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Growing With: Parenting Adult Children

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One of the things we’re learning about emerging adults is that the world in which they are claiming their adulthood is vastly different from the world in which their parents came of age.

Most of the parents of young Millennials and older Gen Zs could afford to move out of the family home at 18 because rent, the cost of post high school education, and living expenses were lower. As a 59-year-old parent of two daughters, I have watched my daughters try to figure out how to work in a gig economy, pay for health insurance, and pay other bills while simultaneously trying to avoid returning home to live. I can attest to the fact that none of my peers imagined that we would continue living with our parents beyond the occasional semester breaks in college. We were certain that by the age of 21 we would be on our own, either married or with a good enough job to rent our own place.

So if young adults are living at home longer and/or experiencing the boomerang effect of the pandemic economy, what does that mean for how we parent our adult children? Here are three things to think about.

We Never Stop Parenting

First, I believe we need to embrace the truth that we never stop parenting even when our offspring have children of their own. Modern parents often brag that they no longer parent their adult children because now they are friends and confidants. I don’t buy it, and I’m not even sure that is healthy. 

I remember my grandmother leaning over the casket where her daughter, my mother, lay waiting for our final goodbyes. The blouse that we had chosen for Mom to be buried in had a bow at the collar that wasn’t tied properly. My grandmother looked at that bow differently than I as a daughter did, and so she dressed her baby, her child, for the last time by fixing that bow properly. 

We never stop parenting, but we do need to know how to parent differently in each age and stage of our child’s development.

It’s a Dance

Second, we need to better engage in the dependence/independence/interdependence dance—and we need to start doing so when children are young. 

When my grandparents dropped me off at university, we quickly moved from dependence to independence when my trunk bounced on the lawn and I barely had a chance to wave goodbye to their car as someone directed them to move on. 

The interdependence part was harder to navigate for my generation, who often felt like once we hit 18 we were on our own. Today parents seem to miss the independence phase and hover between the other two dance movements, which often leads to unhealthy codependency. 

The dependence/independence/interdependence model advocates for deep and healthy bonding, which then allows for some significant independent experiences but still provides a safety net for when independent choices and habits don’t work out. This sets the stage for healthy interwoven relationships that have the tensile strength to weather the normal relational moving apart and then coming together that all relationships go through.

Inviting Vs. Directing

Finally, I have been wondering how I can help my children by being more invitational and less directional in my parenting. They have proven again and again that they are competent and have a great deal of resilience to weather the constantly changing world around them. I try to ask more questions and give less advice while pointing out where I see evidence of that competency and resilience in their lives. 

I also try to frame my questions in ways that help them identify what it means to thrive in their particular contexts, reminding them occasionally that their identity come from being a child of God and not from social media, that they belong to a larger group of people who love them and have their backs, that they are living into and contributing out of their callings, and that there is real hope in Christ.

Taking a “Growing With” Posture

One great resource for helping parents navigate life with emerging adults is the book Growing With by Kara Powell and Steven Argue. This book highlights parenting postures rather than giving a list of how-tos. It’s a good resource for parents of pre-teens through 20-somethings. It’s also helpful for grandparents and people who are in mentoring relationships with emerging adults. Another insightful resource for ministry leaders is the Renegotiating Faith report. 

I’m guessing that your congregation includes parents who would like to explore what it means to parent their emerging adults well. Faith Formation Ministries offers a Growing With workshop that can be presented in person or online. The workshop gives parents and grandparents a place to reflect on the themes of the book while applying them to their own lives. The workshop can be done over three nights in the virtual format, or as a parenting retreat in person. This is a great companion piece for congregations who are leaning into the strategies of Growing Young

If you’re interested in hosting a Growing With workshop, contact Lesli van Milligen at [email protected] for more information.

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