14 | Relating to Your Young Adult: The Big Goal to Never Lose Sight Of

Always a Parent

My Uber driver was having a mildly heated cell phone conversation. He hung up and apologized to me with a super-charming Middle Eastern accent, “Sorry, I had to take that call from my kid. He’s 35 years old. Oh my Godt, the parenting, it never ends! Never! “  He was frustrated but laughing. 

We are always parents. 

The fact of being a parent never “ends” but the relationship will certainly SHIFT. 

The big question becomes: WHAT will it shift to? 

Do you want to be one of those moms whose daughter can talk to her about “anything”? 

Or be a Dad who’s the trusted go-to for advice in a difficult decision? 

How to relate to your young adult children is one of our most requested topics. If you’re in midlife and you have a young adult, it’s an issue for you.

How should the relationships with your young adult(s) shift? What principles are going to serve you now?

Transitions to independence as an adult are less formulaic

One thing for us parents to accept is that our culture isn’t what it used to be. Life is less orderly. There’s less predictability. You’re likely to be changing jobs in your twenties before you settle into a groove. There’s not so much job security anymore. It’s more about marketable skills that bring security.

People are settling down later. They’re getting married later. They’re having kids later. Those milestones that are rites of passage into adulthood are delayed. 

We have to be prepared to accept that. Otherwise, we are likely to be continually frustrated because our kids are not living up to our expectations. 

This pattern of “Emerging Adulthood” at ages 18-25 or 18-30  is present in developed economies all over the world. It’s not just us over here in the U.S. or over there in Europe. 

There’s also a biological element. A young adult’s brain is still busy developing throughout their early twenties, and even into their late twenties. Likely this is not a surprise for you: a particularly active area is in the part of the brain that controls executive functioning: things like calibrating risk and reward, problem-solving, thinking ahead, long-term planning, being able to evaluate themselves, capability for self-reflection and self-knowledge (yes, male brains can do this 😜), and emotional regulation. 

Let’s be flexible and respond to the behavior that’s in front of us instead of burdening the situation with a bunch of preconceived expectations. 

Let’s see beyond weaknesses. Let’s also see what’s happening that is positive. Or what’s being learned, if nothing else. 

One goal to never lose sight of

We want to create a healthy and loving relationship. Because we’re in it for the long haul. We’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and we’re looking for this more mutual kind of relationship. Always weigh this goal as you consider what’s happening. 

As parents, we are transitioning to a relationship of mutual respect and influence. That’s the kind of relationship we have with adult friends and mentors.  It’s up to us to model what mutual respect looks like. And to earn the role of a trusted advisor. 

If we are mostly focused on getting the outcomes we want for our children, then the relationship may not ever get there. By outcomes, I mean the “results” they get, or how they experience their situation. Most parents need to consciously move away from taking responsibility for the outcomes their children have. 

Stepping back and stepping in

As our kids move out, they can ping pong from wanting to be fully independent to want us to solve their problems. Most of them will pass through a stage of not being fully independent in their living and finances: the college or trade school years; or living at home to pay off debts or save money for the apartment. 

Letting go of trying to control what you can’t control, and releasing responsibility for what you can’t control is central to this transition. 

Think in terms of having influence. Take responsibility for using influence. Influencing is not trying to control. If it is an attempt to exert control, then it’s not influenced, it’s something else – maybe manipulation, guilt, judgment, or unsolicited advice-giving. 

There may be situations where you need to step in and grab control. That’s life. Some situations have consequences that are too dire to simply watch your children fail. Grabbing control usually comes with a cost. The cost may be that you are spending down some of the relational capital that you’ve built up with a lot of goodwill. Or they are losing the opportunity to grow. 

Let’s step out of the role of problem-solver as much as possible. For most kids, that means most of the time. We can ask questions like “How can I support you?” “What would you like me to think about doing?,” or “What’s the expectation I should have of you in this situation?” 

A lady told us, after a talk, “that was really helpful for me because I recognized  I was invested in this relationship and I did want a healthy and loving relationship. And also I had all these other competing goals. It just helped me to prioritize my goals and fix my eyes on where I’m going and where I want to be with this kid.”

They love you

Our children want to have a good relationship with us. They love us. Even in rocky relationships, or when we can’t really see it. Psychologists survey young adults and almost all of them wish they had a great relationship with their parents. It’s a strong human instinct. Have confidence and hope as you work on your side of the relationship. 


Prudence is the virtue that disposes of practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.

Navigating the transition of your relationship with your young adult as they move to full independence can be complex. It’s hard to know what to do. The good news is that they love you and you don’t have to be perfect. 

Prudence calls for a lot of discernment! There’s no shortcut to exercising this virtue. 

One perspective that is helpful is this: keep looking at the bigger picture and the long-term goal of having a healthy and loving relationship with your young adult. 

If we can have a good relationship with them or the best relationship that’s possible, then that’s how we can support them. 

Prioritizing the relationship likely means that you will have to set aside some of your own wishes, goals, and opinions. They have to decide, now. 

Reach out to us

Do you want a speaker on this topic? 

Relating to your young adult children is a topic that Karen and I give presentations and workshops on. It’s one of our most requested topics. If it’s an area of interest for you, if you know a group or a community that could benefit from this information, please reach out to us at and we can answer any questions.

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