Saying Less and Listening More to Our Young Adult Children


Parents, maybe this sounds familiar: you thought you were helping your older teen or young adult child with ‘useful’ advice and they responded with steely silence or a flash of anger. Whoops! Giving unsolicited advice to our young adult children will often backfire. When parenting young adults, I’m learning to hold back, say less and listen more.

Let them know they are fully capable

Parenting a two-year-old can often mean removing every barrier to keep them safe and almost pre-thinking their every move. But our young adult children don’t need and don’t want this level of parental involvement. They still need us, but in a different and evolving role.

I clearly remember a conversation I had with my mom when I was in my twenties. When I was leaving my parents’ house my mom asked me if I had enough tokens (yes, way back then!) for the highway tolls. I remember feeling angry, wondering if she thought I was completely incompetent, not able to handle the most basic tasks.

I now see my mom’s point of view, that she was making sure I had everything I needed. She just wanted to help. But as a young adult that is not how I heard her words. I try to think about this conversation anytime I’m about to ask my son or daughter a similar question.

At this stage, I’m learning that our role is to help reinforce the belief that our children are fully capable. That they can handle all the big and small decisions they need to make every day. Without a doubt, all of our parenting over the years has led up to this time when they begin to live their own lives.

My new parenting mantra: if they need our advice, they will ask.

A parent’s role as our child’s biggest supporter

When conversations with our older children don’t require our constant problem-solving skills, I’m learning that it is easier to listen. Listening to details about classes that our daughter taught this week, or what our son is learning at his new job. And these are great opportunities for us to let our kids know we are still their biggest supporters.

We can tell them that we admire the way they are handling their busy work schedules and life. Or how much we love where they live and how well they’ve gotten to know their new city. I’m still in awe of how our daughter moved abroad, knowing no one, not yet fluent in the language and created a full and interesting life.

Some positive, handy phrases I try to keep in mind: “You’ve really thought that through.” “I think that’s a great way to spend your time.” “I think you handled that well.”

Words have long-lasting impact, especially from parents. No matter what age, we never tire of hearing positive words from our parents.

They’re not completely on their own…

Our young adult kids rely on us less and less. But I’ve never supported the idea that once our kids are 18 that’s it, we’re done parenting! Sometimes it still makes sense for us to give our perspective, like when our young adult children are making big decisions. Even if they don’t ask for our input.

I’m learning that it helps to approach these conversations openly and really listen to what our kids are saying. While it is ultimately their decision, we can let them know our point of view. We can ask questions that help them see details they may have missed.

Life in the real world isn’t easy

It’s never been easy to be an adult! Along with their own good choices there’s an element of luck, grace or the randomness of the universe that keeps our kids thriving and safe.

As parents, we can let them know that we’re still here for them, ready to listen.

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Hello, I’m Nancy! I’m a New Hampshire native and have enjoyed living in the Seacoast with my husband, stepdaughter and son for quite a while, decades in fact! I’ve been a software engineer, home stager, a school and community volunteer and a stay-at-home mom. I wrote a weekly running column for Seacoast Sunday/Foster’s Daily Democrat/Portsmouth Herald for many years and reported on road races including my dream assignments at the Boston Marathon. Not surprisingly, I’m an avid runner and am happiest outdoors! Nothing beats the sweet exhaustion after a long and active day spent outside in every season. Our nest is now generally empty with both kids navigating their own adult lives and my husband and I are enjoying our time together and with our two great cats. Motherhood (and life) is ever-changing and I’m adjusting to this new stage and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been.