7 Tips for Young Adults to Improve Their Relationships with Their Parents

This article is part of the 7 Tips series.

Estranged Children

Family sociologist and researcher Karl Pillemer1 believes that one in four American adults have become estranged from their families. If one were to include the number of adult children who have stopped short of completely cutting off their folks yet have effectively ended nearly all contact, the stats climb even higher. With the emphasis on self-care and determining another’s “toxicity,” many adults now see estrangement as the go-to option to manage their unpleasant relationships.

When an adult child cuts his family off, it can cause a parent indescribable pain. What is less known? Most young adults who opt to estrange themselves from their parents do so as a last resort and with a heavy heart. They really do want a better relationship with their parents; however, adult children sometimes don’t see any other option than to sever ties.

Loving Your Adult Children

Gaye B. Clark

Loving Your Adult Children offers gospel hope to parents who struggle with pain in their relationships with their adult children. It reorients their focus—pointing to Christ as the only source of lasting peace and to his gospel as the only hope for lasting relationships.  

If you are an adult child thinking of cutting off all communication to your parents, consider praying for at least three months that God would make your decision abundantly clear. Ask the Lord to provide clarity on the question, Are my parents abusive, in the clinical sense of that word, or are they incredibly annoying? If they are truly abusive, meaning they are a danger to you and your family, then estrangement may be warranted. It would be helpful to seek a professional counselor in this case for guidance.

If your folks, instead, are incredibly annoying, your exasperation is not a reason to end the relationship. But you can mitigate your frustrations. Here are seven tips that may help you have a better relationship with your folks.

1. Pray for your parents regularly.

God is a father and understands your relationship with your parents better than anyone, including your sympathetic friends. We can forget that God alone has the power to change a parent’s heart. He also has the power to change us. Prayer acknowledges your need of God and is an invitation for him to work in both you and your parents. It helps you to stay focused on him, not your circumstances. Give up your chronic angst about your parents. Instead, thank God for the great privilege of bringing your concerns to him. (Phil. 4:4) Each time you are tempted to be anxious or frustrated, cast those concerns on your heavenly Father who cares for you (1 Pet. 5:8).

2. Cultivate humility.

The simplest way to cultivate humility toward your parents is to ask their advice. It does not make you obligated to follow their wisdom.

Adult children often see their parents’ counsel as unwanted or outdated. Although your folks may not know the latest child-rearing practices, it is good to remember they have faced many challenges for years and possess the benefit of learning from those experiences.

If you aren’t open to their advice, ask them about a difficult trial in their past and how they walked through it. Don’t assume you know your parents any more than you might feel they know you. Ask questions. Be curious. It may help you see your folks in a new light.

3. Cultivate empathy.

It’s quite natural to be preoccupied with how we were misunderstood. It is supernatural to consider the other person in a misunderstanding. What might be going on with your folks? A parent might be facing a looming medical diagnosis, a large financial concern, or other crisis that he has not shared with his children. Leave room for alternative explanations for your parents’ behavior other than the one that has you looking toward the exit. While no circumstance is an excuse for sin, considering other possibilities for their behavior may help you look on your parents with greater patience and kindness and is an excellent way to practice empathy.

Empathy is not only seeing things from your parent’s point of view but also having an appropriate response. Paul exhorts us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). To weep with those who weep does not require we agree with every aspect of their perspective. For example, a daughter may listen to her aging mother who is in a Memory Care unit tell her how much she hates being there, listen to her as she lists all the reasons why, and weep with her in her distress. It does not mean she will pull her mom out of a facility that offers the skilled care her mom requires.

4. Call and visit often.

Determine what “often” means in measurable terms. That may be a weekly call and/or a monthly visit. If a parent knows they can count on a weekly call from their adult child, it might soften their angst, and as a result, they nag you less often. Depending on your circumstances, it may need to be a longer time between visits. Find additional ways to be connected—cards, letters, and emails are all ways to include parents in your life.

Perhaps your parents want more time and attention than you can give. Making a clear decision on what you can give and communicating that to them might help them reset their expectations.

God is a father and understands your relationship with your parents better than anyone, including your sympathetic friends.

5. Extend a charitable interpretation of a parent’s motives.

A twenty-one-year-old once complained, “My mom just wants to control me!” Obviously, if true, that’s a horrible indictment. But could there be better motives operating in Mom?

What made this daughter so angry? Mom had bought her grandson some clothes, but they were quite different from the style her daughter would have chosen. What this daughter called control was a mom who might have simply wanted to be kind to her daughter and help with her expenses.

The daughter could have told her mom, “It’s kind of you to purchase clothing for my son; however, I would prefer to pick out his clothes.” Better yet, she could ask to go shopping with her mom next time.

While we can’t truly know a person’s heart, (Jer. 17:9) assuming a kind intent helps us think a little longer and harder about what truly motivates our parents.

Sometimes we believe a parent has selfish intentions because, well, they can be selfish. Other times we put our parents on trial and find them guilty to justify our own sin. This mom might have been controlling and trying to buy her daughter’s love. It is also possible this daughter harbored resentment and didn’t wish to acknowledge her mother’s kindness.

6. Love your parents even if they don’t change.

Never underestimate your capacity for aggravation and indignation. We all possess superhuman strength when it comes to being able to carry that chip on our shoulders. As you pray for change in your folks, keep in mind the Lord calls you to love them for who they are now, not who you want them to become. Perhaps your dad tells the same worn-out stories when you visit. It gets so old. Can you love him even if he never kicks this habit? Your exasperation with your folks is a kind reminder that you still need a savior.

You may crave this same kind of unconditional love from your parents. Can you model for them what that looks like? Of course not. Only through Christ can you demonstrate the kind of love you hope to receive from them. Look to Christ alone for your ultimate source of consolation and love.

7. Remember the vertical informs the horizontal.

When we have friction in a relationship, an all-or-nothing response is tempting: If Dad doesn’t shape up, then I don’t know if I can keep him in my life. It’s easy to rationalize an ultimatum as the only alternative, and again, in abusive relationships that may truly be the case. When our relationships sour, it’s often an indication that our own spiritual health is wanting. Consider first the health of your relationship with God before divorcing a parent. Often, the trouble in our relationships isn’t the other person, but us. Ask God to show you the true state of your heart before condemning your parents.

The apostle Paul exhorts us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil.4:4–5). Our happiness is not based on our relationship with our parents but upon God who made us. Knowing this will enable us to seek his face for strength and wisdom and to consider what is best for our folks, not just what pleases us (Rom. 15:1).


  1. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/12/24/family-estrangement-holidays.

Gaye B. Clark is the author of Loving Your Adult Children: The Heartache of Parenting and the Hope of the Gospel.

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