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Parenting Adult Children: How to establish a healthy relationship with your adult child

family therapy, family counseling and parent-child therapy to strengthen relationships and build healthy communication skills

More and more lately, we have seen families coming into our practice struggling with a strained relationship between adult children and their parents. Many of these parents feel baffled that there is a problem at all. They struggle to see where their adult child is coming from and why they feel the way they do. It’s hard to set aside everything you think you’ve done right parenting your children and listen to what you did or continue to do that may have been damaging to your child and your relationship with them. Part of the problem is that when a child is growing up, the relationship with their parents is generally one-way. The parent decides on values, family culture and traditions, and communication patterns. The child has to live within those dynamics, as they don’t have a choice. When that child transitions into adulthood, it can sometimes be challenging for the parent to flex on the beliefs they have formed and recognize that their adult child has different views on relationships, families, communication, and that the dynamic needs to change.

There are many reasons that relationships between parents and adult children can go astray. Some of the more common causes include:

  1. A difference in beliefs and values: For example, if you have raised your children in a particular faith and they choose to step away from those beliefs as an adult, it can become a source of strain in the relationship, both from the parent seeing it as a rejection of their sincerely held religious views and the child seeing it as the parent trying to force their beliefs on them.

  2. Feeling like their childhood lacked something they needed: For example, if you were focused on demanding excellence in grades, sports, or other childhood endeavors, you may have unknowingly been putting too much pressure on your child. Perhaps your child felt like you didn’t support them or show them that you loved them regardless of their performance in these areas; your adult child may feel like they need to cut off that relationship so as not to have that kind of pressure in their life anymore.

  3. Toxic Interactions: It’s not uncommon for parents and children to develop bad communication habits, yelling, criticizing, even name-calling can become a habit that creates harmful interactions regularly. It is vitally important for parents and their adult children to keep their interactions respectful and loving and do their best to overcome these toxic habits.

  4. Overbearing: One of the most common reasons that adult children attribute to a strain in their relationship with their parents is a sense that the parent still sees them as a child. This goes back to what we mentioned earlier when the parent struggles to adjust to the changing dynamic between a parent/child relationship with a child and an adult.

If you’ve been struggling with your relationship with your adult child, there are some things you can do to improve things.

  1. Set Healthy Boundaries: Boundaries are essential in any relationship, but they are an absolute must when it comes to relationships with our adult children! Instead of criticizing, keep your negative opinions of your child’s choices to yourself, express praise for the things you see them doing right instead. Instead of meddling in their relationships, careers, or other aspects of their lives, only give advice when it’s asked of you and do so with respect being at the forefront. Finally, if your adult child tends only to reach out when they need your help with something, don’t be afraid to say “no” if you need to, and to let them know how you are feeling, boundaries need to go both ways.

  2. Acknowledge and respect your differences: Every person is different. We think differently; we have different beliefs, values, and interests. It can be difficult for parents and children who have clashing beliefs and values to have a healthy relationship. Instead of trying to change each other’s minds, try acknowledging those differences and being respectful of each other’s right to believe what they believe. Do your best to be respectful and supportive of your adult child’s journey to discovering who they are and what they believe without judgment or condemnation. If you need to avoid specific topics of conversation to avoid conflict with your adult child, that is a boundary that should be discussed and respected by both parties.

  3. Make room for partners: Does the strain in your relationship with your adult child come from a conflict with their significant other? Sometimes as parents, we have a tough time accepting the people that our child brings into their lives. Whether it is because we see red flags in the relationship or have a hard time sharing our child with another person, it is essential that you do your best to be accepting of their choice in partners and recognize that as your child grows, there will come a time when they may choose to build their own family. If there are valid concerns that need to be addressed, state your opinion calmly and respectfully– once. If your child chooses to continue that relationship, do your best to find commonality with their partner, and avoid judgment, criticism, and ultimatums.

  4. Listen to their feelings without interjecting: If your adult child feels unheard, unsupported, or even abused in some cases, you must listen to their concerns without inserting your opinion. Even if you feel like their view or memory of their childhood is incorrect, you must make sure that your child feels heard and supported. Showing compassion and respect for their experience is the first step towards reconciliation and a healthier relationship for them in the future. When your child feels like you see them and hear them, they may be more willing to listen to your side of things.

  5. Be a sounding board, not the boss: When your child is transitioning into adulthood and independence, it is crucial that you also transition from being the one in control to being a sounding board for your child. Be open with sharing your experiences and insights without being critical or demanding that your child do things a certain way. Be a support system for your child without being controlling. Ensure that your child knows that you are always available to talk if they need advice, but respect their privacy if they choose not to consult you on specific areas of their lives.

If you and your adult child are struggling to maintain a healthy relationship, we can help! Our counselors are trained in family therapy, parent-child therapy and relationship counseling to help parents and adult children to overcome unhealthy habits. Counseling can help families develop new ways to communicate, support each other, and establish healthy boundaries for a more satisfying relationship for everyone.

Call us today at (512) 400-4247for your free 10-minute consultation or set up an appointment with one of our Therapists.


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