Tension between parent and adult child

Being a parent is a great privilege and an immense responsibility. The privilege that I have experienced in nurturing five children has enriched my own life on so many levels. You don’t really understand how much you can love someone unconditionally until you have your own child. They are no less apart of you from the womb to the day they leave home. On children’s worst days you love them, whether they are having a two year old temper tantrum or a teenage mood swing. During the time that they are still young and even to teenage hood we still have a lot of influence over them. While there may be days that don’t go so well, overall they are happy to have you the parent in their world and for you to give them feedback/advice and support. Children in a fifth and sixth grade study described parents as the most influential people in their lives, often turning to them for affection, advice, enhancement of self-worth, and assistance with everyday problems (Berk, 2012 p. 577). In other words hanging out with the parents is still fairly normal and enjoyable as a young person.

Until suddenly there is tension….

This shift is what I want to talk about in this blog! My perspective comes from a mum’s point of view so for the dad’s it could look a little different. As a mum you have a very deep connection to your children for obvious reasons. It would not take too much research to understand why that would be the case. We carry a baby for 9 months, give birth and travel on a journey of nurturing and generally looking after these little ones that are in our care. After I had my first baby taking care of the second one was nowhere near as difficult, simply because when I had my first baby it was all very new and I had never gone through that experience before. Hours of reading on the topic of pregnancy and child birth can never truly prepare you for what it takes to be a mum. With the first child you are super cautious of everything! The minute something doesn’t look right you are racing to the doctor or baby clinic for reassurance that everything is on track and there is nothing horrible going on.

Being a first time mum and going through the learning journey of understanding how to take care of a baby, toddler, teenager and adult child all have one thing in common. When it is the first child you will be experiencing each new season for the first time. This means that even our best efforts of trying to keep informed, such as for example: the terrible two’s season, you really cannot be prepared for what it will look like for you and your child until you get there. When our children become  teenagers and begin to go through their transition in some ways we have more of an understanding in how to deal with them as we remember what we were like as teenagers and how we felt. When they are having their off days we are able to grant them some slack and be more empathetic towards them as we remember the time we experienced it for ourselves and the mood swings we had to deal with. In some ways it seems we are more prepared for that stage of a child’s life then we are for some of the other ones.

The aim of this blog is to simply bring some awareness of the time in which the teenage child is transitioning into adulthood. You may find that there is more tension in the relationship which is really a signal highlighting that a change in interaction within the relationship of the parent and the adult child is needed. When my first child hit that stage I was so consumed in my ‘midlife crisis season’ that I was oblivious to what may have been really happening at that time for him. There were many mistakes made on my part as a parent/mum, as I was not in the right frame of mind to be aware, let alone have the knowledge to know how to deal with it better. It was the first time I had an adult child so again I did not know what I was doing, let alone understand why I was feeling so conflicted. This ‘feeling’ felt as though I was being torn. At the time I had no idea why the reactions were so strong and painful yet later on after beginning the psychology course and coming across some information I became aware for the first time in my life that it was actually a ‘normal’ transition time to go through, and the feelings and struggles that he would have felt along with what I felt were actually ‘normal’ feelings. It is just that neither of us knew what was really going on at the time.

Adolescence is a time in which your child is developing their sense of self, separate from the parents. It is marked by two specific aspects; emotionally they are relying more on themselves and less on parents for support and guidance and behaviourally they are making decisions independently using their own careful judgement and the suggestions of other people in their world to come up with a well thought out course of action (Berk, 2013 p.578). As a parent one of the biggest areas that I did not understand was why or how  I had went from being a mum to suddenly just being (someone) in his eyes. When adolescents get better at their abilities to separate from parents it leads them to deidealise their parents, viewing them as “just people”. This is where learning about effective communication and allowing for the separation can help minimise the tension.

The timing of this change that occurs with adult children is often in line with the parents own development. While the child is confronted with a future filled with possibilities a midlife parent is coming to terms with the fact their own possibilities are becoming limited (Berk, 2013 p. 579). The tension or conflict that arises at this stage of a young adult’s life signals to the parent that an adjustment is needed in the parent-child relationship (Berk, 2013 p. 580).

Had I not taken on this psychology course I doubt that I would have ever been aware of these ‘normal’ tensions and conflicts between the parent and young adult.

While this is obviously just a small glance into the tensions and struggles that occurs between parents and young adults I hope that for those parents who are finding themselves at this stage can gain some insight into their situation.

Most parents don’t like conflict and no doubt children don’t like it either. To be able to understand that these seasons are in fact ‘normal’ can take the edge off and allow for a better relationship and transition process to occur between the parent and adult child.

Be encouraged today! You may feel as though you have failed as a parent, however, no parent is perfect. It is a learning process and when you learn you grow

 and become better for it.

Happy Parenting!


Reference: Berk, L.E. Child Development, 2013 9th Edition.


By Anu mari ~ The Change that Changes You

A mother of five, working full-time and enjoy writing blogs which are inspired by my own journey. A journey filled with ups and downs and many lessons. Life is filled with change. We will be faced with change we cant control and the change we can which comes down to our choices and the decisions we make. Sometimes we put decisions off hoping things will change and then they don't. That's when we need to decide?

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