What Happens to the Parent-Child Bond When Children Become Adults?

I do a lot of writing on Quora. Recently, someone asked this question – and I know many of you probably wonder about this too, so I thought I’d send this along.

When children become adults, does the mutual bond between a parent and a child become weaker?

Not weaker, just different.

Children need certain things from their parents that, for many parents, define “good parenting.” For example, young children need guidance, protection, control, and close supervision. Parents who provide these things generally get good results and good feelings from them. So they begin to assume that those actions are what parenting is all about.

Now, this works fine, until the child becomes an adult. But once that happens, guidance, protection, and close supervision become inappropriate. (Think about it – would you try to control, or closely supervise, an adult who wasn’t related to you?) If a parent keeps trying to do those things, it sends the adult child the clear message “I think you’re incompetent.” And it’s not surprising – because an adult who needs protection, guidance, control (from another person), or close supervision isn’t competent at adulting.

The problem is, the parents don’t realize that, so they keep trying to do the things for their adult child that their young child needed. Adults do need things from their parents, but guidance, protection, control and close supervision aren’t those things.

As a result, the adult child begins to distance themselves from their parent, and only interact when they have to or feel obligated to (holidays, for example). Parents, in response, ramp up their attempts to be a “good parent,” which just drives their child further away.

What parents in this situation need to do is learn how to interact with their adult child as an adult. This includes meeting the needs of an adult – which are very different from the needs of a child. When parents don’t shift gears and adjust to this new reality, it weakens the bond, and can even destroy it.

But it’s on the parents to make that shift – not the adult child.

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