The principles of gentle parenting (i.e. connection, empathy, intentionality, respect) don’t change as our children grow, just as they don’t change from one child to the next. What does change is our understanding of those principles as we grow in wisdom and experience as parents and human beings. The practical application of gentle parenting principles, though, can look very different from child to child and life stage to life stage. For instance, with an introverted child, gentle parenting might involve a greater degree of physical proximity and emotional support whereas with a very extroverted child it may involve a greater degree of energy direction and respectful guidance.
This constancy of principles and individualized application of gentle parenting is no less true when parenting our adult children than it is when parenting our minor children. As gentle parents, we are our children’s first and best friend in the purest and truest definition of friendship. That sets the stage for the transition from the early parent/friend years to the parent-friendship that will characterize our relationship when our children grow into adulthood.
Here are 12 practical tips for gently parenting your adult children.
Mentally catalogue what you find helpful and what you find intrusive, what is an acceptable level of involvement, advice, and interaction and what feels overbearing or lacking. Make a mental (or actual!) note to remember those feelings when your own children become adults.
Your parents are discovering by trial and error (often lots of error) what their roles and boundaries are in this uncharted territory of parenting adults. Model giving your parents grace when they overstep or underplay their roles. This will set the stage for your children to extend the same grace to you when seemingly overnight you suddenly find yourself learning to parent your own adult children.
They won’t remember what you did or didn’t do at this stage, but they will always carry with them how it made them feel. Make sure what they feel is safe, secure and loved so that is they will take with them into adulthood.
What will matter most in later years won’t be whether they wore matching shoes or left the park without pitching a fit. What will matter is whether they felt heard, understood and respected.
As your child moves into the preschool and early childhood years, focus on communication, whether that takes the form of whining, tattling, endless questions or some combination of all three. Continue to build a trust relationship by hearing their heart, rather than their tone, and responding with gentle guidance.
When your child reaches the middle stages of childhood, listening to the endless stories from your chatterbox or offering empathy and quiet support to your dreamer will help them as they explore who they are and who they want to be when they grow up.
You are building the friendship of a lifetime in these interactions, so make them a priority.
Once your child enters the teen years, consciously begin to gradually shift your role into a supporting rather than a leading act. Listen not to their words, their attitudes, their hormones, their angst. Listen instead to their struggles, their hopes, their dreams, their fears.
Remember, you are the only adult in the relationship at this point. They still have a lot of maturing to do. Practice self-control. Be honest about your own struggles, fears, and failings. You’ll be amazed at what a connection point that is as your teen discovers that they aren’t alone in their humanness.
Be the first one to listen, the first one to forgive, the first one to apologize, the first one to understand, the first one to back down and try to find another way when the going gets tough.
When your children become adults, let them set the pace. Some children will hit 18 and be ready to move into a university dorm or get a job and an apartment right away. Others will need a slower transition. They may need to stay at home while going to university or while taking some time to try out different jobs as they explore this strange new world of adulthood.
If the time comes that you feel they need a gentle nudge out of the nest, you can help them to find an acceptable roommate or two and guide them through the process of settling into independent adulthood.
Once your child is out on their own, your role will shift fully to a support system. Offering unsolicited advice is fine as long as it is briefly stated — once. After that, it becomes intrusive. Offers of help and invitations to family events and similar activities should follow the same guidelines.
When your children start families of their own, consciously bring to mind how you felt at various times when your own parents supported you in your new role and/or interfered with the establishment of your new little family.
Acknowledge to yourself and to them that they won’t do everything the way you did, that they will make decisions you wouldn’t make, that you will offer advice that won’t be heeded, and that they will make mistakes and have to learn from them just like you did.
On the subject of making mistakes, remember, just as you wouldn’t want every youthful mistake, every wrong choice, every unfortunate decision to be broadcast to the world or even just joked about privately instead of being left in the past where it belongs, be sure to practice "The Golden Rule of Parenting," and treat your children how you like to be treated.
Keep in mind that the person you are now isn’t the person you were when you first started out on your journey into adulthood. Expecting your young adult children to think and experience and process life and events the way that you do now is like expecting a newborn baby to be able to pick up a book and read it.
Children’s book and parenting author, L.R. Knost, is an independent child development researcher and founder and director of the advocacy and consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources. A mother of six, her children range from 25 years down to 25 months old. Her parenting guide, "Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages," is due out in March of 2013. Other works by this author include "Wisdom For Little Hearts" and "Grumpykins," L.R. Knost’s children’s picture book series for ages 2 to 6, which are tools for parents, teachers and caregivers to use in implementing gentle parenting techniques in their homes and schools.