Adult children. A whole new frontier.
Read: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
No one ever said parenting adult children would be so difficult. Maybe it isn’t the children who are so difficult. I think it might be that as parents, we don’t know how to adjust. No one told us.
We have grown accustomed to being a constant in the lives of our children. We direct them, give advice, challenge their decisions, set boundaries, help with finances.
Suddenly, they are adults. They have their own homes. They have jobs. They have responsibility. They make decisions. And we are “over there” somewhere and it feels downright strange.
Last week, we had a pop-up dinner. All three of our children were there with their spouse/fiance, as well as a close adult friend of my daughter. I took the opportunity to quiz them about their current need for parenting. I asked what they needed as adults from their parents. This is what I learned that night.
Respect. Adult children need to know that you honor them as individuals and value their worth as people. In spite of the fact that they are your children, they don’t want to be treated as children.
Approval. Adult children need to know that you see them and that you know how hard they are working. This applies to them as professionals, home owners, parents and every other area where they are putting forth effort. They need to hear the words, “I’m so proud of you.”
Space. Adult children want to know that you are there for them and that you think about them. But they don’t want to come home from work to find you in their home redecorating, cleaning or doing laundry. Unless of course, you had spoken with them about it prior to doing the work. A text message throughout the week reminding them that they are in your prayers and thoughts means a lot. A phone call before you stop in is most appreciated.
Unconditionality. This means interactions with our adult children are not limited by conditions. Knowing they are unconditionally loved, accepted, appreciated and honored regardless if their choices and decisions are different from yours. It encompasses where they choose to live, the job they pursue, whether or not they are married or have children. They need to know how you feel about them doesn’t depend on meeting any conditions.
Friendship. This is an interesting concept for some parents to embrace. When our children are young, we live by the mantra “I am their parent, not their friend” as we strive to maintain a stable, consistent home environment. As they mature, their need for a mature adult friend increases. Perhaps some more readily embrace the term mentor rather than friend. Whichever term you feel comfortable with, adult children need you to be their friend more than a parent.
I share the following example with my daughter’s full knowledge. She had her first child in 2016. At the time, she was working part time and so the two grandma’s split the babysitting needs and took care of Finley. After a few months, Emily changed jobs and needed more childcare. She and Cory decided to enroll Finley in a local daycare. To say this was difficult for me is mild. I wondered why she didn’t follow in my footsteps and stay at home. At the same time, I saw that her interactions at work enabled her to be a better person which made her a better mom. I prayed about it …a lot. I really wanted her to change her mind about working so much, but that isn’t what happened. She took Finley to daycare full time.
I do not share this to advocate staying at home or for utilizing daycare. I share this as an illustration of adult parenting. I had to really step back and allow them to parent and make decisions very different from the ones we made. And in the process, I didn’t want to ruin our relationship. I learned to love and support them without conditions. I regularly find aspects of parenting they do really well and share what I see. I make an effort to tell her that I am proud of her as a mom, wife and professional. Even when I am tempted to do otherwise, I give them space to be their own people.
The urge I fight the most with my adult children is “being the solution.” This ranges from providing childcare to financial resources. It is difficult for me to see them struggle but, as I shared earlier this week, the struggle is necessary. So, I remind myself to step away from the children. I pray for perspective, I listen and encourage. Some days I even get it right.
I also recognize that my experiences as a parent of adult children are still limited. Looking at my own parents, their children experienced divorce, addictions, jail, financial difficulty, discord and death.
Parenting is an every changing scape. Living with open hands has made it easier for me. For sure, I grieved the change from one stage to the next, but in every season there are great things to embrace and enjoy.