Letting Go of Little Ones… When They’re All Grown-Up!

 Reader’s Question: I have always had a close relationship with my son. My son is older and married now and I love his wife. But I have trouble letting my son go. I feel my motherly instincts always cropping up anytime we talk on the phone or email or see each other in person. My daughter-in-law is becoming annoyed with my “meddling” she calls it. How can I respect my son and daughter-in-law’s marriage and still be a good mom?

Editor’s Note: Today’s response is a guest post from the lovely Pearl from Pearl’s OysterBed. Be sure to check out her awesome blog and her bio at the bottom of the page, but first, the answer to this reader’s question.

mother of a little boy

It’s inevitable.  Parents of toddlers will one day be the parents of adults.  And before we have even come to terms with our new role as parent of an adult child, said child will go and get married.  Then, we have to grapple with our role as in-laws, as well.

But, truly, it’s not that daunting.  Isn’t our parenting goal to rear successful, independent, emotionally healthy adults?  (Or at least with as few emotional scars as possible, because we are all flawed humans.)  So, you’d think that once we’ve reached our goal shouldn’t it be easy to transition into parenting an adult child.  You’d think…..

groom and bride running barefoot on beach.

 When a man leaves his father and mother to unite with his wife, there is a new family created.  This new family takes priority over the family of origin.  This doesn’t mean that the four parents in the background are not an important aspect.  But the first priority for the married couple is the marriage relationship.  Plus, look farther down the road.  We should desire a peaceful relationship with our children so that the grandchildren will have stability of calm within the family.

As with parenting, what we know of being a mother-in-law (or father-in-law), mainly comes from interactions with our own in-laws.    Being a good in-law boils down to understanding the relationship with your adult child, and again, our experience with our own parents as we became independent adults is what we have to look back on.

So, what if the experiences you had weren’t good?  That’s when intentional methods of interacting have to come into play.

Reciprocal Respect

Your adult children are going to make decisions that you do not agree with.  Maybe it’ll be a financial decision, a spiritual decision, an employment or education decision.  You have to accept these decisions as theirs.  It’s no reflection of you.  They have their own path to walk, just as you had your own young path to walk.  IF these decisions end in failure, you support and encourage.  But no, “I told you so’s.”  And, I would venture to say, no bailing them out.

If the decisions end in a mess allow them to clean it up themselves.  Don’t sweep in like the superhero and fix it.  Fixing it is not what allows them to grow.  Support through prayer, hope-filled words and pointing them toward resources.

On the flip side of this, sometimes adult children don’t agree with their parents’ decisions.    Adult children might not agree with parents’ health decisions or activities.  Just as you have to respect their decisions, they must respect yours.  If you model respect in their decisions, they will probably be healthy in respecting yours.

Abstain from Advice

Squash your intense need to give advice or offer direction, unless it is requested.  I’ll never forget my mother tsk tsking at my ability to sort laundry…really?  Just because they do it different doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad.  This goes along with reciprocal respect above, but it’s more for the little things in life.  Critical words about the way they conduct life will only estrange you.  So what if the house is cluttered or if they sort laundry different than you?


In abstaining from advice, we have to let go whatever little thing we don’t agree with.  We usually don’t feel we can tell our friends that the shade of green they painted their front door isn’t very attractive.  Why should we feel we have the right to say this kind of thing to our adult child?  They aren’t you when it comes to taste and priorities of how they spend their time.  You may feel it absolutely necessary to obliterate every speck of dust, they may not.  Let it go.


Carl Pickhardt, PhD, of Psychology Today says, “Parental attention, interest and approval are all needs we never outgrow.”  Your child’s adult life is not an essay for you to critique.  It’s an essay for you to enjoy.  THIS is the fruit of your 18-20 years of labor.  Enjoy the person you helped to mold.  Enjoy that they aren’t you.  Praise their hard work, unique gifts, and their service.  Give attention to what is good to give attention to, their promotion at work or the new song they composed.

Invest in building a relationship with your child’s spouse.

It is on this point, I have personal experience.  My mother-in-law forged a positive relationship with me from the very beginning.  She did it well.  She showed interest in me.  She did not critique.  She was at ease and tolerated my immature views.  She knew that I would evolve.  She also respected boundaries with our marriage.  She became my mentor and eventually one of my dearest friends.  She supported her son by loving, unconditionally, his wife.

I think that it is most important for mother-in-laws to develop relationships with their son’s wives.  Daughters and mothers have a different adult child relationship.  But, mothers of sons have to let their sons become men.  Men need respect from their mothers.  Respect means taking a very big interest in the woman he chose as his wife.  Be proud of his wife as he is proud of his wife.

Last Thoughts

What if you see a huge ugly problem that you feel needs addressed?  If you’ve done the above and have built a relationship of respect, love and acceptance with your adult child then, I would think that they would allow you to carefully and prayerfully proceed with gentle mentoring without doing any harm to the overall relationship.  But, these cases should be the exception not the norm.

Phrases to avoid: 

I would never do it that way.

I told you so.

What are you thinking? 

Are you stupid?

You may see these phrases and say, “I would never…”  But, in the heat of the moment, if we haven’t committed to NOT saying these statements or statements like them, sometimes the words slip out of our mouths.  That little slip can do a world of damage.

Prayers upon you, dear readers, as you embrace the ever-evolving role of parenthood.


The grittiness of life has helped shape Pearl. Her luster comes from layers of experience and HOPE from the beloved Word of God. Pearl has parented children with learning issues, has navigated the genepool of mental illness, and has dealt with marital conflict and sexual fulfillment issues. Pearl focuses on sexual intimacy and restoring waning female libido. She wishes to share HOPE with her beautiful readers to help them understand their men, marriage and sex. Swim on over to the oysterbed (www.oysterbed7.com) where the water is fine!

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Whenever I have a post, I add it here. Check out my entries under Spiritual, Meditation, and Religion, and Family, Parenting, and Marriage.

Whenever I have a post, I add it here. Check out my entries under Spiritual, Meditation, and Religion, and Family, Parenting, and Marriage.



  1. Great advice, Pearl! Our oldest daughter has been married 2 1/2 years, and our role is to love, support and encourage both she and her husband. Once in a while I am a soundboard for her. I will ask if she is looking for advice, or would just like to me to listen. Asking lets her know I respect what she wants from me.

    • What a great idea Kim! Thanks for sharing. I’m sure many more mothers out there would benefit from asking their daughters (or sons) what they are wanting from you, and what they believe your role should be.

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