In this article, you’ll more about:
- Why you should shift from correcting to advising your adult children
- How to give advice so they listen
- Ways to be a source of support in your child’s life
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This article was written by Issra Killawi, BA and Tariq Elsaid, MSW candidate. It was reviewed by Dr. Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D. and Dr. Kristine Ajrouch, Ph.D. Dr. Ajrouch’s research focuses on the experience of aging from the perspective of older adults.
From birth to childhood to adolescence, you’ve parented your child through the different seasons of life. As an adult, your child has taken on more responsibilities, made their own decisions, and perhaps built a life and family of their own. Even so, as a parent, you will always be concerned for their wellbeing. At this point in your parenting journey, how do you nurture a healthy relationship with your son or daughter?
Consider this inherited wisdom from our Islamic tradition about raising children: “Play with them for the first 7 years; teach them for the next 7 years; advise them for the next 7 years (1).” The final seven years are a transition from adolescence into adulthood, when your child begins to apply all that you have taught them in an independent manner.
According to this advice, our role as parents in this phase of the parenting journey (and onward) should shift from teaching and correcting – to advising. Here are 3 ways to shift in your parenting:
1. Accept your son/daughter as an individual.
If you were talking to another adult, would you expect him/her to agree with everything you say, to have the same ideas as you, or to make the same decisions as you would? Of course not! The same is true for your adult child. In addition to being your son/daughter, they have developed into an individual who may be similar to you in some ways, but different in others.
As parents, we often expect our children to think and behave the same way that we do. But the world your children grew up in is different from the one you’ve experienced. Think about this statement that is often echoed throughout the centuries of Islamic scholarship: “Do not raise your children the way your parents raised you [according to the customs of your time], for they are from a time and you are from a time. (2)”
Consider the differences in culture, political climate, values, technology, and more that have shaped your child’s identity. In addition to this, Allah SWT has created each of us uniquely, and He has given your child their own personality, life experiences, and rizq (divine blessings). All of this has shaped them into who they are. When you think about your relationship with him/her in this way, it will make it easier for you to accept the differences between you, and to see the world through their eyes.
- Know that disagreeing is not the same as disrespect. The scholars of the Islamic tradition often say that differences of opinion are a source of mercy from Allah SWT. The fact that your child may make different decisions or have different opinions from you in adulthood is not necessarily because they do not respect you. They may just see the world differently and have had experiences that are different from yours.
- When you disagree with an action or decision that your child has chosen, practice curiosity. Pause and wonder what they are thinking before reacting. Reflect on what might have influenced his/her decision. Before sharing a different perspective, ask them about what shaped their own perspective. If they feel heard, they will be more likely to also then listen to you.
2. Be wise in how you share advice.
Each parent has something valuable to offer from their own life experience. Share what you’ve learned over time with your children, but do so with empathy and care instead of a need to correct their opinions or decisions. Give them the space to make their own decisions and learn from them–even if you see it as a mistake. They are adults and need the space to grow from their mistakes. If you do share advice, make sure to do so in private and not in front of their children or other family members. For example, avoid challenging their parenting style in front of your grandchildren.
It’s also important to know when to give advice and when to withhold it. Ask yourself – at this stage of their lives, what is their need from you? Are you quick to offer suggestions when all your child wants is for you to hear him/her out–especially when they are an adult? Perhaps you offer constructive criticism when instead, your son or daughter is in need of a few words of encouragement and some Duaa. Know that the best advice is advice that is given from a place of deep understanding. You cannot give your child good advice if you don’t truly take the time to listen and understand where he/she is coming from.
Practice speaking less and listening and observing your son/daughter more. Compliment them on their character and recognize the effort they make in different areas of their life. Be a source of upliftment, and choose carefully when to offer advice so that they will listen carefully when you do. When your child feels that he/she won’t constantly be corrected or criticized by you, it’s more likely that they will open up to you and share their life with you. And it’s more likely that they will be more receptive and appreciative of the advice that you share.
3. Prioritize connection over correction.
This phase of your parenting journey is celebratory–a time to enjoy the hard work you’ve put into raising your children and seeing them act on the values you instilled in them! While they will alway be your child, this is a time of independence for both you and them. Accept that they are adults who are capable of making their own decisions. Enjoy who they are without worrying about correcting them. In this phase of your parenting journey, spend time with your son/daughter and get to know them as an adult.
- Ask thoughtful questions and listen to the perspective they share with you. Be curious about their opinions and why they have them. Be open to the possibility that you may learn something from your child, and that one way to connect with him/her is to learn from their unique perspective or experiences they have had.
- Be involved in their lives in ways that are welcome and helpful to them, like offering childcare, preparing meals together, or tackling a maintenance project together. Be of service to them and allow them to be of service to you when they offer.
- Spend time doing things that you both enjoy. Engage them in their hobbies and interests and share some of your own.
- Plan activities that bring the family together and spend time with the people in your children’s lives – their spouses, children, and friends.
As your adult child builds a life of their own, your role as a parent will change too. But change isn’t always a bad thing. By respecting their individuality, being mindful of how and when you share advice, and finding opportunities to be a source of support in their life, you can nurture a healthy connection with your child.
- Al-Isfahani, A-R. (1900). Muhadarat al-adba’i wa Muhawarat el-Shu’ara’i wa al-Bulagha’i [Lectures on Writers and Dialogues on Poets and Rhetoricians (untranslated)]. Egypt: Maktabatul-Ahlal.
- Ibn Al-Qayyim, A-J. (2016) Ighathatul-Lahfan min Masaayyid al-Shaytan [Relief from the Traps of Satan (untranslated)]. Beirut: Dar Al-Ma’rifah.
- In classical literature, this is widely understood to be a Hikma (Aphorism) often attributed to Imam Ali and transmitted widely amongst the Salaf (Predecessors) with similar recognition. Hence its transmission is mostly aural and oral with few mentions of textual traces. Besides widely published Fatawa (Non-binding religious edicts) where the Hikma is mentioned, of the few texts through which transmission is documented, can be found in the source above.
- Ibn Al-Qayyim and other scholars (Al-Shahrastani) point to a Socratic origin for this motif, transcribed by Plato. It is adopted into the Islamic intellectual heritage and echoed throughout generations of scholarship due to its soundness in meaning and coherence with Islamic teachings despite originating from a supposedly non-Muslim source.