Much of my day is spent helping parents and adult children navigate the sometimes dicey waters of adult child/parent relationships. While there are many interventions I do with the families that I work with, this one is one of my favorites.
The Relationship Audit
This may sound obvious, so bear with me: If you are a parent whose relationship with an adult child is suffering, do a relationship audit. Basically, have an honest conversation about how the relationship feels to each of you. It can include questions like:
- How does our relationship feel to you?
- What do you most enjoy doing together?
- What are your least favorite parts of our relationship?
- How do you best like to chat and catch up?
- How do our conversations feel?
- Do you feel supported?
- Is there anything you wish I knew?
A check-in welcomes your adult child to offer feedback about what parts of the relationship feel great and what parts feel lacking. Approach it openly and with sincere curiosity. If you cannot handle direct feedback or know that you will get defensive, you may not be ready for it. Improving any relationship means taking ownership for the issues you contribute to. And if the relationship has felt distant or acrimonious, there may be areas where you’re called on to shift your behavior or communication style.
This kind of audit also signals that you want a relationship that works for both of you. In some families, parents dictate how their relationship with their adult children should look and enforce it through a sense of obligation. They explain expectations to their child without ever asking the child what they want from the relationship. An audit like this one instead signals a desire to get to know your adult child’s needs within the relationship and to commit to a bond that works for both of you.
A relationship audit can bring to light important insights. Parents may feel gratified to learn that their child loves spending time with them. Parents and children may discover that they both prefer to spend time together in the same settings (like a baseball game or out for dinner) leaving the pair to find more opportunities to make it happen. The audit may also uncover pain points. The child may at times feel that they are being judged, unheard, or unsupported. This feedback offers an opportunity to shift and find new ways to interact. For best results, ask for more clarity. What would feel supportive? What would closeness look like?
The hidden benefit
The audit itself also creates greater relationship security because this check-in signals a willingness to engage in potentially difficult relationships. It says to your child, “I want to know how you feel, I’m ready to take ownership for my part in things, and I have faith that we can work through things.” In this way, doing a relationship audit becomes the first of many steps to strengthening this important relationship and more smoothly navigating its inevitable ups and downs.