The Secrets of Communicating with Adult Children

Many of the elders had one piece of advice about getting along with one’s adult children: Don’t interfere in their lives, and wait for them to come to you for advice. But what when they do ask your opinion, what are some good ways to communicate?

Tom, 82, has warm and supportive relationships with his three middle-aged sons. He recognizes that sometimes one is called upon to give advice to adult children; indeed, they ask for it. A problem, of course, is that parents are naturally invested in their children, and it is difficult for them to step outside of their own needs to objectively evaluate the choices their child must make.

Tom’s advice: Take the “I” out of the conversation:

Yeah, the big advice is always be open minded. Forget the business of ‘I’ centered and put the focus on ‘you’ centered. The son that you’re talking to and who has issues that he wants to discuss and forget the ‘I’, or at least put the I in the background so that at least he understands that he’s getting the benefit of your wisdom. You, who can govern how much ‘I’ to project, can inject information or guidance when it’s appropriate, not to dominate the conversation but to augment what the son wants to say. I think it’s a delicate balance of diplomacy among family members. I’ve not always done well.

Grace, 75, found that her enjoyment of her children increased as they grew older and became adults; it was the “pay-off” for more difficult earlier years.

I think by the time my kids were a little bit older and they were able to accept their parents for who they were, as I was with my mother, then it was great. I have enjoyed my children as adults so much, so, so much, and it’s something no one ever said to me. They always would say when the kids were young, “Oh, these are the wonderful years, these are the best years.” They were lovely years, but there is something just as lovely or more lovely when they are adults and you could talk to them as another human being. To know your children as adults is great.

She shares her thoughts with her kids, but accepts that her advice may be turned aside.

Well, there again, I think – don’t be too critical. In fact, don’t be critical at all. Accept them, accept what they’re doing. But I for example just wrote my daughter giving her some financial advice, and said, “I’m giving this to you with love not with criticism,” because she just does such stupid things financially. So – and she will read it, and maybe she’ll do it and maybe she won’t, but I’m perfectly willing to accept it that way.

21 thoughts on “The Secrets of Communicating with Adult Children

  1. Most articles i read cover the communication or lack of expressing how adult children might conduct their lives.
    what is the challenge is that my adult child thinks he needs to run my life. Is continually making me wrong for anything I do or say. Even my personality and choice of friends is up for comment. How does one get out of that situation without cutting off the relationship?

  2. Sandra, if you figure this out please let me know. I have an adult daughter just like your son with the exception of the friends. My opinions and personal taste are under criticism. I just don’t know how to talk to her.

  3. Please pass alone that answer. My Adult son (only child) is not very respectful, patience or appreciates what I do for him. I’m at the point of not even wanting to talk to him. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks Brenda

  4. Likewise. I have always respected my children’s opinions and their decisions in their own lives. Now, they are critical of me regarding what I do, what I say, and even telling me off if they think I’m feeling upset, even if I don’t say or do anything. When I try to talk to them about this, they hang up on me and punish me for weeks or months by not speaking to me. Very painful. I have nobody to talk to about this because I don’t want to make my children look bad to people who know them.

  5. Wow, in a way glad this is common. I think adult children are actually very very insecure and stressed. They want to believe they know more than the older generation, we were told the same thing by the media back in our day, let’s face it. So, they lash out at the only people they know can’t leave them. But man, it hurts. I think only time will make them see how awful it is. Oh course, we may be dead by then!

  6. Wow, I really needed to read what you other parents have commented here. I am having the worst time with my 3- 20-somethings who have decided they don’t have to respect us at all. They are now rude, dismissive & plain mean using vulgar phrases to describe us…they were not this bad growing up!!
    All this after we gave them money, schl loans & groceries! I know we had some anger issues while raising them but I thought things would get better not worse. I wasn’t anywhere NEAR as rude to my mom but guess I’m getting paid back. Their dad & I have been thru SO MUCH. I don’t even want to be around them anymore but it hurts so bad cause I love them. HELP!

  7. When my daughter was in jr. high, she went out for track. She was overweight and out of shape. When I picked her up after the first practice, I asked how she did. She said not very well. My reply haunts me to this day…I said ‘what did you expect?’ She heard , although I didn’t say it, was you are too fat . I have apologized. Tried saying it wasn’t what I meant. Since that day she has held me at arms length. We are civil to each other. I try to reach out. This momma’s heart hurts.

  8. I have four children in their 30s who take turns cutting me out of their lives completely. I help them a lot, treat them with great respect, and normally get along with them, but periodically they take offense at something and cut me off completely. My son did not speak to me or have anything to do with me for 3 1.2 years after my husband and I divorced. Now he is speaking to me but blames me for all of the problems in his life, which are many.

    Any suggestions? I am practicing unconditional love and working on complete forgiveness of all of my children. Cannot tell my son that the things he think happened did not because he gets very angry and tells me I am delusional or a liar.

    I really try to treat them with respect and to refrain from giving advice. Any advice?

  9. My 48-year-old daughter is unkind and uncaring. I wish there were a support group for parents of insensitive adult children.

  10. I’d love to know how to communicate/talk to my 22 year old only daughter. She moved back home after graduating community college. She takes offense to anything I ask her. Like how was your day? She tells me I annoy her by talking to her, breathing, etc. I love her dearly. I’m at a loss for what to do. It hurts that I feel I’m treated badly. Is this normal for adult children to act?

  11. The old saying ‘misery loves company’ must be true. I hate that any of you are having communication issues with your children, but it is somehow comforting to know I’m not alone. My son has always been the most respectful child in the world to everyone… except me! Drives me crazy because I’m the one who taught him to be respectful! He’s nearly 30 and I honestly can’t remember the last visit that didn’t end in an argument. I don’t know how I managed those 28 years before he was born as I apparently know nothing unless he ‘educates’ me. I know he loves me. I just pray he finds a way to treat me with politeness before I die. I would hate for him to realize how disrespectful he was to me after I’m gone. That would be a heavy burden.

  12. I have a 27 year old son who does not live at home. He does come to dinner once a week which is great; I love it; however once we leave the table, he, my husband and I are all sitting in front of the tv and no one talks AT ALL until he leaves. This is the same pattern EVERY WEEK! I have no idea of how to get conversation out of him. He is not really a talker. The silence is painful.

  13. Ahhhh, finally a place to speak out! Like everyone else, I’m sorry we’re all going through this.
    I have twin 18 year old daughter’s. I always felt SO lucky that they never went through the terrible two’s and all the angst I watched my friends go through with their children.
    Imagine my horror when both of my daughter’s, within day’s of one another, turned me into the demon spawn from hell. They literally have made me feel like a prisoner in my own home. They scream horrible things at me and tell me how much they hate me. When just one is berating me, the other will chime in to agree. I am now even regretting ever saying the words, “PLEASE! Be good and kind to each other, you’re all each other has.” Then yesterday, the worst thing I’ve ever heard came out of one of my their mouth, “YOU’RE COMPLETELY UNLOVABLE AND EVERYBODY HATES YOU!!! GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE. GET OUT OF MY LIFE. WE HATE YOU AND COULD CARE LESS ABOUT YOU.”
    I was devastated and walked away. I cried all night wondering what I had done to cause this? My darling daughter’s have no feeling for me? How could this, did this, happen? I have to say here that it got it’s worst after I lost my job, then took a serious fall which has me laid up, and told them they were going to have to pitch in. They’ve told me numerous time how “wrong I am to put them in this situation.” That I “should never have had them if I couldn’t afford it.” “Why did I choose such a loser for their father?” “Why did I try to give them such a pain free childhood when money was so tight?” Sad thing is, they’re right. :(
    After waking up after 2 hours of sleep, and shaking uncontrollably, I started searching for help online. I’m grateful to have found this site and a few others. This is my first ever comment. I’m going to try hard to implement some, or all, of the techniques I’ve learned today.
    I love those girl’s so much. I hope I can fix this. They are all I have left in this world and I worked my butt off raising them alone. I couldn’t bare losing them.
    Thanks for having a place for me to write and release this!!!

  14. Apparently it doesn’t get better with time. My 48 year old son is still condescending, disrespectful (at times) and manages to make me feel like the “bad mom” no matter what I say. His wife, whom I have tried so hard to love, is also this way with me. As a result, even my grandchildren are distant. Sad part is, I am widowed with no family left and he is my only child.

  15. I can’t believe I found this blog. You’re right — misery does love company but more than that perhaps misery needs validation or vindication. I was told by my 31 year old daughter, in a 3 hour marathon session, that I am overly critical, that I criticize almost every single thing she does and that even my body language (crossed arms) convey to her that I’m closed off and don’t want to hear anything from her. I was stunned and heart broken and frankly embarrassed because this happened (started) at a restaurant and then continued for another 2 hours when we went home. She said I had asked her years ago to be sure to tell ME if I ever started acting like my mother. And she said, “Well now you are and have been for a while.” What really hurt was she said she no longer wanted to confide anything personal to me because I would criticize her. Reading these entries I noticed a few things that hit home. One was to give up being “right”. Another was forget the word “I” when talking to adult children, and the last was feel actual remorse vs. guilt. Right now I feel bruised and beaten and can’t even talk to my husband (her dad) about this because I feel terrible that they’ve been talking about my critical behavior. I don’t want to push my daughter (or her older sister) away and It scares me that I do feel like I need to give them advice so they don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made. Oh help. Sadly I noticed that there haven’t been many blogs here lately so if nothing else, this lets me get it out of my system. Any suggestions out in the “elder cloud world”?

  16. I have a nasty vile daughter of 51 and have finally decided that I do not need her in my life. She has 3 offspring a boy 23, a girl of 20 and a little girl of 5 years, all with different fathers who no longer are on the scene. She is a bully, rude, controlling, unreliable,abusive,and extremely disagreeable. Whenever she visits I am walking on eggshells waiting for the tantrums and it never takes more than a few hours. I have found her out in lies and consequently do not believe anything she says. I understand from her previous relationships that I am not the only person to suffer this bad behaviour.
    Now, nobody has an ideal existence and is there any reason why we should put up with this kind of treatment? I looked at the 5 year old yesterday and saw a small copy of my daughter blossoming under her care,
    half an hour later and my daughter had picked a fight and flounced off in the car swearing and shouting as she left.
    Why do we tolerate this narcististic behaviour and blame ourselves and keep on trying to make things right.? They will never change because they are horrible selfish immature people who always think they are right and bully to get their own way.
    We haven’t made mistakes, that is life. We all get a hand of cards and play them in the best way we can. These adult brats need to realise they make their bed and let them lie on it and take responsibility for themselves and their own lives. My parents would never have put up with it, why should we?
    Go out and make new friends (incidentally there are thousands of people in the same boat) try to live life for yourself, do something new every day, talk to someone in the queue., organise a group of friends to go out for a meal.
    There is more to life than being some bodies punch bag.
    Good luck all of you, I’m off to change my will and get on with enjoying life while I can. It’s later than you think.

  17. I have the same problems, most of which are drug/ alcohol abuse related, (even though there’s no mention of this epidemic problem, with all these age groups being discussed. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing they say should be taken personally. I’m confident that any psychiatrist or therapist would tell us all this. I’ve also decided that, after nearly a quarter century of this abusive behavior, that they are talking to themselves. I started telling my oldest son, who’s about to be 38 in 3 wks., 2 decades ago, that people who have respect themselves, respect other people, &, those who have no self respect are very disrespectful, abusive & hateful. This is why we don’t take what they’re saying personally. I also told him for 2 decades that his criticism of me/others says less than nothing about me/them & everything about him.
    The other thing I’ve decided, more recently, is that the disdain, disrespect, rage they are expressing seems to be how they feel about themselves. They think they’re talking to us/someone else, but, in reality, they’re talking about, &, or, to themselves. It’s true that we teach people how to treat us, so, it’s our responsibility to set clear boundaries about what we will & won’t discuss/do with them & keep them in place.
    for example, several yrs. ago, I set a boundary with my older son, (I lost my younger son 18 mos ago). I told him that he could talk to me about anything in his life, past present & future but he can’t bring up OUR family past, meaning; the divorce, & all the things that send him into a rage. When he focuses on his life, (present & future), our conversations can be pleasant & abuse free.
    A lot of our children seem to be addicted, to drama, trauma & are extremely self destructive. They also don’t seem to know how to feel & manage their emotions any better than we do or did. They don’t have the tools. Maybe if we acquire the tools, we can model healthy boundaries, communication, relationship, lifestyles etc…
    I don’t know if this helps anyone. It has helped me. I didn’t know not to take anything they say or do personally, until they were out of h.s. in the late 90’s Recognizing this truth, is a HUGE gift, (relief, stress buster), we can give ourselves each time we are forced to remind ourselves of it. Rather than worry, get angry, get into self pity I try to find out what my part is in the break down in communication/alienation & ask forgiveness & I try to remember to pray for them. It’s wise to pray Scripture over them as well. Don’t forget every other person these days is a sociopath &, or, a narcissist & or a psychopath.
    may god overtake all of you/us & all those we love with His Blessing

  18. I also have to say as much as I don’t wish anyone else to be in pain, especially regarding our children, there is comfort in knowing I am not alone in this situation. My 22 year old daughter lives at home and works but has only done entry level jobs at this time. We have put money into a RESP for her which will need to be used soon, however, she does not want to go to school. I understand this is her choice, but I cannot get her to open up and communicate with me. I am trying carefully to choose my words so that she can tell me about what her fears and desires are but she will not even communicate with me on this. I try to be open minded and non-judgmental but she clams up and gets mad. She says I nag her – I get that but I don’t nag her but obviously she thinks this possibly because it is a subject that she tries to avoid. Moving forward and setting goals is a reality and in this world today you can’t live on the wages that entry level job provides you need to find a job that you can support yourself with. I sometimes think I have been too good to her and easy on her and it is now backfiring on me. I can’t talk to my friends about this because their children our her friends and I don’t want her to be embarrassed if they speak out of place (which they would). Thank you for having this blog as it provides a means to release.

  19. This is to Ella who’s 27 year old son comes to dinner: Hi Ella, I think it is so nice that your son comes to dinner every week. I am an introvert and therefore just sitting and “not” talking is very peaceful and comforting for me. I find sometimes people talk way too much and it is annoying and I just want to scream “shut up!” ( of course I don’t though) . If this isn’t your personality it may be difficult for you to understand but your son maybe just comes to your house to find a calm and peaceful place. If you push him to talk it could drive him away. Not talking is okay in my opinion. I am just a regular person but I find that being an introvert is not a bad thing. Maybe if you try relaxing, smiling, keep making his favourite meals and providing a calm, relaxing environment away from all the stresses of today’s world, this will keep him coming home to see you and his father. Good luck!
    p.s. you may find it helpful to research about introverts

  20. I am astounded from the repeated comments, I am not alone. I connected with you all, however I especially connected with the statements from Joy. I have been reading books about Non-violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg PHD, for the past 4 years. I have come a long way, but I still loose my shit when I am yelled at repeatedly and with such disdain (my daughter) filled with judgment, misguided accusations. I wasn’t a great Mom, and most of the anger towards me is understandable now that I have educated myself on “positive parenting,” reading how the brain develops with children at their age development and learning about non-violent communication
    techniques.
    Haven said that, it hasn’t improved my relationship with my 31 year old, in fact, it’s worse. However, I am more relaxed and at peace with myself and my attempts to repair the damage done by my lack of knowledge. I see a person that is so unhappy with herself that yelling at me says more about what she feels about herself than me. I know that she believes the things she is saying but I know better. I actually have a great deal of empathy and compassion now, where I had anger and a broken heart before.
    Joy is right, as hard as it is, we have to focus on our lives, be content with what brings us peace. Then, if and when they want a healthy relationship with us/me, I will be here (maybe,) but I will educate myself in the meantime. I will learn how to communicate with empathy and compassion so I can have a pleasant life with people or with my beautiful daughter, when she’s ready.
    I’m not alright, my heart is broken and painfully aching, but I must do what’s healthy for myself and be prepared to have a healthy relationship with her when the time arrives.
    We really need support groups for this. Keep trying, it can get better.

  21. I have 3 sons. Ages 28, 26 and 17 months (yes, 17 months)

    Ha! Two years’ worth of comments and similar stories and still no answer to the delimia. I guess it’s safe to say the writer of the article didn’t realize the tap they were putting into this keg.
    My 28 year old, is married and lives 7 hours away. And he is the most condescending, smug, rude, outright disrespectful young man I’ve ever met. He baits me constantly. Even throws what I call emotional arrows – conversational bombs that are seemingly meant to shut me down.
    Case in point – I called him a few weeks ago, he says to me “Mom, you can’t just call whenever.” (it was like 7:30 PM on a Tuesday – he works days) It wasn’t during working hours, wasn’t during dinner time, wasn’t bed time… Ooooookay. So this week I text him and I get no response. The next day I text again (is he not getting the text?) I say “Helloooooooo”… no response.
    SO remembering his last scolding to me, a couple of hours later I sent a second text “Are you too busy to text mom right now?”
    To which I get the immediate response of “Why are you attempting to guilt trip me?”
    EVERYthing I do or say is suspect and treated as offensive. I can say “how are y’all” (he and his wife) and get responses like “Why are you asking me that?” or “is there a reason you’re asking” . I can say ” We’re planning a trip this fall” and get a response like “Am I supposed to have an opinion about that?” I can say “Your baby brother started folding his hand for prayer this week” (we have a 17 month old baby, yes), and get a response like “Are you telling me that for a reason?”.
    I
    give
    up

    I didn’t raise him to be this way – as is evident by his brother’s character and demeanor; his brother is two years his junior.

    I don’t expect any response or interaction from this comment – seeing as how no one else got one either, but at least it gave me an anonymous forum to vent into.

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