How to Parent Your Grown Children without Smothering Them

How to Parent Your Grown Children without Smothering Them


By Cindi McMenamin

As our children age, they tend to not need us as much. And that can be difficult for us.

We all want to feel needed. And sometimes, it’s scary to let our grown children make certain decisions on their own.

Yet, our aim as parents is to help our children grow less dependent on us and more fully dependent on God by the time they’re adults. To wean our children of their need for us—physically, financially, emotionally, and otherwise—is natural. A grown man who still needs his parents and a grown woman who still can’t say no to mom or dad are neither emotionally healthy nor beneficial to their new life on their own or with a spouse.

Do your grown children a favor and give them space, but still, let them know you are there when they need you or when they’d like you to be around.

Here are seven suggestions to help you parent your grown children without smothering them:

1. Don’t take their inattentiveness personally.

When my daughter finally moved out on her own well after adulthood, I didn’t want her to think I had forgotten about her. Or that I never think of her. So, I called or texted her often. But I soon realized I needed to hear from her more than she needed to hear from me. I didn’t want her to think she was “out of sight, out of mind” when it came to her mom’s busy life. Yet because she is an only child, quite independent, and finally out on her own with a full-time demanding job, she needs and even craves space. And not just from me. So I had to learn to tread lightly, not take it personally if I didn’t hear from her, and love her from afar. The best way I do that is to offer her support through a brief text message, pray for her often, and let her initiate a call when she is able. If I make the relationship about me and how much I miss her that only adds pressure to her already busy life. Give your grown children space, and don’t take it personally if you don’t hear from them often.

2. Don’t offer advice until you’re asked.

Some parents can try to make every moment a teaching moment. (Disclaimer: I’m one of them.) But there’s a reason we call those teaching “moments”—they shouldn’t last long or even remotely sound like a lecture. When our children are grown, they will make their own decisions and, at times, suffer the consequences, thus learning by experience, rather than by what mom or dad tell them or try to teach them. If you are rushing in with words you believe are helpful advice, your child may see it as “rushing in with a lecture,” or being quick to rebuke, trying to set them straight, or not trusting them to make wise decisions on their own.

Just as it’s customary to do with ANY adult, ask permission to speak into a situation. Ask, “Would you like my advice?” If they say “no,” don’t take it personally. Just see it as a way of relating to the heart of God and how He must feel when He wants to offer you advice, and you’re intent on doing things your own way. James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV). If your child is okay with hearing your wisdom, adopt God’s method from that verse and offer your wisdom generously and without a lecture, reprimand, or rebuke.

3. Invite, but don’t insist.

Yes, you want your grown children home on every holiday. But if they’re married or living with someone, so does the other set of parents. Don’t make your child choose. Don’t insist they come by more often to your house, or they may feel the need to keep further space. Lovingly invite them, but let them know you understand if work responsibilities, kids’ activities, or just plain their need to relax at home takes precedence. The less defensive you are, the better. The more understanding you are of their lives and schedules, the more willing they may be to share theirs with you. Don’t ever make them feel obligated or try to manipulate them with guilt. That amounts to smothering, and it only backfires and makes them want more space.

Parents with adult children

4. Pray about your relationship with them.

When days or weeks have passed since you’ve heard from them, it’s easy to take it personally—to assume you did something to offend them—or worse, to accuse their spouse, friend, or roommate of turning them against you. Don’t ever make your child choose between you and a spouse, friend, or in-laws. It’s unfair, and you will, most of the time, lose that competition simply by starting it.

Perhaps you just miss them and wonder what’s going on in their lives. That’s when it is best to pray for them and tell God what you’re feeling, instead of telling them. God knows your heart and your desire to be with your children more or talk with them more, and He can move their hearts to call mom or reach out to dad, far more than you can with a text like “Do you even remember who we are?” or “I can tell we’re not important in your life.” Sarcasm stings and accusations raise their defenses. It doesn’t hurt to send a text like “Thinking of you. Hope you’re having a great day.” That’s extending unconditional love without expectation of response.

5. Send short text messages, not epic-length novels.

Have you noticed if you call, your grown child rarely answers the phone? You probably receive a text message from them far more than you hear their voice on the other end of the phone. (And if you leave a voicemail message, they rarely, if ever, listen to it, right?) That’s because they are living at a different pace than you and I did when we were their age. They’re trying to do it all, survive this tough economy, and are still working through the priorities that come with age and maturity (such as faces over screens, and prioritizing people over productivity).

Send short text messages with words of encouragement. Practice Ephesians 4:29 which tells us to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (ESV).  Better yet, send an e-gift card from a local coffee shop with encouragement attached. Words of encouragement and gift cards (even in small amounts) may go a long way with them, especially when they’re short on time.

6. Love –and extend—without expectation.

When your children were babies, you didn’t expect an “I love you” in return whenever you said it, especially if they didn’t yet know how to speak. You didn’t expect a birthday gift purchased with their money if they didn’t yet have a job. Now that they’re grown and have a life of their own, they also have pressures and demands on their time, budget, and health that you might not understand, so it’s a good time to cut back the expectations and let them choose to love and serve you when they can.

It’s easy for us, as parents, to feel that our grown children need to be doing certain things to honor their parents, and yet, God will cause that honoring to come back around at you as He does work in their lives and yours. Trust God with what you don’t understand and know that He can move hearts in far better ways than you can.

7. Give them grace.

If your adult child is still living with you and is feeling smothered, that’s natural. They want to get out as much as you may want them to get out, get a job, and find a life. It’s wise to have clear boundaries and let them know what’s expected while they’re living in your home. But treat them as you would treat an adult or renter…not telling them what to do or emotionally reacting to their rudeness, insensitivity, or lack of cleanliness.

Talk to them as if they were paying rent (or start charging rent so they can be treated like a renter, not a child).  There’s a reason why family dynamics can be difficult. We often forget that, as our children become adults, the relationship between them and us won’t look exactly the same. Certain things will change as they become more independent, form their own opinions, and practice different ways of doing things. Don’t hover. Don’t smother. Don’t exercise an opinion on everything. Don’t try to control them. Let them be who they’ve grown into. Prayerfully, you did the best you could with them. Now it’s time to trust God and trust them as adults.


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