Whether it’s money or relationships, it’s always hard to watch an adult child struggle. What do you do when an adult child is going through rough times? How do you nurture without rescuing? Encourage without diminishing their problem-solving skills? Help without hindering growth?


Sometimes your adult child, more than anything, needs to vent. As you listen to this venting, you may hear clues to your child’s own problem-solving ideas or desires and will be able to make appropriate suggestions. And as he or she vents, your son or daughter may find the beginnings of his or her own solutions.

Encourage a young adult to fight his or her own battles with your support. 

By stepping in and taking over, you are taking away a valuable chance for your child to grow in competence. It is much more useful to listen and discuss your child’s difficulties — whether with a college class, a boss or co-worker or a troubled relationship — and to share some ideas or strategies for dealing with these difficulties. Then step back and let your adult child handle the situation. Learning to face challenges and conflict, do the hard things in life (from asking for help to apologizing) and work through worries and anxieties are all important steps toward full, functional adulthood.

Give loving support but stay out of marital troubles. 

It may be more helpful to say something like “I’m so concerned for you and hope however you work this out, it will be for the best.” Taking sides could come back to haunt you when or if the young couple decides to reconcile. Instead, encourage careful thought before acting. Encourage marriage counseling. Encourage communication. Share your thoughts about all marriages having ups and downs, times of closeness and times of distance and caution your child not to panic at the first signs of trouble, but to see difficulties as a sign that some change needs to happen.

If your child is in danger from an abusive spouse or boyfriend, offer love and safety.

If your adult child is being physically or emotionally abused, letting her know that she has your support may be vital to her finding a way to leave.  Do some research into local organizations for victims of spousal abuse and their support services and shelters.  Give her a brochure outlining the signs of abuse so the information isn’t simply coming from you.

If your adult child has a substance abuse problem, offer love and support for sobriety, but stop rescuing him or her.

A drug or drinking problem can, sadly, defy logic and the best of efforts to help. Let your child know that he or she is dearly loved and that you emotionally support his or her sobriety. But bailing him out of trouble again and again may delay recovery. As difficult as “rock bottom” may seem, often it has to happen before the goal of recovery can be realized. It may mean withdrawing all financial support or not allowing your child to move back home (and steal from you to support a habit). It is agonizing to stand back and watch addiction spiral out of control, but especially if rehab has been a revolving door, sobriety lost and found countless times, there may be little you can do except to set firm rules, stop decreasing the uncomfortable consequences of maintaining a habit, and express your unwavering love and your hope that your son or daughter can and will get clean and sober.

If your child has ongoing financial problems, don’t automatically run to the rescue.

Financial discussions, trouble-shooting and help in planning can be better than constantly funneling money in your adult child’s direction.

If your child has problem finding himself career-wise, set rules and talk options.

Finding one’s own path can be a life-long pursuit and we can learn a great deal from work experiences, career detours, mistakes and small victories along the way.

If you are willing and able to offer your young adult child a place to live while he or she is job-hunting after graduation or after a layoff or other unpromising job start, that’s terrific. But it’s important that this safe haven not be without limits. Loving your child can also mean making your expectations clear: he or she must get a job. That first job may not be the job of his dreams but it is a start.

Encouraging your child to get out into the world and start on this winding path to full adulthood can be a great gift.  On the other hand, sheltering him or her as your adult child waits for the perfect job opportunity can be crippling.

If you have an adult child who is struggling to find a career direction, listening and discussing the options can be one of the best things you can do. Community colleges often have career centers offering aptitude testing — and this may be a place to start. If your adult child has completed college, gone in a career direction that once seemed like a good idea but is now an emotional dead-end, career counseling may help. Your encouragement to consider his or her passions and how to turn these into a new career can be helpful as well.

It can be incredibly difficult, as a parent, to watch an adult child go through rough times, but in those challenges, setbacks and disappointments, growth can happen, Think back on your own tough times and what it meant to overcome these. Loving support without rescue, listening without rushing in with a solution, encouraging your adult child to find a workable plan to overcome a difficulty…all of these are ways to nurture your adult child while encouraging him or her to find his own solutions and plans for the future and, eventually, to thrive.

When adult children struggle with divorce, substance abuse, or similar life problems, it can have a major impact on their parents’ mental health and satisfaction.   Parents of adult children may find they need support for themselves.  Support groups, counseling, or self-help books can be useful tools to assist parents of adult children who are struggling.