3. Do what you love together and intimacy will follow.
When children were young, family time inevitably arrived. But now, to spend time with your 20+ year olds cooking on all the burners, you have to get creative.
Many parents will go to great lengths to find the time and activities that are suitable for their adult children. Hard-to-get baseball tickets or dinner reservations, biking, skiing, even marathon training, like a brave 64-year-old mother of two nimble sons. His report: “My knees hurt, but I’ve learned so much about them.”
The puzzles work for the less athletic, according to another mother of three sons, aged 18 to 25. From heart to heart, they follow their common search for matching pieces. “I take what’s on offer, I’m never down their throats about anything, and very rarely bring up a topic they’ve mentioned once in another conversation.” Plus, she respects her guys’ conversational styles. “They are short and sweet. A long discussion lasts 60 to 90 seconds.”
4. Establish ground rules for how to disagree
Many of the benefits parents reap at this stage are the result of the children’s sharper communication skills. Compared to their younger ones, emerging adults are more likely to argue with their parents and deal with disagreements peacefully. In addition, they are better able to see the other person’s point of view. Their frontal cortex ripens like fine wine, which means improved judgment, less impulsiveness, and a greater likelihood of them thinking before speaking.
If the conflict begins to escalate, reduce it by listening to it without interrupting, then commenting in a neutral tone. When that isn’t possible, taking time out to calm both parties down is as helpful at this stage as it is during their toddler years. Sleeping on it or letting passionate emotions cool down is also a good strategy to use with adult children as well as for a couple or close friends.
5. Make room for others in their lives
Maybe you wish your son’s girlfriend had fewer tattoos, or your daughter’s boyfriend had a better job. But unless you notice some seriously disturbing behavior, do your best to hug the people your adult children like. And when choosing a partner, accept that it naturally follows for them to put that person first. When it comes to making big decisions, planning, or dealing with difficulties, even the most conscientious adult children will shift their primary attachment to their partner. If they don’t, be careful: marital problems can ensue.
As parents, you need to get out of work as your kids grow up, so nurture your own dreams while continuing to cultivate a close friendship with them.
Elizabeth Fishel and Jeffrey Jensen Arnett are co-authors of When will my adult child grow up? Love and understand your emerging adult to be published by Workman in May. Elizabeth Fishel is a widely published writer specializing in family matters and the author of four non-fiction books. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, research professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., Is a leading expert on emerging adulthood.