How to Handle Your Adult Child’s Depression

Many parents struggle with how to handle an adult child’s depression. When moms move out of fixer mode and embrace their hurting child with compassion and tenderness, they can support their adult child well.

Jenni popped home for the weekend and her mom Marie was thrilled. Tucked in her familiar childhood bed, Jenni rolled over, willing her body to get up, but she couldn’t do it. With her energy reserves depleted, the familiar heaviness enveloped her. Tears flowed and stained her pillow, as sadness surrounded her. Hopelessness, fatigue, and darkness were her constant companions.

Her mom, Marie, gingerly poked her head through her bedroom doorway. Jenni didn’t move. Marie quietly sat down on the bed beside her, lifting a strand of tear soaked hair off of Jenni’s face. Filled with compassion, she was going to handle things differently this time. Marie laid down her expectations and her need to “fix” her daughter and simply said, “I’m here for you. I’m ready to listen.” 

It’s a natural tendency for moms to want to make things better. That’s what we always did. When our adult child is depressed, it weighs heavily on us. We want them to snap out of it. We want them to see the light, but we often cause more harm with our expectations and minimize their feelings.

If we want to fix less and be filled with compassion we take our cues from God’s example:

“But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15 NLT

We let love and mercy guide our interactions with our depressed child. We’re tender, kind, and gentle.

How could our relationship with our adult child look differently if we approached them with compassion instead of judgment for the way they feel? When we don’t recognize the trauma our grown kids face, we can harm them.

Depression can be caused by brain chemistry or trauma. A doctor or counselor can help identify which kind of depression it is. Nevertheless, our approach to our child remains the same.

Certified Trauma Specialist, Michelle Stiffler said, “Trauma is any event or experience that impacts a person’s body, mind, and spirit. There are big ‘T’ traumas, the upending events that are obvious, and perhaps, easier to accept as trauma. But there are also small ‘t’ traumas that can have lasting effects on a person’s understanding, interactions, and perceptions.” She offers these tips:


Tips for Handling Your Adult Child’s Depression

1. Release your expectations when it comes to your adult child’s depression.

When a relationship with an adult child is difficult, I return to this practice of desiring my child more than expecting from them. I focus on desiring their relationship, presence, unique being, and all the qualities I love about them. My gaze softens – the lens of compassion.


2. Recognize the common ground of the human condition.

You may not understand your adult child’s inability to cope with a certain situation – past or present. If you’re honest, comparing their trauma to yours, you see a fraction of what you’ve overcome! (Don’t point it out, mama.) But here’s what you and your child have in common: You’ve been through stuff, and they’ve been through stuff. It looks different for each of you, but suffering is still suffering. Wounds of all sizes need healing, and the journey to healing is usually longer than we’d like. A simple, “That’s really hard. What can I do for you?” is a step toward accepting your child’s humanity. It’s a step toward understanding.


3. Receive them as they are, where they are.

Learning is a journey. You have more years invested in the process of personal growth than your child has, so be patient. I often think about the prodigal son’s return to his father. The son was messy on that return, wrung out by the world’s completely underwhelming pursuits. And the father was waiting. Before the repentance or the change, the father was waiting to receive his son just as he was. Open your heart to your child. Invite them close, as they are right now.


4. Respond with less words and more listening.

Viewing your child differently means listening differently. Listen with peace, steady in the God of peace. Listen with respect, steady in the God who created free will. Listen with humility, steady in the God who is truth, the God who is perfectly capable of upholding His truth without you. When we listen with humility, we’re more likely to respond with simplicity. And maybe, simplicity is the love language we all understand.

Want more articles by Pamela Henkelman and parenting adult children? Read When Your Adult Child Rejects Their Faith or 3 Keys to a Healthy Communication with Your Adult Child. 

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