One day, when your adult kids are fully grown human beings, you’ll probably think they’re some of the coolest people you know. You’ll want to hang out with them as much as possible. And sometimes, they’ll want to hang out with you.
Whether that day seems far away (I see you shaking your head!), like it’s coming on way too fast, or has already happened, it’s only a small exaggeration when I say there will come a time when you’re going to feel like a lottery winner when your adult son or daughter calls you up and says, “Hey! Let’s hang out!”
That’s how I felt when my son Taylor was a sophomore in college and chose to spend his spring break on a road trip with me. We traveled nearly 1500 miles together over six days. Hiking at Zion National Park. Stopping in Flagstaff, Arizona. And off-roading in the red rocks of Sedona.
But here’s the thing. Not all parents will get that call. So what can we do to help the process along? Are there ways we can lay the groundwork and plant the seeds that will grow into the kind of healthy adult relationships (dare I say friendships?) we hope to have with our grown-up kids? YES!
But before I share some of the ways to nurture that kind of relationship, let’s think biblically for a moment about why this matters.
We have a job to do as parents.
And how are we to do this? By teaching them as we do life together. (Deut. 6:6-9) We are to show them. And showing our kids how to walk in the way of love doesn’t end when our kids become grownups.
Showing our adult children how to walk in love happens best when our relationship with them continues to grow over their lifetime and ours.
Parenthood doesn’t come with a retirement plan. And hanging out with the incredible human beings we’ve raised can be sweet and rewarding. So let’s talk about how to help this grown-up friendship with your growing kids happen.
How to grow a friendship with your growing kids.
Respect their time and changing choices.
We spend years teaching our kids about the importance of respecting others, especially us, their parents. But as our children grow, it’s equally important for us to respect them. As individuals separate from us. With their own schedules and time demands. That means when I invite my adult kids to join me, whether it’s for dinner or a vacation, I ask. Politely. Just as I would ask a friend. Yes, it requires me to manage my expectations and not get my feelings hurt when they decline, but it clearly communicates that I see them as adults. And they appreciate not being made to feel like they MUST do something just because I said so. That stopped working a long time ago. (Darn it!)
Pay attention to their interests and the things you share in common.
My son Taylor and I both love the outdoors and exploring new places. So our trip to Zion was a natural for us. My daughter Emily and I both love theater, museums, and city life. When we’re together, we always add a few tickets stubs to our growing collection. And my son Andy and I can spend hours talking about current events, the best restaurants in Little Italy, and what’s new to watch on Netflix. My point is this. Take time to get to know your kids individually. Figure out the interests you have in common then spend your time together doing things you both enjoy.
Keep a sense of humor.
On our road trip, Taylor and I laughed a lot. About my directionally challenged brain. And that every time I park the car, it’s like I’ve never chosen a parking space before. About the way he chuckles to himself while surfing the web for his daily dose of news and nonsense. And about our mutual willingness to go off schedule to see things like the giant meteor site we just couldn’t pass up when we saw the sign on our way to Flagstaff. Laughter forms a strong bond. And our willingness to see the humor in our quirky habits, and to laugh at ourselves, is like quick-set cement for that bond.
I’ve learned to take off my “I’m in charge” hat and fall into step beside my adult children as we explore and discover together. Sure, I will always be their mom, and our relationship will always be defined by our roles as parent and child. But when your daughter confidently leads the way onto the New York subway, or when your son kindly explains how to use Snapchat again, it doesn’t take long to realize that adult friendship with your kids means taking turns in the leadership role. Express opinions, yes. Negotiate outcomes, sure. But maybe stop claiming to be the boss by shouting things like, “I changed your diapers!” Which I’m guessing has never been a particularly compelling reason for any of us to listen to our parents.
It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about the kind of relationship you hope to have with your kids once they launch from your nest. If you’re looking at your teenager and wondering how you’ll ever get there, try out this approach and see what happens: Choose a mutual interest. Ask, don’t tell. Keep it light-hearted. And buddy-up for a time of mutual discovery.
And if your children are already off on their own, take a few minutes to think of something they might enjoy hearing about or doing with you. Then call them up or send them a text. Keep asking. Don’t give up. And you just might find that some of your favorite people on the planet will want to spend a little time walking in the way of love with you – their parent and their friend.
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NLT)