The Fine Art of Giving Advice to Our Adult Children
by Mark Gilroy
Amy and I have raised and sent six children out into the “real” world. The youngest is in college, so we aren’t full time empty nesters yet, but we’re pretty close. There is a good chance I will be a grandparent for the first time by the time these words are published.
Whew! Yes! One more kid to graduate and we’re all done with parenting. Right? Now we just get to bask in the glow of grandparenting. Right?
As one TV sports pundit likes to say to his colleagues, “Not so fast my friend!”
If your children have ventured out on their own, you already know that being a parent continues into your children’s adult years.
Sometimes they need a few bucks, sometimes they need to bounce some ideas off of you, sometimes they have a problem and need some advice, sometimes they need a raving fan to encourage them, sometimes they need someone to be honest with them on their choices, but they always need your love and support—even if they have a funny way of expressing that need at times!
Staying involved with our children is a given for all of us. The question is how much active parenting should we continue to give. One of the hallmarks of being an adult is living by self-chosen values and beliefs—doesn’t that mean we need to back off? But life has never been more hectic and crazy and confusing—doesn’t that mean they need our words of counsel?
In recent months, I’ve had one child ask me for advice on whether to quit a good job. I was happy to give him advice—“Are you crazy? Hang in there and don’t quit!”—but we weren’t very far into the conversation when it became obvious; his decision was already made; he was quitting and wanted to explain why. He was incredibly polite in how he asked for counsel, but he really wasn’t asking. He’s never had an issue with hard work, he tends to land on his feet, and he was absolutely miserable in his job. That made it easy to just be there to listen. Was quitting the right thing to do? That wasn’t and isn’t my call. And since he made a decision that made me more than a little nervous, he seems to be doing just fine.
Just listening isn’t always as easy.
About the same time, another child finished a graduate degree and wanted help on fine-tuning a resume and practicing interview questions. Great. Sounded like fun. I was honored she wanted my help. So we emailed the resume back and forth and did some phone calls with practice questions. I set up an appointment with an executive headhunter for her to discuss the interview process with her. After four months of long-distance back-and-forth and no applications submitted, I finally figured out she was just fine on finishing her resume and answering questions, she just needed some encouragement and maybe a little push to actually put herself in a real interview. I think she was shocked when she called me with a question on her resume and I told her I was done with that—“No more; it’s fine and won’t be the reason you get a job or don’t get a job.” Whether or not it was perfect, it was time for her to get in front of people. She needed a specific directive that didn’t feel good when it was delivered—but was affirmed when she landed a great job.
Incidentally, I’m not going to add illustrations of the times when giving or withholding counsel to my children didn’t go so smooth. I make no claim of being an expert on parenting adult children, but I have learned a few lessons and have a few ideas that might connect with you where you are with your kids.
As the parent of an adult . . .
- We need to work on doing more listening and less explaining. One reason is there are some areas where our kids just might be brighter and savvier than we are!
- We need to accept and be comfortable with the reality our adult children will do things differently than we did or would—and not turn that into a battle of wills. Nothing will damage your influence with adult children more than judgmental attitude and nagging tone.
- We need to stay engaged with our children, even when they no longer seem to need us (and let us know that emphatically), so they always know we’re there when they do need a word of encouragement from us.
- We need to realize that we can’t hover and protect our children from bad decisions. It may break our hearts when our children take a wrong turn, but ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own life.
- We need to be encouragers, even when they aren’t soaring. Find attributes, attitudes and actions that are positive and affirm those.
- We need to continue to model faithful living. Mid-life crises don’t engender in our children the confidence in their own ability to do the right thing over the long haul. Live your life in a manner you want your kids to live theirs!
- We need to do the same thing we did when our children were babies—hope, love, and pray.
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT
Mark Gilroy is a veteran publishing executive who has acquired, developed, authored, and ghostwritten numerous books that have landed on various bestseller lists, including the Kristen Conner Mystery Series. When not writing, Mark creates and publishes book products for retailers, ministries and businesses. He holds undergraduate degrees in Journalism and Biblical Literature, and two graduate degrees, the M.Div. and MBA. The father of six adult children, he resides with his wife, Amy, in Brentwood, Tennessee.
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