When children move from reliance on their parents toward the independence of adulthood, it can be disorienting. Initially, parents set the guidelines for behavior and schedules in the home, but adult children grow toward autonomy by moving out, pursuing careers, and establishing households — households with a culture of their own.
These shifts can be accompanied by strong opinions and feelings. Perhaps your family doesn’t fit neatly into the categories and examples offered here. One or more of these likely seem unrealistic, or even impossible due to distance, loss, or other hindrances. Whether or not they feel attainable in your particular situation, they provide an opportunity to cultivate prayerful hope as we grapple with the realities of the changing dynamics between parents and adult children while seeking to love wisely and well.
Believe the Best
- As adult children establish their own homes and habits, it might feel like they are implying your ways were not best or right. There may be instances when change is borne out of safety or healthy conviction. It’s important to remember that your child’s motives are likely not to criticize the way you parented. Sometimes they are navigating their approach to the holidays in light of a new spouse, career change, or living situation.
- If your child overlooks communicating details about holiday plans, be willing to gently ask for clarity rather than jumping to conclusions.
- “Love believes all things, hopes all things" (I Corinthians 13:7).
Honor their Rhythms and Routines
- Be flexible! Of course, it may be awkward and challenging in the early season of adulthood, but if your child (and his/her spouse) has established practices that are different from your home, prioritize those during visits.
- Consider their needs by offering a quiet room (if hosting) where your children can retreat for a bit or utilize it for a napping child.
- Help, don’t hover. If your child has a need, be eager to offer help as you’re able, but always from loving affirmation rather than harsh judgment.
Welcome New Traditions
- It can feel like an abrupt shift when children move out and away. You may find yourself resistant to how they plan for holiday celebrations. As much as possible, greet your child’s preferences with warmth and willingness to engage.
- If there are traditions you hope to carry into your child’s adulthood, approach those ideas as a request rather than assuming (or demanding) that your child keep everything the same.
Create Space for Relationship and Restoration
- Consider how you might show hospitality toward the important people in your child’s life. If your son is married, how can you seek to express friendliness toward his in-laws? If your daughter is single, how can you welcome her significant other or friends into your holiday celebrations?
- When your adult children and grandchildren are visiting, ask what is needed when conflict or hurt feelings arise. Seek to connect over a game or fun activity, offering a “break” from what feels heavy or hard. Not everything has to be resolved immediately, and our vantage point may shift with a little time and space. Prayerfully look for opportunities to affirm your love and repair rather than letting things fester between visits.
Acknowledge Your Desires
- The extremes of both pretending and manipulating can wreak havoc on the parent-child relationship. Stuffing your feelings can often result in brooding and resentment while pressuring your child to acquiesce to your demands can create space for them to grow bitter and withdrawn.
- If there’s a particular aspect of the holidays that is important to you, look for an opportunity to communicate that desire with your child calmly and kindly — but most importantly, be willing to receive the “no,” or “not this time,” and entrust the pain from that loss to the Lord’s care.
If you feel weary and worn about how to do these things, take heart! Loving your adult children and grandchildren is not meant to be a riddle. Seasons come and go. Relationships may feel fragile and intimidating at times. But our God is not confounded by these complexities, nor is he absent from your burdens. He is postured toward you with understanding and compassion, just as you would desire to be toward your children. His comfort is always available to you (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
[These thoughts were compiled by one of our supervision groups (Ben Baker, Brenda Harstine, Ian Tully, Karen Brooks, Laura Hudson, and Melissa Affolter).]
Ben has been a part of Fieldstone since its beginning and has had the privilege of serving in several different capacities both in counseling and as part of operations
Brenda has been married to David for 34 years. Together they have twin adult sons who, through marriage, have added two wonderful daughters to their family.
Ian joined the Fieldstone Counseling team after completing his Master's Practicum and Residency with the Boston Center for Biblical Counseling (BCBC).
Karen is a Cleveland native and lifelong resident. She is a biblical counselor apprentice at Fieldstone Counseling in Lakewood. She is a retired licensed independent social worker.
The Lord has brought and continues to bring Laura through deep waters (Isaiah 43:1-2) while living life in this broken world so she considers it a privilege to come alongside others in their difficulties.
Melissa has served in counseling and women's discipleship for over twenty years, in local church settings and non-profit organizations.