During lazy summer days at the pool, did your son call out, “Watch this, Mom!” right before he landed a tidal wave of a cannonball? In the waning twilight, did your daughter shout, “Look, Dad!” right before she turned a perfect cartwheel in the grass? Maybe your son begged you to see him in the school play or your daughter pleaded with you to attend her basketball game. They needed you to see them, watch them, pay attention to them.
Even when our kids are grown, they still need us to notice them. They may not need us to watch them every minute like when they crawled through the house wreaking havoc on every item in their one-year-old reach or witness every achievement like when they were in school. But they still want us to recognize their personhood and witness their transition into amazing adults.
Here are 10 things your adult children hope you will see in them. Your son or daughter asks you to:
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1. See me as a unique person.
As parents, we may unconsciously expect our children to become carbon copies of ourselves. Or we may tend to compare the youngest child in the family to the oldest. We might even listen to the stories our friends tell about their adult children and wonder why our kids can’t be more like them.
God has given each child a unique set of gifts and abilities. We need to recognize the talents he or she possesses without asking, “Why can’t you be more like _________?” Notice your daughter’s courage as she starts her own business even if she isn’t taking the safe route you would prefer. Praise the leadership skills your son demonstrates in his job.
2. See that many of the lessons and values you taught me have stuck even though they may look different.
At first glance, your grown child’s life may look very different from yours. She goes out to eat way more than you do. His apartment constantly looks like an F-5 tornado went through.
But a closer look may reveal that your daughter still tries to make the healthy food choices you tried to instill. Your son’s apartment looks like a mess because he has internalized your strong work ethic and prioritized his job.
As parents of adult children, we can look for the ways they are different from us—or we can hunt out the ways they’ve adopted our values. Maybe you stressed wise money management—how are they implementing that lesson? Perhaps you taught the importance of serving others—where are they living that out? Maybe you emphasized the importance of choosing your friends wisely—how do their current friendships demonstrate your teaching?
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3. See my good points.
While our kids were growing up, we spent a lot of time teaching the correct way to do things. And often this meant pointing out mistakes. “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” “Don’t slouch—stand up straight.” “We do not say that word in this house!”
One of the best pieces of parenting advice I ever received was, “Catch your children being good.” So when they did something kind or loving I pointed it out. When they did their homework on time, I praised them.
We can use that parenting advice even though our kids are grown. Notice your daughter’s gentle heart, your son’s sensitive spirit. Praise them when they exhibit patience or faithfulness or loyalty. Most likely, the world will point out their failures, their faults, and their faux pas. You can be the one to notice their strengths.
4. See me as a capable adult that you don’t have to worry about.
Parents worry. Anxiety about our children doesn’t go away when they’ve moved out of the house. If anything, our concern may grow because we have less control over our kids’ choices and environment.
Yet, constant worry about our children sabotages their independence and obliterates our peace. When we have done our job as parents, we can trust that our children will become competent grownups. They may stumble along the way, but if we look back at our own launch into adulthood we would probably have to admit we occasionally tripped and fell too.
Instead of worrying, we can turn our concerns into prayers. Instead of acting like a spy camera on their every move, we can relax in the fact that the heavenly Father already watches over them with constant care. He will be with them—even when they experience a few fumbles and setbacks.
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5. See that there is more to life than academic and career success.
As parents, we care about our children’s security and welfare. So we want them to do well in school. We hope they will find lucrative jobs. We don’t want to see them struggle financially.
But the negative side of this care and concern is that we might overemphasize work and career. We might hound them about getting a good job. We might push them into a career simply because it will provide them with a comfortable living. We might ignore their interests.
The current generation of young adults has a strong desire for purpose and meaning. They may prioritize their passions over security or changing the world over salary. While we might shake our heads at their lifestyle, we can remember that Christ also chose ministry to the poor and undeserving over a comfortable home.
6. See my need for a relationship with you but realize that relationship may look different now that we’re all adults.
When our children were growing up we spent time with them every day. We talked to them over meals. We shared stories while driving in the car. We read bedtime stories together. Parents often find it hard to see one less place set at the table or an empty bed in a child’s room. We grieve the loss over daily contact.
Even though we may not talk to our adult children every day, we can still have a close relationship. Our adult children still love us, but they don’t want smothering attention. They still want us to be a part of their lives, but they don’t want us to constantly hover.
We can find new ways to spend time with each other like sharing lunch every other week or traveling to see them in their new city once a month. We can text a quick message of encouragement instead of expecting a long phone call every day. Perhaps we can attend a ballgame together or buy tickets for a museum exhibit we’d both enjoy.
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7. See my efforts.
Not everything your adult child attempts will turn out as planned. The risk he took with his new business may flop. The job your daughter deemed perfect may end abruptly. We can criticize and say, “I told you so” or we can look at their hard work and praise that.
Life rarely resembles fairy tales where everything has a happy ending. Think back to the problems you encountered as a young adult. Yes, different choices may have resulted in better outcomes. But playing the “if only” game never helps. How much would it have meant to you if someone came alongside you in a time of disappointment or failure and encouraged you by pointing out the effort you put into your job or the dedication you showed. Let’s act as cheerleaders for our children—especially during times of loss.
8. See that sometimes I have good ideas.
Have you ever rejected your son or daughter’s ideas simply because “we’ve never done it that way before”? While our methods may be tested and true, that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from a fresh approach. The world constantly changes and who better to introduce us to the advantages of new tools, techniques, and ways of doing things than the next generation?
You may have already relied on them for help with technology. After all, they grew up with devices as playthings. Computers, tablets, and smartphones are second nature to them and their help in this area can prove invaluable. But even in other areas like faith and relationships, our children may have fresh perspectives that change us for the better.
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9. See my struggles and lend a listening ear.
When our adult children experience setbacks, we want to jump in with a five-point plan to fix things. But giving advice may not be the best approach. Perhaps even more than your opinions, they need your ears. Listen to their troubles but avoid the temptation to unload a lifetime’s worth of hard-earned wisdom.
Instead, of advice, ask questions. What do you need? What do you see as the root of the problem? Can you see anything good coming out of this experience? How can I help? As we listen to our kids, they will open up more. Perhaps at some point, they will ask us, “What would you do?” but maybe through our listening presence and quiet prayers, God will lead them to an even better solution than we could have offered.
10. See that I’m not perfect, but a sinner saved by grace.
I have seen parents who display a need for perfection in their children. Whatever the child does, it never quite measures up. The parent communicates an attitude of, “You could have done more.” In this environment, a young child may wither and give up. But even an adult child may feel like a perpetual failure when he or she can’t earn the approval of a parent.
We need to remember that we ourselves have faults so how can we expect our children to be flawless? We are all sinners saved by the grace of God. Only Jesus lived a perfect life—because we couldn’t. Now we are all accepted by God—not because we are perfect, but because we are forgiven.
We all need grace. And because we’ve received grace from God by faith, we can offer it to our loved ones. Let’s live our lives generously offering love, mercy, and forgiveness because God has freely shared them with us.
Our children may no longer shout out, “Watch this, Mom!” or “Look at me, Dad!” but they do want us to notice them. To see their uniqueness, their admirable qualities, and their diligent efforts. To observe the way they have taken our values and made them their own. To see them as capable adults and people with a few good ideas. To see their need for a relationship with you and your listening ear. When we stop expecting our adult kids to be perfect or even just like us, we may truly discover the extraordinary people they’ve become.
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Originally published Tuesday, 21 September 2021.