3 Keys to Healthy Communication With Your Adult Child

My phone rang signaling a FaceTime call from Rebekah. Bright eyed and wearing her Sunday best, her long legs draped over a chair in an abandoned study room in her dorm, I was delighted to see her face. There’s my girl! This dingy space became part of our weekly rhythm for four years while she attended college. 

I could instantly tell if it had been a good week or a hard week for her.  “Mom, you’re not going to believe what happened,” Rebekah said in disgust. “Tell me,” I said empathetically. Miffed, she said, “Mom, I melted my dorm room carpet with my iron! There’s literally a complete iron image melted into the carpet! There goes my deposit, I guess!”  Waffling between laughter and compassion, I chose my words carefully.  

“Oh no!  Believe it or not, I’ve done it before, too.  It’ll be okay. That’s why you have a damage deposit. Honestly, I’m sure it happens all the time!” She laughed and mumbled a little, feeling like a fool.  

We spent four years like this on our weekly calls as we discussed roommate struggles, friendship headaches, course overload, leadership trials, and romance heartache. I cherished her warm brown eyes and listened intently as she prattled on about everything that mattered to her. Those phone calls were the highlight of my week. 

Communication Shift 

What will you do to maintain communication with your adult children? Maybe they didn’t move across the country. Perhaps they’re in the next town or across the city. Either way, we want to interact regularly.  

Once our children reach adulthood, we must shift the way we communicate. When they were young we were confident leaders, dishing out solutions, remedies, and orders. We guided, instructed and corrected. That was our role as moms. Now we need a lighter approach as our children become independent adults. There’s no more barking orders or making demands if you want to maintain connection with your grownup child.  

A gentler approach is required. The admonition from Colossians lays out a beautiful plan to proceed:

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

— Colossians 3:12 NLT 

In Paul’s letter to the church, he reminds us how to conduct ourselves. We choose to put on tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience as we talk to our children. We tread lightly and assume a supportive role. When we do this, the result will be healthy communication and a contented bond with our grownup children. 

We need to follow their lead, lean into listening, and refrain from unsolicited advice. It seems like a tall order, doesn’t it? The refusal to make this shift in our communication will surely result in heartache for both.  

3 Tips for Effective Communication 

1. Let your child set the pace.

Have a conversation with your emerging adult about how often he or she would like to talk. It’s likely your needs and your child’s needs will be vastly different. Let your child set the pace for how often you communicate. 

If it’s less than you want, don’t view it as rejection. See it as a big step in independence for your adult child. Emerging adults want to have a say in this. As we respect their boundaries, we’ll build trust in our relationship. Instead of bemoaning the lack of connection, see the time you share together as a gift. 

2. Listen more than you speak.

This is the season to strengthen your listening skills because you will need to use them. According to therapist, Sheri Jacobsen, there are four factors in effective listening: 

** Listen with more than your ears. Sure, it’s our ears that do the listening. But our bodies reflect how much we are listening. If you are fidgeting, or looking around, not only are you probably not fully taking in what the other person is saying, you are giving them the signal you don’t care.  

** Make your mind focus and be present. Many of us arrange our faces so we look like we are listening when in our mind we plan our evening dinner or our work presentation. This is not really listening at all. Repeat what they are saying in your mind as they speak, so you are fully present and processing. 

** Do not plan what to say next. Listening only enough to formulate a connected story about yourself in your head you can share as soon as they stop talking isn’t actually listening, it’s competing or attention seeking.  

** Reflect back. When they have paused or finished, paraphrase and repeat back what they just said. This provides clarification. 

As you are mindful of these elements, you’ll notice a willingness in your child to open up. Everyone wants to feel heard. 

3. Refrain from unsolicited advice.

This may be our most challenging assignment of this season with our adult children. It’s difficult to see the solution and not offer it willingly. Our grownup kids want to learn and find solutions on their own. This gives them confidence. We can’t blurt out the obvious solution because it may not be obvious to them. 

Our adult children want to talk about their troubles and receive empathy from us instead of solutions. They need to know we believe in them and are able to meet them in their pain without offering a quick fix. Honestly, isn’t that what most people want? They want to be heard and solve their own troubles. If and when they ask for advice, give it freely with a thankful heart.  

The way you talk to your children will shift once they leave home. When we make the necessary adjustments, the result will be improved communication as moms learn to let the child set the pace, listen well and hold back from unsolicited advice. 

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