You never stop being a parent. Even when your kids leave the house. Even when they graduate from college. Even when they get their first real job. Even when they move away. Even when they get married and have their own kids.
Having a good relationship with your adult-aged kids can be a reward for all the investment you gave to your kids during their first 18 years of life. Your kids can be your friends—how cool is that! I personally derive a lot of joy and encouragement from my friendship with my parents these days.
There are certain things you can do—and not do—when your kids are younger that can increase your chances of having a healthy relationship with them in the future. It’s not a guarantee and you can’t force your kids to stay in touch once they’re older. However, they’ll be more likely to come around on their own initiative if you’ve fostered a positive relational foundation.
Here are seven behaviors to avoid NOW that will make your kids more likely to desire an ongoing friendship with you in their 20s, 30s, and beyond:
- Don’t freak out. Teenagers are weird. They can’t help it. Those hormones are doing crazy things to their brains and their bodies. They’re going to do things that drive you CRAZY. They’ll also probably make choices that surprise you in a bad way. Your tendency will be to freak out. Resist the urge. You can express your displeasure or disappointment much more effectively if you’re calm.
- Don’t nag. This is especially a problem for moms of boys. Boy are so different from girls. Boys sometimes seem like they’re from another planet, especially when they’re teenagers. Boys will be messy and loud and obnoxious. You could constantly nag him to try to “civilize” him, but nagging from mom usually just causes a boy to be frustrated or angry. Decide what hills you’re going to die on and don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Don’t try to be cool. Teenagers can smell a fake from a mile away. Do take a genuine interest in your child and his friendships and interests. But if you try to look young or dress young or act a certain way so that his friends will like you more, you’ll come off as disingenuous. Be yourself. It’s too much work to ensure your kids always see you as “relevant.” They need a real parent more than they need a relevant one.
- Don’t spill the beans. When your kid shares something with you, treat it as though another adult friend is sharing that information with you. Keep confidences with your kids like you do your friends. It’s probably tempting to share with your other parent friends about what your kid said. That might be appropriate in certain instances, but your kid will be more likely to open up if he knows you won’t blab to your friends.
- Don’t smother. On one hand, it’s your responsibility as a parent to know who he’s hanging out with, where he’s spending his time, and what he’s looking at on his phone. On the other hand, he needs space. A smothering parent will cause a teenager to shut down and work extra hard to hide aspects of his life from Mom and Dad. Give him some space.
- Don’t avoid. Middle school brings a two-pronged threat to parent-child relationships. One, kids begin to distance themselves from their parents. This is developmentally appropriate and healthy but can be confusing and saddening for parents. Two, middle schoolers can be difficult to relate to. Your knee-jerk reaction to those two dynamics may be to run for the hills. You could decide it’s best to wait out the next few years and essentially abdicate your role as a parent. Don’t avoid him even though he’s developing an identity apart from you and he’s a weirdo! He needs you to be engaged now more than ever.
- Don’t lose perspective. Parents can lose sight of the fact that difficulties with teenagers don’t last forever. It’s just a stage of life. When parents lose perspective, they can make decisions or act in ways that harm their relationship with their teenagers. If that’s the case, when the teenage difficulties are over and you can begin to relate to your kids as normal human beings again, the damage has already been done. The goal is a long-term friendship with your kids.
As a parent, what are your interactions with your kids leading toward? What’s the end goal? When you’re amid teenage conflict, hormones, and emotional outbursts, keep the end in mind. It’s about more than survival. It’s about more than just biding your time until your kids leave the house. Make it a goal to have healthy relationships with your adult-aged kids.
Ready to fast-forward even further into the future? At some point there will probably be a role-reversal and you’ll need your kids’ help more than they’ll need yours. That transition is a lot easier if you have a strong relationship with your kids.
You can make choices right now so your relationships with your kids can flourish in the future. Choose wisely.