Lisa and I have two married, adult daughters, Anna, 29 and Alex, 27, and we consider them and their husbands some of our closest friends.
But we know that’s not true for everybody, and Thanksgiving is often a time when parents wish their relationship with their grown kids could be better. Sometimes the journey from authority figure to friend can be difficult.
Looking back at how we raised them, we now realize that it is no accident that we have such a great relationship with our adult daughters and their spouses.
There are four pillars of our parenting style that we believe contributed to our successful transition.
Be a Parent First As well as being parents, we have had almost 25 years of working with families as we pastored our church here in Louisiana. We noticed one thing led to a lot of difficulty between adult children and their parents: when parents tried to be their children’s friends rather than being their parents when they were young, especially during their middle school to high school years.
We believe that until a child becomes a young adult and begins to mature, the parent’s job first and foremost is to parent, which means to set boundaries, to provide an atmosphere for learning and growing and to provide discipline and nurturing with an even hand. When this model is followed, it is amazing how a young adult will eventually develop healthy adult friendship bonds, because they understand why their parents did what they did for them.
Practice What You Preach—and Transparency. Through the years of raising our daughters, we always attempted to model what we asked of them. Of course, we are human, so we failed at times, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to try to live with integrity.
We also found that when we were transparent and admitted our own faults and mistakes, our children grew to love and respect us for our honesty and our attempts to show them a better way.
In our book, A New Season, we are very open about a lot of our mistakes as a young couple. The only way we could write a book like that is if our grown children were not going to be surprised by what we wrote, but supportive of why we wrote it.
We are Christian, so the Bible is a big part or our value system, but no matter what any family’s beliefs are, parenting will always include building in a value system. Integrity, character and honesty will always lead a child to being a better adult and the best way to achieve that is by consistently trying to live and lead your family in that direction.
Exasperate Less, Encourage More. I’m a former pastor, so please allow me one Biblical reference: in the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes a short challenge to both children and fathers about their relationship. He asks children to honor their father and mother and he challenges fathers “to not exasperate their children.” (Eph. 6:1-4)
“Exasperate” means to irritate, annoy and vex to the point to anger. One of things that we noticed has that effect on children/teens is to over-regulate them. In an attempt to build structure and discipline, many parents exasperate their children to the point that they think they can never measure up.
This leads to anger, frustration and sadly, resentment towards one or both parents. From our observation, this seems to be one of the leading causes of estranged adult relationships between parent and child. Of course every family needs boundaries, but don’t overdo it by majoring in minors. Teach your children and encourage them through both success and failure and simplify your family code.
Take Them Along for the Ride. We did a lot of international mission work when I was a full time pastor, and we took the girls. To this day, our children love traveling with us. We also spent a lot of energy sharing our passions with them, for art, education and global affairs. I read a lot of children and young adult series along with Alex when she first got into books; in other words, we were Harry Potter fans together.
This has given us one of many great tools of friendship now as adults; we share many book series back and forth. Anna and Lisa both love houses and real estate and to this day love watching home renovation shows. I’ve encouraged my son-in-laws to get into golf because this gives us another place to bond and build friendship. Laughter, shared interests and travel are great ways to have great adult relationships with your adult children, but that spirit starts when they are young.
We encourage you to think seriously about what your relationships with your children will look like when they are adults and married. Some of the greatest blessings our children have give us is our 4 ½ (one on the way!) grandchildren. Because we are all close, we get to spend a lot of time with our grandkids. We are now doubling down on how we assist our children with them in order to have more great adult relationships with them in the future.