7 Common Reasons Parents Miscommunicate with Their Adult Children

Jennifer Maggio

The Life of a Single Mom
Published: Feb 08, 2023
7 Common Reasons Parents Miscommunicate with Their Adult Children

This is why helicopter parenting is so popular. It creates a façade of perfection. If we relinquish control, it means we must fully surrender to the sovereignty of God. It requires us to surrender our children to His will.

I am the mother of two adult children, with a third just shy of adulthood. As my children entered their late teens and young adult years, I clung to every Bible study, book, podcast, and video I could and… hung on for dear life! I don’t mind telling you it was a bumpy ride, and those years were hard! They were hard for so many reasons (many of which I’ll share with you today). Through much of that parenting journey, particularly with my firstborn, I was certain I was doing it all wrong. There was much trial-by-fire along the way, and often, I felt like I was the only one dealing with the level of challenge I was facing. I was silently drowning, as all the other mothers (seemingly) had it all together.

There were many mother-of-the-year-award-worthy moments, such as the time I had had enough of my teen son’s smart mouth, so I dragged him out of the back door, locked it, and refused to feed him dinner while he longingly looked through the glass door at the rest of the family. And then there was the time he missed curfew, so I drove throughout town, shoeless and in my night clothes, looking for him, calling his phone literally hundreds of times, leaving increasingly angry, profanity-ridden messages. There were countless raging word wars and, most assuredly, times when I did not get it right, lost my temper, and did not respond with wisdom.

But now, as I sit here contemplating the new season—adulthood, marriage, grandchildren, and independence—I realize there were a few things that contributed to the miscommunications I had with them along the way and the challenges that currently present themselves in many families with adult children. 

Here are just a few:

1. Lack of Mutual Respect

Parents, I’m going to come after you on this one. We are very good at pulling the respect card out, often demanding that our children give us the respect we are due. And rightly so! The Word teaches that children are to obey us so they will have a long and prosperous life (Exodus 20:12). But there is likewise Scripture that teaches us, as parents, not to provoke our children to anger (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). Too often, I demanded respect of my children, but allowed my temper to flare and would often respond in a way that I would later regret. I hurled insults, or at the very least words that lacked wisdom, and expected my children to respect me. Sadly, too many parents behave disrespectfully and then expect respect in return. This isn’t likely going to work. 

A second component of the respect journey was my (as a parent) understanding of what was and wasn’t disrespectful. Just because our adult children do not agree with us on parenting, spending habits, church choice, or otherwise, does not mean they are being disrespectful of us. In fact, we’ve done our job well if our adult children seek to hear from the Lord on their own and make choices that honor Him and follow His will—even when they vary from our opinions on a matter. 

2. Immaturity

Parents, we must have a level of grace for our young adults as they evolve into who God has created them to be. There is a level of immaturity that commonly comes with youth. They haven’t had the same life experiences. They haven’t learned the same lessons yet. Give them margin to make some mistakes without bringing the lecture hammer down on them each time. We, as parents, must exercise spiritual maturity in our responses to our adult children. We must exhibit the love of Christ, patience, self-control, and other fruits. We offer wise counsel when asked. We do not lecture and nag. This exemplifies the maturity we want our adult children to eventually walk in.

3. Co-dependency

Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The operative word here is “go”. The goal for us as parents is that our children would one day go—leave the nest and fly on their own. However, when parents have not done a good job raising independent, wise children who can think and thrive independently, we see co-dependency flourish. Parent with child. Child with parent. Sometimes, parents (particularly mothers) gain great value in their role as mom. It becomes who they are, not simply a role they answer to. They don’t know who they are apart from parenting. This creates a manipulation in the parenting relationship. We need to be needed. We like the countless phone calls and questions, even when our children should have become independent problem-solvers long before. To create a healthy parent-child relationship, we must evaluate any levels of co-dependency we have perpetuated in our homes and seek to resolve them immediately.

4. Control

Some parents have a control complex. Control can make us feel important. Control is often rooted in fear and pride. If we can control a situation or person, we feel important, wise, or strong. It allows us to mask our inadequacies (and our children’s). This is why helicopter parenting is so popular. It creates a façade of perfection. If we relinquish control, it means we must fully surrender to the sovereignty of God. It requires us to surrender our children to His will. It requires us to acknowledge that apart from the Lord, we can do nothing, but with Him, all things are possible. It requires us to relinquish worry. Relinquishing control requires us to lay down fear and, instead, trust our Heavenly Father (and our children). Control’s outcome is never positive. We have seen this with young children who are parented via control and often act out later in their teen years. Control is not teaching. It is ruling with an iron fist. Relinquishing this need to control requires us to walk out, daily, our faith journey, trusting that the Lord loves our children more than we do. 

5. Difficulty in Letting Go

Difficulty in letting our children go is multi-faceted. First, we must broach the “when.” That isn’t always clear with young adults. When is it safe to let go? For example, older teens often exert levels of independence but find themselves reverting to dependence repeatedly before they officially launch into independent adulthood. College kids often want parents to keep their hands off decision-making but their wallets open for financial support. Young adults often boomerang back into their parents’ homes a few times before they fly the nest completely. This process of letting go becomes complicated, even after they graduate from college, trade school, or secure their first jobs. (Note: My experience is that this is often complicated because strong boundaries and clarity around such boundaries are lacking.) 

Second, the other challenge in letting go is getting to know yourself (and your spouse) again. For approximately two decades, parents have put their children first, making dentist and doctor appointments, reviewing tests and homework, and chauffeuring to and from football practice. Now, we have quiet homes and have moved into a new season. What do we do with ourselves now? Who are we? What do we enjoy? What can we offer to our churches or communities?  The difficulty in letting go is often rooted in parents who have not done a good job keeping their dreams, hobbies, and pursuits alive. 

6. Fear

The Proverbs 31 woman “laughs without fear of her future” (Prov. 31:25). Fear immobilizes, constricts, and suffocates. Our fear of our children’s decision-making often suffocates them. Fear robs us of the excitement of our adult children’s launch into a new season. Fear says, “They aren’t ready. I didn’t do enough. They are going to fail.” But faith says, “They are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. They can do all things through Him.” We must begin to dispel fear for the lie it is and walk in faith that God has our children. His plans are not to harm them but to give them a hope-filled future. He will use their “ashes moments” and make beauty there. Yes, they will make mistakes. Yes, they will encounter roadblocks, but much will be learned along the way, and it will be exciting to see the fruits of our labor. Don’t allow your fear to hinder your adult children from flourishing. 

7. Failure to Recognize Seasons Changing

As mentioned earlier, sometimes miscommunication with our adult children stems from the difficulty parents experience in letting go of their children. However, in all fairness, that difficulty for many parents may stem from the failure of all parties to recognize the change in seasons. For example, a young man transitioning from the home into college is one step in adult independence but certainly isn’t the same step as segueing from college into marriage. Older teens are afforded some privileges and independence but do not look the same as those with a spouse and children. Each seasonal change requires parents to release more and more independence, including but not limited to expectations on financial support, advice, etc. 

Parents, my best advice? Give your adult children the ability to make some mistakes. Talk to them. Offer them the same respect you would afford other brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray fervently. Love them well. Be a soft landing pad when their ships go awry. And live your life free of fear and worry for their futures. God has them! 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Wavebreakmedia

Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.