Praising Adult Children When it Means the Most

Opportunities arise for us to point out when they’re doing something right.

Posted Jun 12, 2018

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

There must be dozens of articles online about the importance of validating your children’s growth—offering kudos for how they are maturing, etc. Acknowledging (good) change and offering praise for things well done as well as important realizations reached are ways parents express love and help their children grow into consistently evolving adults.

Source: Unsplash

But what about offering kudos to adult children? Do we stop pouring the praise on them just because they’re grown and are now capable of patting themselves on the back or are surrounded by others who do? Once we progress past extrinsic reward-giving for good behavior, are our flowery words taken with a grain of salt, or do they become meaningful even if we feel they are not taken seriously at first glance?

Perhaps we are indeed more measured with our praise when our kids are grown, mainly because we fear their becoming cocky, feeling indulged, or being placed on some unrealistic pedestal. No matter what, however, opportunities arise for us to point out when they’re doing something right, and there is never a better time to seize on those times to validate new, meaningful moments in their lives as well as your own.

Thing is, some young adults begin to sound adult-like later than others and it’s sometimes hard to know when what may be a permanent shift may have taken place from post-grad freedom and playfulness and serious, forward-looking maturity.  Once we see flashes of it we swell with hope, but often we don’t trust it will continue or remain consistent. We do this mostly to protect ourselves, since parenting is mostly a study of just how much of that heart we wear on our sleeve.

I tried hard to find sources online talking about this, but all my search results seem to produce are articles on appropriately praising younger children or what not to say to your adult child. So I have no expert feedback to include in this post, which saddens me a bit.

My reasons for bringing up what is apparently an obscure topic is how things have changed for me with my own grown daughter, now in her mid-30s. Even though we both have always thought of our relationship as a close one, it was only few years ago that I braced myself for the verbal boxing and challenging boundaries I had come to adopt with her (mostly out of mental health self-preservation). Now?  I am now seeing a happy softening take place between us. I seem to be sounding less like a mom giving an opinion and (ONLY upon being asked for my take on something) more like a friend playing a well-received devil’s advocate to her, and I can’t adequately express the surprise I feel.

I can tell you that this is a delightful evolution. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t trust it at first. Whether by text or by phone, I isolated each new pleasant, meaningful conversation as an exception to the rule and reveled in its glory for several days, not expecting a repeat performance. Then I realized it was becoming a pattern of good exchanges and my jaw began to drop. I also began to feel like less of a failure as a mother—something many of us beat ourselves up over on a regular basis even if we hesitate to recognize our self-flagellation.

When I got around to mentioning my newly-found joy to her, her reaction was heartening. I spoke of my pride in her ability to refocus the purpose of her calls and become less judgmental about every utterance that came out of my mouth. I told her it was the tropical breeze I had been waiting for for years, hoping upon hope that I wasn’t “jinxing” what was happening by mentioning it to her. Her words are now more measured. Her reactions are less dramatic and opinionated. And her tone is more loving, even though I’ve known all along I was a lifeline to her.

So how does anyone know how much you appreciate a change like this unless you tell them, including your own kids? I know I hadn’t basically changed, but I also knew that her new demeanor toward me enabled me to open up more, offering my life wisdom in snippets left unappreciated by her at an earlier time.

Our children are adults much longer than they were little ones, and the approach we take with them in adult life may well help shape not only the way they see the parent-child relationship between us, but also prepare them for parenting their own grown children as well. I do think it’s important to talk about this, even if we are not relationship experts or psychologists. And I welcome your thoughts.