University of Illinois Extension

Dealing with Your Adult Child

Amy Griswold, Family Life Educator

One of the biggest challenges you may face is dealing with your adult children - the parents of the children you care for.

Sometimes, adult children are manipulative. They may use their children to get you to give them money, shelter or other support. Some adult children steal from their parents. Others may plan visits and not show up, or say things that hurt you or the children.

Although you can't stop your adult child from trying to manipulate you, you can choose how you will respond. When your child tries to manipulate, his goal is to avoid responsibility or blame. When you are aware of this manipulation, you can respond by setting some rules.

Here are some tips for dealing with a manipulative adult child:

  • Set limits you can live with and enforce them. The parents may appear to be adults, but sometimes you have to treat them like children. Inform the adult child of these limits and follow through with your rules.
  • Say NO when needed. You do not have to explain why. Sometimes it is necessary to say no for the safety and well-being of your grandchildren.
  • Learn to let go. Realize that the adult child is just that - an adult. The choices he has made are his own.
  • Have written guidelines or a contract. Verbal communication can be forgotten, misunderstood, or distorted. By writing out the rules, everyone knows where they stand and what they agreed to.

When dealing with your adult child, you need to be assertive and firm without appearing to be bossy. Set limits and be clear in your expectations, using a written agreement of rules or goals.

For the children's sake, try and work with the parent. If the parents are totally absent from the family, or always portrayed negatively, it is hard on the children. A calmer relationship, even on a limited basis, can help your grandkids feel better about themselves.