Whoops I did it again!
Being the parent of an adult child is harder than being a parent of young children! Yes, believe it!
Adult children have the power to hurt you deeply and you have no recourse. You can’t send them to their rooms!
When your kids are little, you have total control. I mean, you obviously can’t control their bowel movements, one of the few things kids have control over. You can’t force them to obey you and corporal punishment is out of date. My generation grew up with the fear principle. My mom would give me a backhand across the face if I challenged her. Not kids these days a) you’d be reported for child abuse b) it doesn’t scare these kids!
When my kids were little I had the authority to say, “NO! You’re not watching that TV show!” And, “Yes, we ARE going to the store!”
If I didn’t like what they were wearing, I could ask them to change. My now-grown daughter remembers me saying, “Change either your shirt or your pants” so that she would match.
I chose the food for dinner. They ate it or they didn’t – but I had a “no complaining about the food to the cook” rule.
Time for vacation? I planned the trip and choose the location, sometimes with input from them.
Now? My kids vaca without me. I mean, seriously? I took you on all my vacations! They have traveled farther and wider than I could have dreamed! And I am happy for them! And sad for me. Sad that I am not the one sharing these experiences with them. Happy that I gave them wings.
This generation, as with each generation, has its own challenges as parents.
But there are also challenges being the parent of adult children. Adult children have the power to stop you from seeing your grandchildren. When a mother- in- law wasn’t treating her daughter –in-law well, she was told, “You have more to lose than I do.” The daughter of one of my friends moved across the country with her only two grandchildren. In her 70’s, if she wants to see them, she needs to travel to Seattle, WA from the east coast.
This is a hands- off generation. That wisdom you thought your kids would benefit from? No thank you. You don’t offer advice; you ask if they would like your opinion.
When my adult girls call me and tell me what’s going on in their life, I want to help. I want to offer my wisdom, my experience. I know what they need to hear! Except I don’t. I need to remember to ask, “Do you want me to just listen or do you want advice?”
This can be a frustrating role! And I’m grateful that they call at all!
My youngest daughter and I spent a long weekend at the beach together recently. I honestly didn’t know what my role was. She asked me to not undermine her. I didn’t think I did that, I tried not to do that. But there it is again. What to say? What not to say? How do I support my daughter in a way that she needs? How do I be a grandparent to her children – do I enforce her rules, correct them or spoil them? My daughter told me I should be the voice of reason when she is upset with them. I failed. I erred on the side of enforcing her rules to not undermine her, when she wanted, needed me to be the calm loving grandparent, not the stern parent.
Where are the books for this experience – being the parent of an adult child?
Where are the books that I read when they were little – the ones that helped me through every stage, from potty training to parenting teenagers? The first year and when you child is two or What to expect when you’re expecting.
Adult children don’t need parenting. If we’ve given them the tools they need, they have a great head start. And I did – my philosophy was that I was raising future adults. They are all financially independent with homes and kids and spouses. They make decisions as a family unit. But how do I BE the parent of an adult child? What is my role?
What a shock to my system when I first heard, “I need to talk this over with my husband/wife.” Wow! It was no longer between me and them. It was between them and their spouses.
This is as it should be. They should be separate individuals if I’ve done my job well as a parent.
But it doesn’t feel very good to me. For 18 years I parented these kids. Loved them, supported them, fed them, clothed them. Gave them my best. And now I’m not sure what my role is. I’m not sure where I belong in the big scheme. In the hierarchy, I am after spouses and kids. Relevant but not a part of their daily lives, their daily decisions.
This may be as it should be. It may be healthy. It may be that I have done my job so well that they are truly independent of me. We raise kids to let them go – that’s our job. But once they have lift-off, what then?
No one tells you how to handle this time in your life. Coordinating visits with them, trying to get on their schedule so you can see your grandchildren.When one child was moving an hour or so away, I said, I want to make sure we see each other once a month. It worked when my kids were little. My parents and I traveled back and forth, three hours one way each month. The response I got was, “I can’t commit to that.”
I am fortunate that I do see my children and grandchildren regularly. That they do make time for me when I reach out. If I’m having a bad day, I can call my daughter and say, I need to see the kids. But I’m aware that none of this is a given. That in a moment I can be on the outside. Sometimes I feel myself desperately clinging to maintain these relationships, bereft that I am no longer the sun in their lives, the center upon which they revolve.
I have a book called Praying for Our Adult Sons and Daughters by John and Therese Boucher. In it is a prayer for our children, “….keep me from saying or doing anything stupid! …..Help me to know what to say or not say. Help me to know what to do or not do…..”
I say this prayer daily, not just for my kids but for their spouses as well. I need to maintain a good relationship with their spouses and not do anything that would put my children in a situation to choose sides between me and their spouse. I will lose.
In her book, The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, Stormie OMartian lists 7 things every parent needs to know. This is good reading because being the parent of an adult child is not easy. My children have healthy boundaries and often that means I hear, No. No, I don’t have time. No, I don’t have the head space to think about scheduling a visit. No, the kids are busy but you can catch them at a baseball game if you want. My mother must have felt this way.
The work of not taking any of this personally is on my shoulders. My children are in the thick of it with little ones and both parents working and a house to keep up. My role is to not make it harder on them, to not make them feel guilty for not making time for me. I regularly fail at this. But they are healthy enough to call me out.
I know they are doing the best they can. Someday they will experience this letting go, this separation that can leave a parent feeling adrift. I try to focus on me, my interests, my art, my writing, my friends, my husband. The antidote is to focus on myself and let them live their lives.
Maybe I’ll write that book on how to be a parent to adult children.
For now, all I can do is pray- God keep me from saying or doing anything stupid!
Angela DiCicco 2019
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