When kids leave home and start off on their own journeys, something remains behind. Along with the empty bedrooms and boxes full of mementos are the parents. Mothers and fathers who stand in the quiet and wonder what their new role is now. Because those are still your children. But the relationships will forever be redefined.
It will likely be harder for you than them. They’re already looking forward, ready to take on the world and maybe become parents themselves. But many of us will be caught gazing backward. Wondering where the time went.
Remember when they were born and we realized how little we knew about being a parent? We learned as we went along. Making mistakes and sometimes feeling so ill-prepared. Well, here we are again. Except that there are no “what to expect” books to consult.
I’m no expert but I do have grown children now. I can tell you there’s a steep learning curve and it goes against almost every instinct a mother has but I’m willing to share with you what I’ve picked up. There is no off switch that you can flip that will stop you from worrying where they are and if they’re OK. But as complicated as this may seem, it comes down to one single task. You have to let them go.
You’ll always be their parent and they’ll always be your children, but you are standing on the thinnest of ice. Here are the lessons I learned that may help keep your footing.
5 suggestions for parenting an adult child and saving the relationship:
This is the hardest transition for most parents. Watching someone you love make a mistake and not saying anything requires tremendous strength. Remind yourself that you had the opportunity to make your own missteps and this is a rite of passage.
Try not to voice your opinion or comment on everything they’re doing. Remember, things have changed. The average age of marriage in 1970 was 20.8. Today it’s 28.2. Don’t ask why they’re taking so long to tie the knot. The same goes for asking your married kids when they’re going to make you a grandparent. Offer solicited advice only and even then, be careful.
It depends on the child and the parent. Some studies find that helping out your child for the right reason can make a real difference in their ability to be successful. If it’s to pursue a long-held dream, start a business or put a down payment on a first home, and it won’t damage your retirement, it can be fun to share if you have it.
But if your child is constantly looking for another hand-out or they’re still trying to live the life they’ve become accustomed to without the means to support it, consider saying no. Or at the very least, outline some well- defined parameters and conditions. A kid that knows there’s always someone to pay his way may find it harder to stand on his own.
It’s hard to watch your children struggle especially if they’re about to make the same mistakes you did. But that’s part of growing up and how we really learn. Unless they’re asking for your help, let them figure this out. Lessons learned from the school of hard knocks may be painful but are rarely wasted.
It’s a difficult habit to break since we’ve been trying to fix everything from a forgotten lunch to salvaging a science project. But don’t unintentionally treat your kids as if you don’t think they’re capable of taking care of things. Let them know that no matter what, you’ll always be there. But from the sidelines, unless they really need your help.
It’s not important if you like their pick of a spouse or believe they bought more house than they can really afford. It’s what they think that matters. If you make them defend their choices at every get-together, don’t be surprised when they start coming up with excuses to pass on the chance to see you.
When I look back at my own parents, what I’ve missed the most is knowing there was someone always in my corner, no matter what the world threw at me. There are plenty of people who will make your kids lose their confidence or doubt their abilities. You should never be one of them.
Don’t assume you know what they like or dislike or what they believe in. They’re grown up now and have their own personal philosophies that might surprise you. It’s OK to ask how they came upon their beliefs but respect their viewpoints and treat them as you would any other adult. Even one who disagrees with you.
This is their chance to live their best life, whether you approve or not. It doesn’t matter if you thought your son would have been a great lawyer or your daughter a brilliant doctor. It’s their choice. No one was ever successful living someone else’s life. Don’t make your kids live yours. Get to know the children you have, not the ones you thought they were going to be.
Some say the job of being a parent is to put yourself out of work when the kids grow up. But I think they still need us, it’s just that we’re playing a different role now.
When my kids were little, I read a quote about parenting from Hodding Carter that seemed to sum up what it’s all about. “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots; the other, wings.”
Most of us are pretty good at providing them with a solid foundation, especially when they’re young. The hardest part is letting go when they’re all grown up. We’re not ready. But loosening our grip is a good place to start.
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