7 Ways to Let Go of Your Adult Children (and Grow Closer Because of It)

Parenting adult kids is a whole new ballgame.

Published April 1, 2023
Senior woman and adult daughter hugging and  laughing on porch

For all the parenting books and advice podcasts in the world, nothing can prepare you to navigate parenthood with adult kids. After spending years guiding and caring for them, it can feel like you're jumping into a video game without learning what the buttons do first. Letting go of an adult child isn't something that'll happen overnight, but with continuous effort and a good attitude, you'll have a beautiful new relationship with your grown kids to enjoy.

Why Is It So Hard to Let Go of Your Adult Kids?

Adults often struggle with understanding why it's hard for their parents to loosen the reins a bit. While they're exploring what is means to be a person in the world and figuring out how they want their life to look, parents are reeling because of the shift in being their kids' caretaker and personal advice columnist to the person they call once a week.

Senior dad and adult son sitting outside on patio and chatting

It can seem outrageous to think that you can drop the level of involvement that's become the norm for you while you've been parenting for the past two decades. There's not a switch you can turn that makes you a perfect parent to adult kids. And so many parents beat themselves up over not being able to meet their kids' new needs. Yet, there's not just one, but several, reasons why letting go of adult kids can be so hard.

  • You've been helping your kids make decisions for the past 18+ years, and suddenly one day you're not supposed to help anymore? That's a big behavioral shift for anyone to experience.
  • Humans need validation, and so many parents feel needed and validated by their kids looking to them for support and guidance. When they don't actively need you anymore, it can make parents desperate for that validation again.
  • Hindsight is 20/20. As you get older, you can recognize the mistakes you make and want to impart your wisdom by whatever means necessary. But adult kids often don't want your wisdom; they want to try and fail on their own.

7 Different Ways You Can Practice Letting Go

If you hold on too tight to something you love, you'll suffocate it. Don't smother your adult kids' independence by not letting go when they set out on their own. But that's easier said than done, especially if it's your first child flying the coop.

If you want to deepen you and your child's relationship while letting them embrace their adulthood, take a stab at the approaching parenting in these new ways.

Don't Offer Advice Unless Explicitly Asked

Your kids will continue to you to complain and vent about the difficulties of adulthood, but don't fall prey to their ramblings. They're in a transitory period themselves and still want that parental support. But they don't want anything resembling direction. So, keep your advice to yourself unless explicitly asked.

That doesn't mean you can't be the one to ask them if they'd like to hear it. But offering it uninvited can stir up feelings in your kid that they're inadequate at being an adult and that you don't trust them to figure out life on their own. Of course, your advice comes from years of experience and love, but it's not often received that way.

Continue to be a support to them when times are complicated and hard, and they'll keep coming back to get your thoughts. Just don't overrun their conversation with your thoughts and beliefs.

Let Them Make Choices on Their Own

Kids never grow out of the 'wanting independence' phase in their relationships with their parents. They'll always be trying to assert their personhood by making (sometimes foolhardy) decisions that deliberately counter their parent's suggestions.

Instead of pushing your agenda onto them, introduce other options with phrases like "have you thought about this thing" or "did you consider xyz." Your kids won't see these suggestions as railing against their independence. Meanwhile, you'll be able to continue keeping your kids from making uninformed choices without creating a wedge between everyone.

Follow Their Parenting Style (Even if you Disagree)

A big thing parents struggle to let go of with their grown children is letting them parent the way they want to. For example, many parents today don't use corporal punishment, though it was a standard practice for decades and older parents' rail against what they think is 'soft' parenting.

You have to remember that you're only a parent to your kids, not your grandkids. So, what parenting style your kids choose isn't up for debate (unless, of course, it's a harmful or dangerous approach). Instead, be a beacon of love and support for your grandkids and offer other perspectives for your adult children to think critically about why they're parenting the way they are.

Don't Coddle Your Children for too Long

If you've fallen prey to coddling your children, you're in for a rough few months once you try to change it. Supporting your child once they become an adult can quickly fall into the realm of coddling, which doesn't help them grow to rely on themselves and trust their ability to navigate the world on their own.

The steep housing market and wage stagnation has made living at home incredibly common, but there are still ways to foster your kids' independence from within your four walls. Make sure (if they're capable of working) they're bringing in income and that they're contributing to the household. You can't keep them your baby forever, and by the time they're 22, you should be holding them to the same expectations you would a tenant in your house.

Just remember, if your kids aren't the kind who naturally spread their wings, you might have to give them a little push. You may want to set up a contract if your adult kids are living at home.

Give Them as Much Space as They Want

This goes back to the suffocating concept. Adult children want to carve out a life for themselves, and it can be hard when you're there to constantly remind them of what they think you think their life should look like. In those first few years on their own, kids need to feel free of your expectations, and the quickest way you can help is by giving them physical space.

Don't demand that they call you once a day or pop over to their place uninvited. Help teach them how to create healthy boundaries with other adults by putting them into place yourself. Bring out those great parenting skills by modeling the behavior you want them to put into practice in their own lives.

Create New Ways to Spend Time With Your Adult Children

You probably spent tons of time with your children growing up - from meeting their everyday needs when they were babies and toddlers to running them to sports practices in middle school to helping them navigate through high school.

You'll need to let go of being so closely involved in their daily lives when they become adults, but inviting them to do new things, or planning time to spend together like you would a friend, can help make your relationship stronger while still giving them the space they need. When you do get together, keep your mind open and be prepared to listen to how they're doing instead of automatically offering advice.

Be Honest and Tell Them How You Feel

If you have at least a decent relationship with your adult kid, they're probably open to listening to how you feel. Let them know it's hard to let them go. Tell them you worry about them and wish you could just take away some of the hardships or learning to become an adult.

Most of all, let them know you want a great relationship with them as an adult. It can be simple as just saying, "I love you and I really want for us to have a great relationship now that you're on your own. Deep down, I just want to know you and be there for you."

Then watch for cues that your adult kids are trying to foster that relationship with you - and appreciate the efforts they do make to continue being part of your life.

If You Love Them, Let Them Go

If there's one thing that unites parents around the world, it's that no parent really knows what they're doing. You can't expect yourself to make the transition between kid-parent to adult-parent without hitting some bumps in the road. Just remember to not try to make decisions for your kids or prevent your kids from making decisions themselves, and you'll be able to create a strong, mature relationship that'll last forever.

7 Ways to Let Go of Your Adult Children (and Grow Closer Because of It)