When children grow to become adults, there comes a moment when they are no longer directly tied to the influence of their parents. Although they may still honor their parents, adult children have the ability to make their own choices. With these choices comes the reality of unhappy parents who may want to still want to speak into their children’s lives. Biblically, there are grounds for children, no matter the age to value their parent’s opinions and seek to be children that bring joy and not dishonor to their family name.
“Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” (Proverbs 19:18)
Even more so, adult children may feel a pressure to impress their parents and have their approval. According to psychotherapist, Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, this need to approve parents in adulthood is innate and often leads adult children to make decisions while holding their breath. Thus, the tug of war between the pressure to please the parent, while trying to find their own path can cause great turmoil. For this reason, parents must be careful which words are used with their adult children. Parents have the opportunity to speak life and hope to their children as they navigate through adulthood. If they choose to focus on negativity and sharing feelings of disappointment, they run the risk of causing discord in the relationship.
Here are seven things that adult children wish their parents would say to them:
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1. “I am proud of you."
Perhaps, the best thing a child could ever hear from a parent (regardless of the age) is, “I am proud of you.” When parents make the choice to see past flaws in their adult children and speak life over them, this gives their children hope and a sense of fulfillment. This can be said in many ways such as the following:
– I am proud to be your parent.
– I am so excited that you accomplished that.
– I knew you could do it!
– Keep up the great work.
– You are an amazing parent!
These words of affirmation help adult children feel confident for their next major decision. Even more so, by using positive words often, parents create a safe place for friendship to evolve. This will also leave room for when tougher conversations need to be had in the future.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
2. “I’m sorry.”
Apologizing to your children is not a sign of weakness. Whether the child is a toddler, teen, or 30-year-old, when an offense is committed, parents should be mature enough to ask for forgiveness. Parents can even consider things that happened years ago and seek to apologize. It is possible that adult children may harbor pain for various reasons such as feeling like they weren’t favored as a child, a parent’s divorce, or words that were said in childhood.
Whatever the case may be, parents can ask their children, “Is there anything that I have done to hurt you?” The answer to this question may allow issues to be brought to the surface and reconciled. Although the initial process may be painful, it can create deeper intimacy for the parent and child. Seeking and offering forgiveness is a great gift to give to adult children.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
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3. “I understand."
Everyone wants to feel that someone relates to them. How much better is it for a parent to say “I understand your situation.” Adult children can grow tremendously when they hear about struggles their parents have had. Parents should seek to be open about times when they went through trials, such as struggling with finances, raising children, relationships, or hard decisions.
When parents are vulnerable, it can help adult children have someone they can confide in and trust. Although parents may be from a different era, some human struggles are universal. A moment of sharing wisdom with your adult children may give them the courage to keep going and know that if their parents can overcome difficult times, so can they.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)
4. “How can I help you?”
It can be embarrassing for an adult child to ask for help. Not wanting to feel like they still need their parents for survival and wanting to be independent can leave them waiting until the last minute for support. This can become more apparent if requests for help have been met with words of shame or disapproval.
Yet, adult children may need help financially, with their own children, or with advice on what to do. Knowing that they have a supportive parent can give them the confidence to ask for what they need, without fear of ridicule. Although parents may not always be able to help, children shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Offering help with “no strings attached” gives parents the opportunity to show God’s grace and gentleness to their adult children.
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)
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5. “I support you/your decision.”
Gaining a parent’s approval is important for adult children. As mentioned before, there is a constant tug-of-war between adult children making their own choices and wanting their parents to approve the choices made. Yet, there will be times when the best choice for the child may not be met with parental support. In these moments, parents must be willing to step back to support their child, even when they don’t agree with a decision.
The exception to this would be if the child is actively living a lifestyle that is sinful. The parent can love the child without loving their choices. Even still, treating the adult child with genuine care, regardless of their decisions, is what creates tight bonds and a place of safety. When parents choose anger and separation when their children make choices they don’t agree with, this is a form of manipulation. Not only is this hurtful, but it can also destroy the parent-child relationship. When in doubt, parents should choose to use kind words, even when they are not happy with the choices being made.
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:4)
6. “I love you.”
The words “I love you” can bring joy and healing. Beyond the words, actions that correspond with love mean so much more. In a world where so many feel rejected, a parent’s love should be a constant. Much like God’s love is unconditional, adult children should never feel like they need to perform or compete to gain their parent’s affection. According to the article, “5 Ways to Express Your Love to an Adult Child,” parents can show genuine love to their adult children in these five ways:
1. Thinking before they speak.
2. By not acting like the center of their adult child’s world.
3. By having a soft approach
4. By not choosing quietness over giving advice
5. By apologizing
We must remember that love is an action word. The more parents can foster an environment of love, the better their relationship will be with their adult children.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
7. "How can I pray for you?”
Offering to pray for someone shows that you care for them and what they are going through. Even more so, knowing that you have a parent who is seeking the Lord on your behalf is an amazing feeling. This reminds adult children that they are not alone and that they have a parent who trusts God.
There may be times parents don’t have the words to say or the solutions. However, the Lord knows all and can move in any situation. One great way parents can support their children is behind the scenes in prayer. Coupled with genuine love and tangible support, this can create lasting relationships between adult children and their parents.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Parental Approval and the Adult Child
5 Ways to Express Your Love to an Adult Child
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Originally published Wednesday, 01 September 2021.