But we do need to take a step back and not always jump in to rescue them from grown-up issues. It’s tough to let our young adults struggle and even fall. However, difficulties teach a great lesson about their own strength and perseverance–and how we believe they are capable of handling their lives as adults.

I found an article offering advise on how to establish a healthy balance on the AARP website written by Elizabeth Fishel and Dr. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett. Here are several of the tips they offer to help with this transition.  You can read the whole article here: Parenting Adult Children

Parenting Adult Children: Are You a Good Friend to Your Grown-up Kid?

Emerging adults need a different kind of closeness than when they were young. They need emotional support that helps boost, not stifle, their confidence in their own coping skills, and they need parents to bear witness to their increasing capacity to take on responsibilities, even if there are setbacks or mishaps along the way.

Observe respectful boundaries

For emerging adults, keeping a privacy buffer is a crucial part of defining a separate identity, building confidence in making decisions, and learning to stand on their own. Parents who have cherished a close relationship when their children were younger may feel hurt if they sense their grown kids pulling away. Suddenly kids are balking at coming home during their vacations or are no longer available for lengthy phone chats. While it’s natural to miss the former intimacy, it helps to understand their increased need for distance is appropriate for this stage of their lives and not to take it as a personal affront.

Listen more than you talk

Restraint is the elusive virtue now required of you, to keep from giving too much unwelcome advice or asking too many nosy questions. After years of hands-on parenting, you may bristle at how often you must bite your tongue as your children make both smart and foolish decisions. You may struggle with the want-to-fix-its, but if you jump in too quickly to unravel grown kids’ dilemmas, their important problem-solving muscles won’t have a chance to develop.

Do what you love together and intimacy will follow

When kids were young, family time happened inevitably. But now to hang out with your cooking-on-all-burners 20-somethings, you need to get creative.

Many parents will go to great lengths to carve out time and activities that work for their grown children. Hard-to-get baseball tickets or dinner reservations, biking, skiing, even training for a marathon, like one gutsy, 64-year-old mother of two agile sons. Her report: “My knees hurt, but I learned so much about them.”

Jigsaw puzzles work for the less athletic, according to another mother of three sons ages 18 to 25. Heart-to-hearts follow their shared searches for matching pieces.


Making A Connection

It’s about having fun, whatever that means to you and your kids.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine would roll their eyes if I asked them to spend time working on a puzzle. My children like to test me.

A mother and her young adult daughterLast year my daughter invited me to a concert featuring the Boston band, Dropkick Murphys. I had never heard of them. A bit of online research informed me they are a Celtic punk band, therefore, out of my genre. But I couldn’t resist spending time with my daughter–we have fun no matter what we do– so I said yes.


You might be interested in reading my post on 8 Fun Ideas For Spending Time With Your Adult Children.

Any parent will tell you it isn’t easy at any stage–some would even call it a roller coaster ride. However, in midlife we have the opportunity to re-establish our relationship with our children, let go of some responsibility, and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Our time together now is about quality versus quantity. I value these precious times, and in my experience, adult children make magnificent friends!

We would love to hear your take on this topic. Please share in the comments below.

Till next time, Sandra


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