When we were in the middle of building our family of eleven children, it seemed like my whole life was going to be filled with chaos, dirty dishes, diapers, laundry, and whining. But in what seems like the blink of an eye, suddenly we’re down to four at home, no more diapers, the whining is rare, and they all help with the dishes and laundry. The rest have moved out and are navigating their own adult lives now, dealing with their own dishes and laundry, paying bills, navigating relationships, and figuring out how to be successful adults.
For my husband and me, it’s a transitional time as well, as we figure out how to adjust the parent/adult-child relationships with our grown children into a different mode. The teenage years can be quite tumultuous, more so for some adolescents than others, but they do eventually end, the brain finally matures, and the crazy mood swings calm down. Some of our kids were more challenging than others, and at times I wondered if we would ever get along as adults, but I can report that so far, we have managed to get good solid relationships in place with all our adult children. Whew!
That’s not to say that they do everything exactly the way we would or that they don’t make mistakes. They do. Everyone does. What’s important is what they learn from those things and that they make better choices as they go.
Here are some things that we did that I felt were helpful in cementing good relationships with our adult children.
1. Give them space.
When they first moved out, we helped them with the things they needed to know, like getting the utilities hooked up, getting renters insurance and health insurance, etc. We had already taught them how to cook and clean and do the laundry, but if you have an adult child moving out and they don’t know these skills yet, now’s the time!
After they’re all set up, don’t call all the time to check up on them. Let them have their space and figure things out. If they need your help, they will call. This is probably one of the harder things, as it’s easy to feel like they can’t exist without us or that we’re not needed anymore. It can be a very bittersweet thing. On the one hand, there’s a silent cheer that we’re off the hook now, but on the other hand, there is an emptiness that can hit hard from that new hole in the household. Even in a big family, the dynamic is very different when even one of them moves out.
In any case, resist the urge to be a helicopter parent. This is a critical time in the maturation process, and the more they are able to figure out and deal with on their own, the better for everyone!
2. Let them know that you’re there for them no matter what.
If you have a contentious relationship with your adult child, remember what the end game is. Whatever issues you have right now will most likely be nonexistent 20 years from now, but if you allow them to ruin your relationship, that’s a major problem. Even if your adult children do dumb things and end up in jail, or they run off and get married to someone who you think is completely wrong for them, be there for them. You don’t have to support their actions to love them, and you can make that very clear by saying something like, “I will always love you, and I only want the best for you. Because of that, I cannot get behind what you’re doing, but I will always be here for you…”
3. Lay the groundwork when they are teenagers.
If your kids are already grown, just skip this section, but if they’re not, start thinking about this now. The goal in parenting is to raise competent capable people who are moral and ethical, capable of being gainfully employed, and a valuable part of whatever community they eventually join. Start thinking about this when your kids are young and keep those conversation channels open. Trust them with more and more things and give them more responsibilities, but don’t be an overbearing tyrant when they make the inevitable mistakes. It will be really difficult to repair that kind of relationship later.
I was a lot tougher on my older kids than I am on my younger kids, and I can see already that it is going to be an easier transition to adulthood for my younger ones. They aren’t desperate to move out like some of the older ones were, probably because I have shifted my focus to building really solid relationships with them. I just didn’t understand how important that was, and I was too caught up in the mechanics and logistics of keeping the household running and being their teacher. I have learned that relationships are everything and that every child has different needs and challenges. I’m not talking about that “cool parent/friend” thing, as that’s not healthy either. What I’m talking about is really listening and being there for them. It’s very easy to be too busy all the time to really listen, but these are critical years in their growth and formation, so time well-spent now will reap major rewards later.
4. Keep in touch and let them know you value spending time with them.
While you don’t want to be hovering over them, you still need to keep in touch regularly. Find that balance that works for all of you, where they have their independence but still knows that they are valued and that you like spending time with them. We are fortunate that all our adult children live nearby, so we have family dinners at least a couple of times every month, usually on a Sunday night after church. We’ll either go out to our favorite pizza place or have a barbecue at our house, often followed by a game night or a movie enjoyed together.
5. Start some new hobbies of your own.
If you really can’t contain yourself from being the helicopter parent, get some new hobbies and get back in touch with yourself. Who were you before you had children? Are there any dreams that you had back then that you weren’t able to fulfill that you could maybe take up now? New groups you’d like to join, new things you’d like to try? This is your time! Not only will you find a new sense of fulfillment and purpose, but you will also be a great example to your adult children of how to move into the next phase of life in a healthy and fulfilling way.
The bottom line is, you worked hard to get this far. Raising children is not for the faint of heart. It is truly the most difficult yet most fulfilling job on earth! For us, faith and family are everything, and I believe that keeping those ideals front and center is the key to successfully transitioning into solid, wonderful relationships with your adult children. As the old sayings go, “Don’t make mountains out of molehills,” and, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” Family feuds are not worth it. Stay close, love unconditionally, and be quick to forgive. I’ve always taught my children, friends come and go, but family is forever!
Did you enjoy this piece? You might also enjoy the wonderful book my six daughters wrote for teenage girls, Believe in You, coming Oct 15, 2019.
Lynne Cimorelli is a mother of 11 children, including the six sisters of the band “Cimorelli” and five wonderful sons. Known as “Mom Cimorelli” to her daughters’ fans, Lynne and Mike, her husband of 32 years, have made for themselves an extraordinary life from very ordinary beginnings. Check out Lynne’s blog and read more of her essays at MomCimorelii.com.