Building relationships with adult children

Joanna Boissevain

With the changing dynamic, relationships between parents and their adult children can be hard. Read our guide to building a good relationship.



Raising the funds for a house deposit, changing nappies, dealing with weddings, divorces and redundancy - and you thought it was all behind you. Entering your retirement years can be just like re-living your 30s – if only through the eyes of your children.

The financial burdens on young adults have changed substantially in the last decade, mostly thanks to the rollercoaster property market and the increasing willingness of credit card companies to lend.

Where parental responsibility in one's later years used to lie predominantly in emotional support, new tensions are being forged through grown up children seeking financial as well as relationship guidance. The fine line between helping your child and holding their hand is currently being renegotiated, with both parties needing to redefine the ways in which they relate to each other.

How to maintain a healthy parent-child relationship

Independence is crucial to a healthy parent-child relationship, strengthened only by open and honest communication.

Passing judgments on your children’s decisions, such as a change of career or reckless financial lifestyle, serves simply to alienate. Parents in particular can often saddle their children with unrealistic expectations and it’s more than possible that they won’t approve the choices their offspring make, from which partner to which lifestyle to which career.

Accommodating each other’s wishes, and openly discussing situations, are the best ways to tackle problems constructively. Accepting a differing point of view from that of your children can be difficult, but avoidance is not the best strategy for dealing with conflict.

Kira Birditt, lead researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), says that the parent-child relationship is one of the longest lasting social ties human beings establish. "Highly positive and supportive...it also commonly includes feelings of irritation, tension and ambivalence."

The changing relationship between parents and adult children

The ways in which parents and children relate to one another alter as our lives adapt to evolving social situations. Middle-aged children, for example, are less likely to be closely involved in the relationship with their parents as they have their own established families to invest in, and are relatively secure financially.

This can lead to tensions that were not previously present, leaving the ageing parent feeling strangely bereft, especially if they are no longer called upon to look after the grandchildren.

Love and respect are central to any relationship, and you can strive to strengthen bonds through accepting each other’s choices and decisions.

As children grow up, they are also more likely to recognise the significance of the role that their own parents played in their own upbringing, leading to a better level of understanding.

We all have differing opinions, but family relationships should be strong enough to weather most extremes. Your family is likely to be both your biggest achievement and your most frustrating asset – invest in it!

Read our tips for building a relationship with a daughter-in-law.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.