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Senior Correspondent

I am on vacation in Oregon for another few days enjoying my satisfying retirement so I'm recycling a post from almost two years ago. If you haven't been a regular reader since the beginning this will be new for you. If you have a better memory than I do and remember this the first time around, I'd appreciate any fresh comments and insight.

This is an important topic for anyone who has grown children. Our kids are our kids forever. Being a parent is a job without end. But, just like retirement creates major changes, there should be a definite shift in how you and your adult kids relate to each other.

Not surprisingly, parents and their adult children often experience some problems in their relationships. For the parents, the change from being the primary influence to something less in the child's life isn't easy. For the adult child, the roles become blurred. Are my parents still authority figures? Friends? Something in between? What about how they interact with my children? My in-laws?

Various studies have highlighted several areas in a parent-adult child relationship that could cause problems:

  • Differences in communication styles
  • Lifestyle choices of the adult child
  • The way grandkids are being raised
  • Political and religious differences
  • The employment status of the adult child
  • How the household is run and maintained

Parents wouldn't be parents if they didn't compare what they see happening in these areas with how the child was raised. The child wouldn't be considered a mature adult if he or she hadn't developed some differences from the parents. There may be a shared DNA, but each of us is unique and each responds differently to situations and what life throws at us.

It is a given that there will be some rough spots between parents and their adult child. But, a blog reader asked that I look at some ways that may help parents improve this important relationship. My research to prepare for this post lead me to several sources that were remarkably consistent in their advice. Not all of these suggestions will apply in your situation or even be workable. But, it would be wise to think about each point listed below and determine if a particular answer fits your situation.

Accept differences. This is probably the most important suggestion and the toughest. Your adult child is not you. As he or she grows life experiences will result in changes that you may not fully approve of. At this stage of the game it isn't your job to approve. It's your responsibility to accept them.

Don't judge. At least not out loud. Obviously, this closely follows the first suggestion. You are no longer judge and jury. The child is looking for approval, acceptance, or at least tolerance for what they have done. They are not looking for you to tell them what they are doing wrong.

Timing is not under your control. While the child may still need and solicit your input and guidance, it will be less frequently than you may want or think necessary. Interactions of this sort should not be initiated by you. You may not see your grown child as often as you'd like. Remember, he has his own schedule and life.

Respect new traditions and ways of doing things. The way your adult child and his significant other or family celebrate a holiday, decorate the house, plan their vacations, even dress themselves may not be your way. Remember, it is their way and deserving of your acceptance.

Blending two families can be tricky. If married, your child is now part of two families. He or she must attempt to keep two sets of parents happy. That can be quite difficult. Take the high road and don't insist on a perfect balance of time and attention. That will only make things tougher on your child.

Respond to questions or pleas for help like you would any other adult, not your child. When I read this in more than one study it struck me as a crucial part of having a healthy relationship. Do you talk with your adult child like you would a co-worker, or a friend? Or, do you talk at him? Unsolicited advice-giving or lecturing won't work on another adult. Why would you think it would work on your grown-up child?

Learn good listening skills. This is something that can improve all our relationships, not just with an adult child. Most of us, myself included, are thinking about our answer while the other person is talking. We aren't truly listening to what they have to say. I made reference to a particular skill called reflective listening in an earlier post. It is a way of listening that will instantly improve any relationship in which you apply it.

Decide that a healthy relationship is more important than the disagreements. Do you want to score points and win the argument while losing the war? Accept that your adult child is not under your control anymore. Accept that he or she is an adult with opinions, ideas and beliefs that may differ from yours … like most of the rest of the adult world. That acceptance will gain you a much better shot at having the healthy, nurturing and loving relationship you desire.

Personally, I can report that these suggestions work. In the case of our grown daughters my wife and I have been extremely fortunate. Areas of conflict and differences have been very minor. Nothing has taken place to harm a tremendously close bond between parents and kids. In fact, both girls moved back to Phoenix to be close to us (and other friends and extended family).

I can't tell you exactly why we have escaped any problems so far or claim we never will. We have tried to keep most of our opinions to ourselves. We have respected their choices and allowed them to build their own lives. While we may question some things that occur, we only do that in the privacy of our home, not in front of them. One thing we do is actively look for things we can do together. Picnics, watching football or sporting events together, movies at a theater or at a home or apartment, seeing plays and musicals together, meals out … any excuse to spend quality time together in a relaxed and enjoyable setting goes a long way to smoothing over the bumps that are going to occur.

Thanks to the reader who asked that I explore this topic. It is important and worthy of our thoughtful consideration. It has been helpful to me to look at all the pitfalls and problem areas that can arise. I sincerely hope that something in this post helps you make your relationship with your adult child all it can be. If you an are adult child attempting to improve the relationship with your parents, much of this can be helpful to you, too.

Comment time. Did I gloss over or miss any important areas in this type of relationship? Have you struggled to build a meaningful bond with an adult child? What if the parents and adult child live in separate parts of the country … does that create special challenges? I encourage your sharing thoughts and ideas. A solid relationship with an adult child can make your satisfying retirement much more pleasant.

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