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Parenting Adult Children | 16 Pearls of Wisdom From a Mother/Mental Health Professional

(During our last reader survey, so many of you expressed the desire for a post about parenting adult children, especially when they are facing something difficult. As the mother of an 8-year-old, I didn’t feel adequately equipped to speak to this topic. And so…I’m thrilled to introduce‘s first ever guest writer, Lisa Leshaw! She’s not only a stepmother to two adult children and a grandmother to six, she’s also a mental health professional of over 30 years. I’m both incredibly thankful and deeply honored to have her words grace this page. Thank you, Lisa!)

So…We’re Parenting Adult Children

Just when we thought the hardest part of parenting was behind us, because our children are now grown, we come face-to-face with a harsh reality; parenting an adult child can be equally if not more challenging and sometimes as heartbreaking as raising a little one.

I guess no one wanted to mention this little tidbit to us while we were in the throes of the mothering trenches. Everyone “in the know” allowed us to luxuriate in thoughts of empty nest bliss; hot cups of coffee, long showers, sleeping with both eyes closed, not having someone tugging our pant leg while we were trying to talk on the phone.

Although we may no longer have to sign report cards and permission slips, we do have to sign up for new and surprisingly confusing duty; navigating the minefield of loving an adult child. Barnes and Noble’s bookshelves carry over 2000 resources on parenting advice birth-18. Try and find decent guidebooks for parents of adult children.

We’re finally starting to recognize this season for what it actually is; a brand new phase of parenting for us, that rarely receives attention and is in dire need of receiving attention.

Why Don’t We Talk About This?

As a mental health professional, I have had the privilege of conducting workshops for women on all sorts of parenting issues. It never occurred to me to address parenting related to an adult child, until a lovely woman raised her hand one day and asked the group directly, “How do you handle giving advice to your grown child when you see them going astray?”

Then the epiphany. We never discuss this issue.

Why? It’s an essential part of parenting.

We never stop being a parent. Then why would we stop seeking advice on how to negotiate this phase that lasts until our last days?

Is it because we think we’re no longer needed by our children? Or because we think we ought to have all the answers by now so we’re embarrassed to ask? How come there aren’t community-based support groups for this group of overlooked parents?

We’re always going to be needed by our children. That’s a given.

Adult children don’t stop needing their parents. They only stop needing us in certain ways.

It’s hard to grapple with the fact that our child is no longer a child. She’s an adult. Yikes.

Which means we have to transition into treating her like an adult. That’s not easy.

We’re used to interacting in ways that are imprinted on our souls. Now we’re expected to change our modus operandi literally overnight. At least that’s how it seems.

So what is a parent of an adult child to do?

Pearls of Wisdom For Parenting Adult Children

1. Give yourself grace.

Lighten your expectations of figuring this out all at once.

2. Tell your child you’re giving yourself grace.

That you’re discovering a new and exciting world of parenting adult children.

3. Ask for their grace in return.

4. Honor the boundary lines that your children will set.

If they’re uncomfortable setting them, ask to discuss the boundary lines. As you wouldn’t barge into a friend’s home unannounced, your adult child deserves the same respect. 

5. Become a good listener.

6. Become an even better friend.

7. Don’t offer advice without being asked and then only sparingly unless your child appears to be in imminent danger.

Let them try to figure things out, with you on the sidelines rooting them on. It’s an essential part of growing up that they’ll come to rely upon in later years. 

8. Show confidence in who they’ve already become; who they’re striving to become.

9. You’ve given them wings.

Don’t try to clip them by over-parenting. 

10. Try and accept their significant other despite the fact that you think they’ve made an unwise choice.

In most cases, your children will not choose the partner you would have chosen for them. In most instances, you’ll think they could have chosen better.

Once again, if they haven’t placed themselves in a potentially hazardous situation, say nothing. If they have, say everything.

11. Accept that you will no longer come first in most decisions.

Your adult child has her own life.

You will always matter. You will always be loved.

It just won’t show as clearly.

12. Allow them to take responsibility for their own mistakes.

Don’t step in and make excuses for them. Be there to reassure.

13. Never make your child choose between you and their new family.

It makes everybody a pawn. It breeds guilty feelings.

You’ll always lose and it will break your heart.

14. Cherish the time you spend with them.

Take a walk. Talk about your life when you were their age.

It’s reassuring for both of you.

15. Acknowledge to yourself and outwardly to your child that you will never stop worrying about them.

It’s okay. It’s part of a parent’s DNA.

They’ll understand when they become parents.

16. Recognize this beautiful new chapter you’re entering.

You’re now going to have a cherished lifelong friend to celebrate with; a best friend. It can easily become one of the most rewarding times of your life.

In order for that to happen, sometimes you have to just let it be. And believe. And pray a lot.


Lisa Leshaw has worked as a mental health professional for the past 31 years. She currently conducts Parenting Skills Workshops, Group Counseling for Blended Families, and Empowerment Circles for Women. As a consultant,

Lisa travels throughout teaching Communication and Listening Skills, Behavioral Management Techniques and Motivational Strategies. To de-stress she performs in children’s theatre and plays piano whenever requested. She is hoping to either write the next memorable musical composition or Great American Novel! You can find more of her writing online at The Bubelah by Lisa Leshaw or in print in How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don’t need to say, “I’m fine.”).

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