Tips for Parenting Adult {Or “Emerging Adult”} Children

britta marie

This post is inspired by Shot@Life, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation that educates, connects and empowers the championing of vaccines as one of the most cost effective ways to save the lives of children in the world’s hardest to reach places. 

Every comment on this post means a life-saving vaccination will be donated to a child in need!


This has been a BIG year for my 21-year-old! My Britta Marie graduated from college, went on a 3 week trip to Europe, and just 4 days ago got married to her best friend Neil! That’s a whole lot of life packed into one summer! But Britta handled it all with confidence and only a few tears. You see, even though she is officially an “adult” now, at 21 she is still teetering on the edge of youth and full-fledged adulthood. Neuroscientists have determined through brain scans that the brain is not fully finished developing until about age 25.

Psychologists call this life stage “emerging adulthood.”


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As a mother, all this scientific data means one thing…my “baby girl” still has at least a few more years of growing up to do and although she is technically a married “woman” now, I hope I can still “mother” her through the last phases of her development. And if she’ll continue to let me “mother” her from a respectful distance beyond that, that will be icing on the cake!


Of course now that she is married, I anticipate any “mothering” will be trickier than before. So what’s the parent of an “emerging adult” to do? How do you strike a balance between being a friend and a mentor to your child? How do you give advice without coming off like a nag?

Here are a few ideas I am trying in order to maintain healthy relationship with my adult kids.


10 Tips for Parenting Adult {Or Almost Adult} Children


  • Listen.  Learn to listen with an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude. Adult children may not want your advice, they may just want a listening ear.
  • Be patient.  Let them come to you for advice and counsel. If you leave yourself open to receive them, they will know it and they will come in search of your wisdom and loving support.
  • Be honest.  Admit when you are wrong. Admitting our mistakes emphasizes that it is OK to make mistakes and that apologizing for them is the right thing to do.
  • Be sensitive to what is meaningful in their lives. Among the great joys of parenting adult children is learning from them. Learn to appreciate them for who they have grown up to be.
  • Be positive.  Focus on what you love about your child and his or her life. No one likes to be criticized.
  • Say “Thank You.”  When we thank our children, we model the behavior we want and we have the pleasure of letting our children know we are grateful to them.
  • Recognize and appreciate their individuality. Every child, young and old is unique. Whether you chose to accept it earlier, or not, when your child is an adult it is crucial that they have your support and encouragement to be themselves.
  • Nurture the relationship.  Friends do stuff together. They talk on the phone, send texts and spend time together exploring shared interests. They respect each other’s busy schedules, but find ways to stay connected.
  • Offer advice with a disclaimer.  Remind your children that it’s only advice and they don’t need to follow it.
  • Be realistic. Remember that a good relationship is not synonymous with a smooth one and that parenting adult children is a work in progress.


Keep in mind that even though your child has achieved young adulthood, there will still be plenty of opportunities for you to do some good mothering. You may even find that this is the age when you do some of your best work.


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The fact that Britta is now 21, the legal drinking age, does not escape me. As an alcoholic in recovery it is one of my biggest fears that I might somehow pass that awful predisposition down to my children. But I try to look at the positives of the situation rather than waste my time worrying about what hopefully will never happen. On the positive side: Britta has had an up-close and all too personal experience with the devastating effects of addiction to serve as a cautionary tale to her and the rest of my children. She also has been educated in how addiction is “no respecter of persons” and has shown great understanding and compassion for those affected by this destructive disease. I believe her decision to major in Psychology in college was in part influenced by the things she experienced as a teenager watching her mother battle addiction. While she could easily have played the role of “victim”, she instead chose to channel what she learned into a positive path…one where she hopes to help others who are going through the same or similar experiences. I know she will be a formidable force for good in the lives of many, many people throughout her life.


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Being given the opportunity to write about my 21-year-old for Blogust ’13 could not have come at a more perfect time. As I stated earlier, this has been a summer full of major life passages for Britta. Watching my daughter sail through them all with grace and confidence has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my mothering career. I am grateful beyond words that the trials that she has gone through thus far in her life have made her strong and compassionate and know that both of those qualities will serve her well as she faces a bright and beautiful future.


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I am also grateful that throughout her life she has been afforded the privilege of proper medical care. Unlike so many other children in the world, Britta has always had the necessary vaccines available to her that have allowed her to sail through her first 21 years free from disease.

Every child deserves a shot at a healthy life, no matter where they live and yet many children in developing countries lack access to vaccines — often because they live in hard-to-reach communities. With your help, global vaccination programs can stop the 1.5 million unnecessary deaths that still happen every year from diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and polio, and ensure that all children, no matter where they live, have a shot at a healthy life.

During Shot@Life’s Blogust, 31 bloggers, one each day in August, are writing about moments that matter. For every comment on this post and the 30 other posts, Walgreens will donate a vaccine (up to 50,000 vaccines).

Sign up here for a daily email so you can quickly and easily comment and share every day during Blogust! Stay connected with Shot@Life at, join the campaign on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. And be sure to check out Chloe Jeffrey’s post tomorrow.


Thanks in advance for your comments!



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  1. Melody says

    It is so hard for me to remember this with my 2 adult children, especially since I am still mothering my younger children. Thank you for putting it in writing… All I know but forget.

  2. Sue Scripture says

    Watching children grow up and leave home is bittersweet isn’t it? You do the best you can, they fledge and life goes on. Best of luck to Britta and Neil and thanks for all your blogging, Jillee. (You can see that Britta is your daughter – same mouth!)

  3. Addy Rae says

    This is a stage I’ve only recently grown out of, and there was a huge shift and settling when I was 25/26/27. I noticed it, and everyone around me noticed it, especially since there was less focus on ‘me’ and more consideration for people around me and their needs and feelings. There’s a huge difference between me at 23 and me at 29! Thank you for this post.

  4. says

    As the mother of 6 grown, and/or emerging adults, I know this time is fraught with perils. Your list is exactly how I have done it. They do look for advice from time to time, and I remind them this is their life, not mine and I have not exactly made a stellar success of my own life. I have no answers for them, I can only be present while they figure out what is best for them.

    The one part that I think is crucial to being wise and appropriate for your grown children is to be more present and loving with yourself and to believe in the job you did with your children. The time to actively parent ends by about the time a kid is 16. After that, you have to start to let go, and more importantly, you have to trust and believe in the parenting you did do. You have to believe in them, really BELIEVE in them and in their choices. Somehow, this is something you also have to speak to yourself, to believe in YOU.

    I’ve been an empty nester for a little while. I could have spent my time being sad, hurt, wishing to turn back the clock, but actually it has been freeing. Gone are the Mount Washmores of my life, the cooking for 7 people (I was a single parent), the running the dishwasher at least once a day and the countless other thankless chores that come with being a mom. It was time to focus on my own life, my own thoughts, needs and desires, and act on more than a few them. They have become adults and I have become a wiser, mature, full adult in the process. I have tried to structure things to be close emotionally to my children, but distant at the same time. This is the time of my life, my 50s, that I have waited a lifetime to be able to partake of and cherish its joys.

    So, don’t forget that this is not only a magical part of their lives, it is a very important and magical part of yours too. Love and support yourself in the way that you are loving, nonjudgmental and supportive of them. As with raising them, the hard part of your self-discovery is over and it is time to admire the job you have done on both counts, and you did it well. They’ll be fine, and you can enjoy this time of freedom too.

    • Linda says

      Thank you for your comments – I really needed to hear them. As a mother of a 21 year old and a senior in high school, I’ve been dreading the “empty nest” something awful. Reading your comment was a gentle reminder that my day to day parenting job is coming to a close, but my life is about to have a new beginning.

    • Trish says

      Thank you Lynne…thank you for reminding parents that they also transition into a time that can be VERY fulfilling :-) The time not to live through their children, but for themselves. When you said to be “emotionally close, but distant also”, I understood completely…my children are now my favorite adult friends, with the benefits of knowing all the funniest punch-lines (we laugh so much!). thanks Lynne…

  5. Kim says

    Thanks for participating in this program to help with the distribution of vaccines. Even with the controversy it is great that groups are still stepping forward to help protect our children from disease.

  6. says

    I agree with every word, although I would say that we should apply these ‘rules’ to parenting our children long before they become young adults. As you say, it is about maintaining that healthy relationship throughout their adulthood that we need to remember to do, but if it is not there to begin with then it will be almost impossible.
    I had to smile at your first tip about listening without giving advice as this was the one that my husband found hardest to do (with me as well as our daughter lol!) although he is adept at it now! I may also print this off to give to my Mum as a reminder of how to keep up her good relationship with her teenage and young adult grandchildren (as well as her 49 year old daughter – I guess you never stop being a parent!!)
    Britta sounds like she is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, I can see why you are so very proud of her. Congratulations to her and Neil, I wish them every happiness in their marriage :-D

    • JudyB says

      Totally agree…we do our best, but sometimes we have to remind our parents (the grandparents) that the kids are adults and make their own choices, even when we don’t like those choices.

  7. Mary says

    Thanks Jill, my thirty year old son moved back home six months ago, with his German shepherd. It has not been easy and your blog has reminded me that it has not been easy for him either. I will try to “listen” more and advise less!

  8. says

    Such an excellent post. When my youngest was 21–he graduated from college and took a job 600 miles from home. After moving him I spent a couple of days helping him get his apartment ready and learning the city. The sudden fear/anxiety he expressed when I was leaving was something I’ll never forget. This confident, capable young man was still “emerging,” as you say, into adulthood. Four years later he has really come into his own–but I’m still a parent–still a dad. Thanks for reminding me! And thank you to Walgreens and Shot@Life for giving us the chance to change/save a child’s life during blogust!

  9. Alyson says

    Well, this sure is timely. I have 18 year old twins who are heading to college this week. We are getting on a plane today to take one to Univ of Colorado in Boulder then flying home to take the other to Lake Forest College a wonderful small school closer to home. So, as I said, very timely advice.
    Thank you for getting involved with shot@life.

  10. Lori says

    I have 3 adult-ish daughters…AsA
    Your words are very wise, the letting go, yet letting them know you’ll always be there, without hovering is tricky. My young adult daughters are by far my favorite “friends”.

  11. says

    Jillee, I think your list is perfect – my DD is now 30 and DS is 26, and it is still good advice !! I will forward to friends getting into this phase of parenting.

    Thanks for all your help and advice, Laura

  12. MotherOfFour says

    As a mom of 3 adults and one teen, I recognize many of the pitfalls talked about here. I can only pray that the preparations I have helped them through will eventually lead them in the right direction. They, my four angels, are all bright and beautiful stars. Two married, grand-children even, “my future’s so bright, I have to wear shades”

  13. Tina says

    Thank you for sharing such a personal and special time of your life with us, your readers. I appreciate your transparency and value your life experience, Jillee. With regard to listening more than speaking, I have learned to tell myself that “my opinion is much too valuable to be given away for free.” That way, my children and I both benefit!:)

  14. Laurie says

    I cleaned out my subscriptions yesterday but left yours and two or three others. You always have such a wonderful outlook on life. Thank you for teaching me. I have an teenage granddaughter and you insight will help guide me.

  15. Crystal says

    Thank you so much for this post and for helping get vaccines! You are a wonderful lady and a blessing to us all. Your daughter is beautiful and I pray they have a long and happy marriage.

  16. says

    Thank you for your candor, your advice, and for sharing your beautiful daughter with us. And thanks to Walgreen’s and Shot@Life for everything you’re doing for kids aroudn the world, so they can grow up to be emerging adults themselves.

  17. Abigail says

    I was JUST saying I needed some good tips on this exact topic. With an 18 year old (out of the home) and three little ones (5 and under), I catch myself still Mommying WAY too much cause I’m always in Mommy Mode….and I will always see her as my baby!

    Thanks Jillee

  18. says

    This is great advice for the relationship between parents and their “almost adult” children. If the relationship started on good grounds from early childhood, it should be easy to implement this advice.
    Your daughter is beautiful, by the way. Married life has its challenges for everyone, so it is wonderful that she married her best friend!
    All the best to you and your family!

  19. Lori says

    I struggle with this everyday…having 2 daughters 21 and 23 I was a awesome mom
    (i think) but not so sure about a awesome mom to adult children. Thank You for this post its nice to know I’m not the only one.

  20. Brenda says

    Thank you for supporting the vaccine program.
    Congratulations to your daughter AND to you as you now have a son-in-law!
    Thank you for blogging as I get so many good tips from you and your friends~

  21. says

    As what I guess is defined as an “emerging adult” myself (although I have been married for 3 years and have a little one of my own!), I appreciate these down-to-earth parenting tips. I think part of growing up is realizing our parents may not have been “perfect” and neither are we — we are all here to love and support each other the best we know how to, and I hope my Babygirl grows up feeling secure and confident in the advice I have to give when she is my age :)

  22. Amy G says

    A good friend of mine once advised me that at this time of life, as parents, we must become a WELL and not be a GEYSER. Allow them to come to us for help and information and not just blow our thoughts and opinions all over them. When I do this, it seems they come around moss often.

    • Susan H says

      I love the well/geyser comment above!

      Jillee, thank you for this great article! I become an empty nester this week!! (Sort of) my 22yr daughter graduated this yr & moved to Portland. My 20yr son lives with her to finish college. This week I take my 18yr old twin boys to seperate colleges. Far away also. Bring on the tears! But I have found your advice to far to have worked.
      I said “sort of” because we became foster parents this past year. So we will have little ones off and on :)
      Yay for the vaccinations!


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