Being Kind to Adult Children

“I try being kind to her but she is so mean spirited!”

“Everything I do backfires!”

“Until he learns how to behave as an adult I don’t think he deserves my kindness.”

Parents of Adult Children trying to understand how to be kind to their AC

Donna Cameron in A Year of Living Kindly declares the benefits of behaving kindly toward others including increased oxytocin and serotonin, decreased inflamation, more joy and happiness. She explains the “this answers the “what’s in it for me question.”

But is that all? Recently, I did some research of my own. I asked my adult children, “If you told your spouse ‘ wow, my mom was just really kind to me!’ What would that look like? What are some of the things I might have done?”

Curiosity defines my life these days! I want to know what kindness looks like to EACH of my adult children INDIVIDUALLY. Similar to love languages, acts of kindness might go unnoticed or even act as irritants or aggravants to another kid. Take for example, the gift of a phone call. Two of my kids and a couple of their spouses LOVE a long phone conversation about life that goes down rabbit trails about their daily life. One is a truck driver and the diversion makes long road trips enjoyable. However, my daughter-in-love with two young children and a thriving business believes kindness is a NOT keeping her tied to a phone when she has so much on her plate!

For most of our adult children acts of service: running an errand, sending dinner, providing child care, taking car pool duty, helping with kids’ homework, staying with a sick baby, helping throw a birthday party, all speak KINDNESS.

WHY is that true? Our adult children live in a busy overwhelming season of life. If they are in college they have classes, jobs, and friends to juggle. If they have spouses and children they have relationship mazes to throw into the mix. Usually during this season our children are growing their careers as they are growing their families. Even with no disasters such as illness, flood, fire, or job loss, our adult children have daily and annual challenges. They need kindness in large doses.

In conversations with my adult children, the connection between love language and how they understood kindness was clear. Each adult child saw kindness in the love language they spoke. Most saw kindness in acts of service because they NEED help with their busy lives. Words of affirmation ALWAYS speak volumes of kindness to the ones who are

S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G to achieve personal and career goals.

However, I believe the “golden ticket” came when when one of my daughters explained why kindness looked like words of affirmation. “When you affirm me in what I am doing you are affirming that my work is worth it. That means that my choices are right. All this extra effort is worth it and ultimately…I am worth it. It always goes back to that, doesn’t it? We always need our Momma to tell us we are worth it!”

They are ALWAYS WORTH IT. How do you show kindness to your Adult Children? I would love to hear from you.

Choosing JOY with our Adult Children

Choosing joy is more than just a cliche to hang on your office wall. JOY is a daily practice for parents who want to attract friends, include their adult children.

“It is obvious I have disappointed her. She is just so hard to be around.”

“We love to go my husband’s parents house because his Dad is positive and great to be around!”

“Cari’s mother always finds a way to make the best of every situation. That is why I go to her for advice.” 

With your adult children are you a hunter or a fisherman? 

When they come to visit do they feel like they have a target on their back reminding them of all the ways they have disappointed you in the past 10 years? Do they run from you because of the constant parenting advise? Does the look in your eye say, “not again?” Are you hunting them down to conquer and hold them captive for their previous failures?


When your adult kids come over do they find their biggest fan? Do they find someone waiting to see them interested in THEIR interests and THEIR careers? When they arrive are their parents willing to STOP and LISTEN? Is the home of the parents of your adult child ATTRACTIVE to those kids? Is that home a place they want to return to? 

One “bait” to attract adult children (or ANYONE for that matter) IS JOY!!! 

JOY is contagious. 

In every home decor store today we see the cliche plaque, “CHOOSE JOY!” 

In the dark season of my parenting, I always thought, “That is easy for you to say! You are not living through what I am living through!” 

Regardless of what DARK NIGHT you are living through—you owe it to yourself and those you love to find the JOY. It won’t be easy. It is not a three-step process or a cliche you can hang on your wall. 

It is not even one prayer or one meditation. It might take more than one season of yoga or more than 15 therapy sessions. 

It is a thousand choices EVERY DAY. 

Some of my choices looked like this:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Every day write down three things I am grateful for. Start with…BREATH…
  2. Take colored index cards and write down happy memories beginning with my childhood and hide them all around my house so that I found them when I was doing daily tasks
  3. Recognize and name my feelings, “This is sorrow—not anger.” “This is what anxiety feels like.” 
  4. Allow myself to feel the pain for a time. Set a time that I would analyze the feeling and write down how this felt so I could examine this pain with a clearer head later.
  5. Investigate the feelings through reading books, talking to others, seeking advice. Seeking my own feelings in my own body (does this hurt in my head, my gut, make my back hurt?)
  6. Non-identification—I never said, “I am a depressed person.” I always said, “I feel depressed.” Don’t let yourself be identified with the negative feelings. *
  7. Writing one good thing that happened that day at the end of every day
  8. Smile in the mirror
  9. Say to my spouse, “Let’s make today a GREAT DAY” every day even when I didn’t know how I could swing that.
  10. Go for a walk outside
  11. Visit a new place even if it is just a new neighbor
  12. Try something for the first time, maybe a recipe
  13. Have a snow cone
  14. Do something that makes you look silly
  15. Read fiction
  16. Tell your kids a story about your childhood-especially if it embarrassing
  17. Tell your grandkids a story about your kids’ childhood especially if it is embarrassing
  18. Tell a joke—even if you are terrible at jokes
  19. Watch a funny movie
  20. Laugh out loud
  • Numbers 3-6 Are known as the RAIN process first introduced by Michele McDonald as RAIN: A Mindful Approach to Working through Difficult Emotions

Although every parents journey to JOY is unique, attraction to JOY is universal. Attempt JOY today. Go FISHING… Stop the hunting.

How do you set the bait for your Adult Children to engage with you? I would love to hear from you? 

The Hard Stories Are The Best Stories

Is this my story to tell?

Or does this story REALLY belong to my adult child? You decide.

Once upon a time, it was Mother’s Day. My first born son temporarily resided in another state where he attended a private liberal arts college. John studied philosophy. For hours he and I discussed the intricacies of Aristotle and Descartes and I listened as he pontificated on Kant, who was above my epistemological pay grade. This is the story of the Mother’s Day John didn’t call. Actually, this is the story of the Monday after the Mother’s Day John didn’t call and I called him and YELLED at him. And then I SCREAMED at him. I don’t remember the words but I know I chewed him out.

His six word response,”I thought we were passed that.”

“Passed that? Passed that? Passed calling me on Mother’s Day? We will NEVER be passed calling me on Mother’s Day, John!”

Regardless of the fact that I had just spoken with John for almost an hour on Saturday on how his finals were going and how he expected to be coming home from college soon, I still presumed he would call and wish me Happy Mother’s Day. When he did not call I was disappointed. No. I was down right angry! And we had a strong enough relationship that I told him so in no uncertain terms!

Did he get the picture?

Oh yes.

That actually turned out to be a pretty good Mother’s Day. I look back and realize with a smile that our relationship, although it a had one more rough holiday to go, proved strong enough to endure, not just a blow up but a blow up in LOUD proportions.

Is that the end of the story? Not even close? Two Mother’s Days later I received flowers with this card attached:

Most people’s mothers only serve as their material and efficient cause, however I am eternally thankful that you are my formal cause. You have blessed your children with deep purpose and lasting direction. I love you, John.

This year I read him that card again and we shared that moment. The other Mother’s Day…we only mention with a nod.

And they all lived happily ever after. (That’s my part of the story.)

Belonging…not Adapting

Can you accept your kids and allow them to belong without asking them to change?

Why can’t I just be myself?

I am an adult. You have to accept me like this.

Even as an adult, I am not accepted by my parent for who I am.

When do our kids get to be themselves? When do they get to grow out of being “our little man” or “our baby girl?”

If we are honest, we admit that none of our adult children are EXACTLY as we pictured they would be when they were young. We KNEW they would be the first woman president; first black astronaut; first 15-year-old Nobel prize winner. Then, life happened. We ran late for soccer. The washer broke. Dad lost his job. We moved. We adjusted.

Honestly, so much about my kids childhood roars TERRIFIC than I ever expected. I yawned in as a mediocre kid at best. My adulthood…50/50. But my kids…Oh wow!

But living in a family of superheroes tags in as hard. It can be difficult not to compare super powers at the breakfast table during family gatherings. If some kid decided not to go to college until after children…or EVER…that has to be OK with us. They have to BELONG to us, not just be TOLERATED by us.

A friend of mine recently told me she declined attending her family event because, “I am going where I am celebrated not tolerated.”

“Hey Mom! I want you to know that I am joining this program not because you need me to do better but because I WANT to do better!”

My child’s desire to improve in her body, mind, spiritual development never necessitates my approval. My approval is a GIVEN… given at birth or adoption. I accept. I approve. You belong to me.

She belongs to me. Her belonging never changes. Her acceptances is understood. Her growth is her decision.

How about you? Do your adult children grow at their own rate? Can you encourage their growth and love their progress?

The Goal with Adult Children: Culture of Unity

“So what is the point of what you are doing now? What are you going for?”

This conversations was started by a dear friend of mine who has helped me complete lots of projects. She is well aware I “don’t do anything for nothing.” Therefore, this was a very natural question when she learned I had turned my writing and speaking efforts toward the subject of parents to adult children.

The return of lots of my efforts is not monetary but emotional, spiritual, academic, or as in this case: culture changing.

I explained to Julie, and lots of other folks since that day, that I am blogging, filming, writing, speaking, to build a CULTURE OF UNITY.

Our world needs to be a kinder, gentler, more unified place. Change happens slowly, but it does happen. When I reconcile with my adult children, when I build bridges to them, our relationship becomes stronger. When other parents of adult children see how we relate to each other, those folks are encouraged. Hopelessness turns to hope as others see adults and their parents interacting, getting along, and enjoying each other’s company.

I long for the day that the “mother-in-law” jokes cease to be funny because nobody can relate to a bad relationship with in-laws.

You know how gals at the office start the first of November dreading going home for the holidays because of the snooty relatives? Don’t we want that to be ancient history?

Let’s anticipate the time when men and women mark the days off with big red X till they can be with their adult siblings and aging parents again?

The day when the term “prodigal child” means only a TEMPORARY time of growth in a young adult and not a permanent state may happen in my lifetime.

Yes, I may seem overly optimistic about the impact this unifying work will have on moms and dads with their grown children. But like all culture changers: I believe even I can make a difference.

How are you making a difference by building a better relationship with your adult children? I would love to hear from you! Drop a comment below.

How I rock being a Parent to Adult Children…

That title…really? As if…

I am the seeker. I am the researcher. I am the one constantly trying to figure out this life called, “the parent of adult children.”

There is no way around it– I am the mom to EIGHT adult children. Even if I don’t count the sons-in-love and daughters-in-love that bless my life I have EIGHT adults who can go to a therapist and say, “It must be mother issues.” Yep. Guilty as charged.

Our last two kids have done the college and marriage gig two and four years ago. We have had time to settle into our empty nest and make it feel like…home. Really, no kids. No loud music. No one asking for the car. Nobody needed us to pay tuition or buy books. No knocks on the door close to midnight, and this is OUR home.

Ted and I did the typical soul-searching that sounded like

Do we really need this big house?

Where should we move now that the kids are gone?

What is our next career?

Since we can afford a pay cut, what do we REALLY want to do for work?

Which of the kids should we live near? 

Turns out, we really like our life. We like working for our faith-based non-profit organization. Ted likes working at a local church. I like writing, researching, speaking, volunteering, and even sweeping WAY too much floor for two people.

And we like our kids.

Don’t get me wrong: we have always loved them. We are parents. We had to love them even when they lied or came home after curfew. We had to love them even on the 100th time the girls wrecked the car. We had to love them in every country the boys tried to bring in some pocket knife, handcuffs, or toy gun and we got stopped by the airport security.  We had to love them through stitches and surgeries. But we were NEVER required to LIKE them. That was our choice. It is still our choice–and it is SO MUCH easier to choose liking them today.

They are eight wonderful, quirky, imperfect humans. They have chosen eight delightful, funny, imperfect life partners. They have (currently) given us 20 PERFECT grandchildren, to whom all blessings flow.

On my bad days, I learn from and repent to my adult kids. They are smarter and holier than I am. On my good days, I do the same.

What would my current self go back and say to my younger self? I would say, “Wait for the end of the story. You are going to LOVE IT! There are several plots twists you never saw coming. There are some tears you don’t wanna cry, but it is alright because it makes the ending better. Oh, and don’t forget to breathe. It really isn’t all about you–they outnumber, outsmart, and outproduce you. Enjoy them as often as you can.”

I hope my younger self would be smart enough to listen.

Setting Boundaries: Spouses

I just need to vent! I am not going to leave him!

You told me not to marry him! Why are you mad that now I want a divorce?

We have just grown apart. I think we will both be happier away from each other.

If you have ever heard any of these lines you know that there is a line you can never cross with your adult children: berating their spouses.

Will your adult children marry partners that are less than perfect? No doubt about it.

Will your adult kids become angry, frustrated, even down-right-mad at their life partner? Probably.

Will you be tempted to get angry, frustrated, even down-right mad at your adult child’s life partner. Undeniably.

Remember: you are ALWAYS the parent! You are ALWAYS the adult. You ALWAYS live by your VALUES and not your emotions.

Don’t allow the emotion of your adult child to drag you into a conversation you don’t need or want to have. Practice protection against speaking ill of your child’s spouse. Look in the mirror and repeat phrases such as, “Sweetheart, I care about you. I hate that you are hurting. I wish there was something I could do. But this is between the two of you. I will always listen and be here for you. Remember, you are going to forgive her and forget this incident. If I fall into speaking ill of your wife, you will remember my words even when you forgive her. I don’t want that to be part of our relationship. I am going to pray for you guys to work this out quickly.”

What if their relationship continues to spiral downward? What if they end up in separation or divorce. Even then I work hard at not trashing my former son or daughter-in-law. One of my kids has been through some pretty rough times with an ex. He can vent to me but I try to keep all my comments inside my head. He married her once upon a time. He had feelings for her. For me to say horrible comments against her is to degrade his judgement.

As I often told my teenaged daughters: you can never be held accountable for what you never said.

Am I wrong about this? Are there situations where we should speak badly against our kid’s spouse? Please leave me a comment. I am all ears and open to learn.