Nurture Your Relationship With Adult Children

Grandparents Who Dote on Grandchildren May Damage Other Relationships

Grandmother shows love to adult daughter
Barry Austin Photography / Getty Images

A popular meme bears this message: "Grandchildren welcome. Parents by appointment only." Although this sentiment may get a chuckle from most grandparents, it may not be wise to hang it on your wall. Sure, grandchildren need their grandparents, but your adult children are still your children, and they also desire your love and approval.

When you center your attention on the grandchildren, you might expect their parents to be proud and gratified.

In fact they may feel overlooked and undervalued. They may even be jealous of their own children, contrasting the rigor of their own bringing up with the indulgence shown to the grandchildren.

It's common for humans to mellow a bit as they age. Thus it's natural for people to be more tolerant of the grandchildren than they were with their own children. If, however, adult children have some childhood scars that haven't quite healed, they may resent the difference in treatment.

Don't nurture your relationship with your grandchildren and starve your relationship with your own children. Instead ensure a solid relationship with your adult children through these strategies.

Ask About Them First

When you contact your children, whether by phone, text, email or other means, inquire about them first. Show interest in their activities, how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives. Then you can inquire about the grandchildren.

Show Affection

You wouldn't think of saying hello or goodbye to a grandchild without a hug, and you don't miss a chance to tell them that you love them. Do you do the same for your adult children? Give good, long hugs, not half-hearted embraces. Make eye contact. Call them by pet names and use other endearments.

Let them know just how special they are to you.

Listen

When we are distracted by our grandchildren, it's easy to miss what our adult children are saying to us. If you sense that your child needs to talk to you, it's okay to let the grandchildren entertain themselves for a few minutes, while you really listen. 

Set Aside Adults-Only Time

It can be a revelation to spend time with your adult children without the grandchildren around. Enjoy one of those activities that are difficult to do with children. The possibilities are endless, from dinner out to a spa day to a nice long hike. You may be amazed what you will learn about your adult children. Just sharing some laughs can bring you much closer together.

Watch Your Words

If an adult child asks for advice or opens up a topic for discussion, it's okay to share your opinion, but be tactful. If, for example, your child is thinking of buying a house, and you say that it's an idiotic time for such a purchase, your words won't be forgotten. If your child goes through with the purchase, your words will make it hard for your child to share the pleasure with you. And there will be no consolation if you turn out to have been right, because the "I told you so," whether spoken or not, will drive a further wedge between the two of you.

Accept Spouses and Partners

It's an almost universal experience: You have doubts about the spouse or partner your adult child has chosen. Do you express your doubts or keep them to yourself? 

Unless you  fear that your child is in an abusive relationship, keep your concerns to yourself. In many cases, it takes a while for relationships to grow. Look for things to appreciate in your child's partner or spouse. An adult child who is forced to choose between a parent and a partner rarely chooses the parent.

Even if a child is separated or getting a divorce, it's best to mind your tongue. Many couples do reconcile. If you consider the separation a license for you to speak your true feelings, you may find yourself out in the cold if the two get back together. 

Apologize and Forgive

It's natural for grandparents to have conflicts with adult children.

Such conflicts can arise for a number of reasons. Many quarrels can be averted by good communication between the generations, but sometimes a quarrel escalates into a full-blown estrangement.

The causes of conflict may differ, but when grandparents are estranged from their adult children, the cases tend to share several common factors. First, one of the parties holds a grudge. Second, at least one of the parties feels that it's more important to be right than it is to reconcile differences. In addition, often the parties involved have completely different perceptions of what happened.

If you find yourself resenting something done by an adult child or his or her partner, accept that your interpretation of what occurred could be flawed. Scientists are finding that human memories are highly unreliable. Events may not have unfolded exactly the way you remember.

It's also important to accept that all humans occasionally say or do something hurtful or unwise. Forgive the other party, and apologize if you didn't handle the situation well. And do this as quickly as possible. A resentment that grows into a grudge is harder to deal with. And it's more important to be loved than to be right.

If your relationship with an adult child has deteriorated to the point that the two of you no longer speak, consider writing a letter of apology

Honor the Parent-Child Connection

Every day offers opportunities to show an adult child some love. The best ways to do this will depend upon your child, but members of the younger generation generally rely a lot on electronic communication. Be careful when using social media, however. Be sure not to share something that would embarrass an adult child or create an awkward situation with an employer. And calibrate your contacts so that you don't seem needy or clingy.

  • Send a supportive text when you know your child is facing a tough day.
  • Send flowers or a fun gift basket. If it isn't too distracting, consider sending something to your child's place of work. It's a nice ego boost to receive something nice at work.
  • Post a photo of your child on Facebook, Instagram or whatever social network the two of you share. Add a sweet message. It can be a current photo or a cute childhood snap. Make sure it's a flattering photo, though. And no naked baby pics!
  • If you live close by, make or buy a favorite dish for your adult child. Call before you deliver it, however, and be respectful of dietary regimens. 
  • Send a small gift for no particular reason.
  • Volunteer to help with an onerous task. Be sure your help is welcome, though, and let your child guide the project.

Praise Your Child

Grandparents are sometimes guilty of overpraising grandchildren and under-praising their parents. Even as adults, your children crave your approval. They want you to see them as whole individuals, not just as the parents of your grandchildren. Praise them for their parenting skills, yes, but look for other things to compliment as well.

In summary, when dealing with grown-up children, respect them for the adults that they are, but shower them with the attention they deserve as your children.