- Many parents feel anxiety about the welfare of adult children and become directive by giving unwanted advice.
- The cornerstone of improved connection with your adult child is empathy.
- Being patient and demonstrating your commitment to being understanding helps repair the relationship.
When I write posts about struggles between parents and adult children, I am grateful to say that many readers share positive reactions to my posts. Thanks so much to all those who have taken the time to write me heartfelt, positive feedback.
With that said, on rare occasions, a few haters, unfortunately, reach out to me through nasty emails. I understand that emotions run hot and high when parents and adults struggle with longstanding hurts and disappointments. There are very frustrated parents of adult children or adult children who are highly upset with their parents.
Taking Sides Takes Hearts and Souls
An article in the New York Times discusses how some adult children disconnect from their parents because feel they have to live with the legacy of an abusive childhood. The parents often, in turn, feel rejected by the person they love most in the world, their child, and they are powerless to do anything about it.
There’s anger, grief, and depression on both sides. While this article referenced American families, my coaching of parents across the world has shown me the ubiquitousness of the problem of torn families facing similar issues.
My intent is not to side with parents or adult children when there are struggles in their relationships. There are no sides, nor winners when family relationships suffer. Rather, I try to encourage all-around empathy and healthy communication from both parents and adult children. With that in mind, today's post provides strategies for parents who want to reconnect with their adult children.
With Empathy, There Is No Such Thing as False Hope
If adult children are estranged, there is no quick fix to change these types of sad situations. Yet I have observed many reconciliations between parents and their adult children. For those parents who do currently have some contact with their angry, distanced adult children, the following is intended to help bridge the gap and hopefully get closer. In my parent coaching practice, I have seen first-hand parents and adult children who have worked through differences and become much closer in their relationships using these strategies.
The cornerstone of reconnection is empathy. Based on my coaching parents of adult children for more than 30 years, I can tell you that no adult children complain that their parents are too empathetic. And no parents are upset that their adult children try to be understanding as well.
Steps to Connect With Your Adult Child
1. Lower your emotional reactivity.
As I describe in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, adult children need their parents to be calm, firm, and noncontrolling. Being calm, firm, and noncontrolling helps bypass both the parent's and adult child's emotional reactivity. An example of a calm, firm, noncontrolling parental soundbite is "I value your opinion yet disagree. We both seem to feel strongly about how we see this differently. Would you agree that us having a calm, constructive conversation is going to more likely help us feel better than continuing to argue?"
2. Validate their feelings.
Many parents feel anxiety over the welfare of their adult children, and they consequently give unsolicited (and unwanted advice ) in a controlling manner. Instead, show empathy and validate your child's emotions. Let them know that their feelings are important and that you understand why they might be angry. Validating their emotions doesn't mean you have to agree with their perspective, but it helps create a safe space for communication.
3. Take inventory of your behavior.
Start by reflecting on your actions and behavior. Consider whether there have been any conflicts, misunderstandings, or mistakes on your part that might have contributed to your child's anger. Taking responsibility for your actions can set the foundation for open and honest communication.
4. Apologize and mean it.
If you have made mistakes that contributed to your child's anger, sincerely apologize for your actions. Take responsibility for your behavior and show genuine remorse. Making amends might involve changing your behavior, making reparations, or finding ways to rebuild trust.
5. Show consistent effort.
Rebuilding trust takes time and consistency. Be patient and demonstrate your commitment to repairing the relationship. Follow through on your promises, respect boundaries, and continue to show love and support for your adult child.
6. Seek professional help if needed.
If the anger and conflict persist or if you're struggling to communicate effectively, consider seeking the help of a family therapist or counselor. A neutral third party can facilitate discussions, provide guidance, and help both parties understand each other better.
No matter what your adult child's age is, being willing to learn from setbacks and mistakes is the best way to get to a better place in your relationship. Be aware of your behavior and how it may be affecting your child's emotional well-being. If you continue to find it difficult to connect with your adult child, seek the help of a coach, therapist, or counselor. They can help you work through any underlying issues that may be contributing to stubbornly problematic issues that you and your adult child are facing.
Bernstein, J. (2023). 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. Perseus Books, New York, NY.
Brooks, D. (2021). What's Ripping American Families Apart?, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/29/opinion/estranged-american-families…
Fingerman, K. Huo, M. Birditt, K.S. (2020) A Decade of Research on Intergenerational Ties: Technological, Economic, Political, and Demographic Changes, Journal of Marriage and Familly, Volume 82, Issue1, https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12604