Experts Agree These Are The 6 Phrases Adult Children Still Want To Hear From Their Parents

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As we mature, the relationship we have with our parents is bound to change — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Fostering a healthy dynamic in this new phase of life does take some work. Clear communication, respect and empathy from all parties is essential.

Therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab, author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace,” shared a post titled “Things Adult Children Want To Hear” on her Instagram earlier this year that listed a number of simple but powerful phrases parents could say to their grown kids.

We asked Glover Tawwab and other therapists to talk about the statements they believe adult children would most like to hear from their parents and explain why these words can mean so much.

“Adult children often yearn for validating phrases from their parents, such as acknowledging past pain or expressing understanding,” Lara Morales Daitter, an associate marriage and family therapist at The Connective in Northern California, told HuffPost. “These affirmations can hold significant healing power, especially when parents may have been preoccupied with their own challenges, leading to unmet emotional needs in childhood.”

Below are six powerful things parents can say to their adult children that would improve their relationship.

1. ‘I’m sorry.’ 

These two words are what many adult children want to hear more than anything else, therapist and author Jor-El Caraballo told HuffPost.

“As Gen Xers and millennials and some Gen Z as well start to reflect more on their upbringings, they’ve started to fully recognize how their parents’ choices impacted them,” said Caraballo, co-founder of the mental health and wellness practice Viva.

“In some cases, those choices posed some challenges to their mental health. Being able to be validated, and apologized to, by their parents would be a huge win for adult children who are seeking to break some negative family cycles and move forward in their lives with better mental health.”

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Arielle Dualan, another associate marriage and family therapist at The Connective, underscored the importance of parents apologizing to their adult children for pain they may have caused, even if it was unintended.  

“Most adult children understand their parents aren’t perfect and have the best intentions when it comes to parenting,” she said. “Some parents struggle with acknowledging unintentional or intentional hurt they may have inflicted on their adult children at any stage of their life.”

Adding a “How can we work through this?” to the apology can make it even more impactful.

“Taking ownership not only creates space for emotional repair and connection, it also models humility and relational healing for the adult child, which can transcend into other relationships in their life,” Dualan said.

Caraballo pointed out that parents from certain cultures may have a harder time apologizing to their kids — communities of color, in particular, he noted.

“As a therapist, I work with a lot of Black clients specifically, and oftentimes when they express a concern about how they were raised, parents can become defensive or obstinate,” he said. “This can be for a lot of reasons, of course, some of them personal and others cultural. There can be a lot of pressure to ‘save face.’ I think it’s incredibly healing for Black families to try and normalize parents apologizing to their children when appropriate. It’s certainly not the norm, but hopefully it becomes more common in time.”

Dualan, who specializes in working with the adult children of immigrant parents, said she’s noticed her clients’ families struggle in this area. The parents may have been raised in an environment where they needed to focus on fundamental needs, like safety, while their kids may have grown up with those needs met, allowing them to focus on prioritizing things like emotional connection, she explained.

“For my clients and myself, it might mean having to shift our expectations that our parents may not be the ones to initiate emotional connection,” Dualan said. “And there is grief in never knowing that type of relationship with their parents.  But we as adult children can certainly try our best on our end to create the relationship we’ve always wanted with our parents as well.” 

2. ‘I was in survival mode.’

While this statement is not an excuse for poor parenting or bad behavior, it does recognize that while the parent was trying to manage everything, they did, in fact, drop the ball, Glover Tawwab said.

“As a young adult, especially one without children, it can be very hard to think of your reality of childhood outside of you being the child,” she said, “versus as this adult who had a job, who had to come home and cook, who still had to have friendships, who had to do all of these things while parenting you.”

Talking about everything they had going on at that time can provide some useful context and understanding.

“If I had more support, if I had more resources, if I had more finances, if I wasn’t going through a divorce, if I wasn’t struggling with X, Y and Z — like really recognizing those things and being able to speak to them can be very healing for the adult child relationship,” Glover Tawwab said.

Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Gayane Aramyan echoed a similar point: Our parents were likely doing the best they could with the tools they had available at that time. They may not have had the keen awareness of their emotions or the communication skills we expect of parents today.

“Having tough conversations with your parents and having them acknowledge your experience as a child can be healing in repairing the relationship between adult child and parent,” Aramyan said.

3. ‘I’m really proud of you.’ 

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No matter their age, kids want to know their parents are proud of the person they’ve become and what they’ve accomplished.

“A lot of aging parents brought up their children to ‘be better’ and strive for more than [the parent] had available to them,” Caraballo said.

“This has propelled many of us with some confidence and anxiety about how well we’re doing. Hearing ‘I’m proud of what you’ve done and who you are’ can be a beacon of light for aging millennials who doubt their achievements and position in life.”

4. ‘Your life path is different than mine, but I support you.’

Some parents may push their grown kids to follow a similar trajectory because they believe it to be the “right” way. Perhaps it feels more familiar, conventional or stable to them. However, there are many paths that can be gratifying, even if they’re quite different than the one your parents chose. Hearing them say they respect and support your decision to live life on your own terms is powerful.

“This affirming statement recognizes the individuality of the adult child’s journey and affirms their autonomy in making life choices,“ said Morales Daitter. “It conveys parental acceptance and validation, fostering a sense of empowerment and emotional well-being.”

5. ‘Do you want advice, or would you prefer for me to listen?’  

When a grown child is facing a challenge, sometimes they need to find their own way through it without being rescued by a parent.

“Adult parents have to remember that I, too, have bumped my head. I, too, have made bad decisions,” Glover Tawwab said. “And I am only speaking from a place of wisdom and knowledge after trying some of these things that my kids are talking about.”

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Asking directly whether you’re looking for guidance or just a listening ear removes any guesswork from the equation and shows they believe you’re capable of handling it.

When parenting an adult, “the job is not always to protect, as it might have been when you were younger,” Glover Tawwab added. “It is now to listen and observe and ask you if you want some feedback. But hopping in and saying, ‘Oh, I have the perfect answer for you, and you need to do this’ sometimes is not welcome.”

Though it’s natural for parents to want to shield their kids from making the same mistakes, it “doesn’t give space for the adult child to assert themselves as their own person,” Dualan said, “nor does it allow the parent to learn who their adult child has become.”

6. ‘I’m still here for you.’

There’s something beautiful and comforting knowing that, even in adulthood, your parent can be a soft place for you to land.

“The job of parenting isn’t over when children reach adulthood. The relationship just changes,” Caraballo said.

“While aging parents should adjust their focus from spending the bulk of their time tending to their children to other personal pursuits, it doesn’t mean they can’t still be involved and respectful allies in their children’s lives. Figuring out the right boundaries while still maintaining an active presence and care is a delicate but important dance,” he added. This article originally appeared on HuffPost.