Preserving Healthy Relationships With Young Adult Children

We have two adult kids living at home and all the baggage that comes with it. Any helpful ideas?

Just like childhood, parenthood goes through stages as children grow and enter new developmental and lifestyle periods. One of the trickiest transitions for parents to navigate is when childhood ends and young adulthood begins. Often times it is related to the adult child continuing to reside with parents, at least for a few months each year. The adult child's belief that they should now be treated as an adult can easily conflict with parents' view that when they are at home the prior rules, expectations, and even consequences apply. This clash can easily erode communication and in so doing, family relationships.

If these circumstances sound familiar read on for ways to promote and preserve relationships with your adult children:

When expectations are in conflict, don't be seduced by the cliché that justifies parental inflexibility: "When you live under my roof you'll follow my rules…" This provocative saying is often offered with a sharp tone designed to end discussion but also serves to build communication barriers. A "relationship-friendly" approach entails approaching the discussion as a problem-solving opportunity between two people with different perspectives and opinions. Replace confrontational words and tones with compromising ideas and attitudes. Refrain from bringing up unpleasant memories from the past and predicting future troubles. Invite your adult child to suggest ways the two of you can find agreement about contentious issues under discussion.

Be prepared to switch back and forth between providing a sympathetic and supportive ear when their struggles mount, and respecting their wishes for privacy and independence when preferred. It can be difficult to discern which they are asking for so be vigilant about decoding the signals that suggest come closer or back away. Adult children may vacillate between the two poles of disclosure depending upon their mood and stress level. A good rule of thumb is to wait for them to bring up more sensitive or personal issues and even if they do, don't assume they want your opinion. Ask if they want a sounding board or if they are open to listening to you as well.

Communicate in ways that make it clear to them that you acknowledge their age and level of responsibility in their life. This entails sharing information that was formerly withheld, such as financial or health matters when appropriate. It can also mean that aspects of your own young adult journey, especially the struggles and mistakes, are shared and used as springboards for discussion. As the relationship deepens and widens in dialogue look for opportunities to praise them for their growing maturity and self-awareness.

Parental humility is critical to protecting the relationship against the tendency of adult children to view parents as "know-it-alls." Watch for this self-serving trap that causes adult children to sanitize the information they share and marginalize the relationship into only providing headline news that reflects well on them. Openly admit that your opinion is but one and it's important to consider multiple viewpoints when important decisions await us.

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450 or "Times New Roman";color:blue">