Growing as a Parent to an Adult Child


Being a parent of an adult-child can bring such joy in that you get to watch them navigate life on their own terms. You are now their biggest fan but not necessarily their guider anymore. As parents you did your best job doing what you thought was right when raising them and now you get to let them go. One thing that can be challenging as a parent to an adult-child is seeing the world change and your child possibly changing with it.


You have created your belief system around what you know, and around what was best practice during the time of raising your child. But with all things, new research comes out and new ideas come to light. The role of adapting for your child never really stops, even in adulthood. It just takes on a different look. Now your adult-child may at times be the one doing the education or leading. What do we do with that as parents? Especially in the adoption world, where the education on adoptive parenting has changed drastically through the years.


Don’t Ever Stop Learning and Changing – Your adult-child continues to grow, not by choice but by the fact that the world around them demands it of them. They are growing in a world that is ever changing. The statement of “that is how I always did it, so don’t see a need to change now” does not work when your adult-child is needing more from you as a safe base later in life. Education changes. At one time it was said to not treat your adoptive child different than any other family member in the house. To ignore diversity. We know now that does not help anyone, but instead isolates them. Challenge your parenting style even when your child is no longer home. Just like adoption is a lifelong journey, so is parenting as an adoptive parent.


Listening Instead of Leading – For most of their life you were asked to lead your child through the world. Lead them to make decisions and have worldviews. One of the hard things in adoption is that for your adult-child most of their life has been out of their control. Their voice was spoken for them. They are older now and no longer children. They deserve a voice in their story, so as a parent your role now is to listen. To learn what you might have missed. Their voice about their journey and their feelings is where you start now, not with what feelings you want to lead them to.


There is Loss in Adoption – The day you met your child was most likely one of the best days of your life as a parent. You became a parent to a child you longed to hold in your arms. Whether we acknowledge it or not, that was the day your child lost so much. That does not mean that your child cannot have a fulfilling life, but we have to acknowledge the loss and give space to those feelings. Ignoring an emotion does not change the emotion. Make your home a safe space for your adult-child to talk about the hard in adoption. Sometimes that can be hard, as you might not always want to hear where you could have done better. You love your child but we are all human and make mistakes. Give them space now to find healing and acceptance even in those mistakes.


Race and Diversity – This one can sometimes be the hardest to navigate as a parent in a diverse household. You are asked to raise a child of a different race than you, and so you will never understand what it is like for them. Don’t lean on your adult-child to do all the educating. Challenge your belief systems and worldview by educating yourself around race relations in the world. For the first time in many years there are many platforms such as documentaries, books, internet, and support groups where you can find help to understand what it might have been like for your child growing up in a household where they are a different race than their parents. Love is not always enough. Identity for children raised in a diverse household can be hard. You cannot go back in time and take them to heritage camp, but you can now choose to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. As for those that are white, that needs to be conscious choice, as there is still privilege in being white in America. You don’t have to talk about race related topics if you choose not to, but you will miss so much of growing/connecting with your adult-child if you don’t.


You are parenting differently now that your child is an adult. For many who have been adopted, this is one of the times in their life where they finally get to choose some aspects of their life. Embrace this along with continuing to show your child you are willing to change and grow too. Listening instead of leading.

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