Parenting is one of the greatest challenges of life. It is extremely rewarding and at times extremely heartbreaking. It often seems like every weakness and failure that is exhibited in your own life shows up in the life of your children. This seems to be even more magnified when they are adults and are making their own choices. When our children are younger, we assume more control over their lives. As they get older, we have to rely less on control and more on influence. Being a parent of adult children brings a new set of challenges because now they are your contemporaries. Barbara and I have four adult children and we are working through the challenges of being the best parents we can be. Here are 7 things that have helped us and will hopefully assist you in being a better parent to adults.
All adults want to be recognized for their successes and achievements. Our adult children want our approval and they want to be told that we are proud of them or hear our cheers for their accomplishments. This seems to come easier when they are younger and they are playing in a sporting event or dancing in a recital. As adults, we don’t often get to see similar accomplishments first hand, but when we become aware of them, we should offer our praise. Our words of affirmation and praise as a parent are like gold to our children especially when they are adults. Don’t withhold them.
There are lots of names in recent years for overprotective parents. Things like “helicopter parents” or “hyper-active parents”. It starts when they are born but doesn’t seem to fade even when they become adults. We go to great lengths to keep them from experiencing failure or pain. When we constantly intervene in their problems or struggles, especially when we solve their problems for them, we limit their capacity to learn and even weaken them from being able to survive difficult times when we are not around. As difficult as it may be, sometimes there are lessons that they will only be able to learn through failure. If you struggle with this, start with smaller things that may not be life altering. You will not always be there. They need to learn how to be aware, focused and determined for themselves. Don’t always bail them out.
This can be difficult for someone like me because I like to talk and I have lots of opinions. The reality is my children have their own opinions. I should not try to speak about every issue or try to offer my opinion about every situation. I must be selective with the things that I address. Every issue is not life or death. I read that the famous boxer Muhammad Ali got into a bar fight early in his career. Someone grabbed him by his collar and drug him outside. When he gathered himself, he came up ready to fight only to realize that it was his manager. Ali asked his manager why he pulled him out of the fight. The manager replied, “You only have so many fights in you, and this is not one of them.” In parenting the same is true. We must choose our battles wisely. Safety and spiritual development should be high priority topics. Some other things are less necessary. Choose what is most important or where you can offer the most help, and speak to those. Be selective not invasive.
Our children start wanting their own space earlier in life and the space grows wider into early adulthood. They are trying to learn who they are without the constant input or influence from a parent. As they become an adult, we must make sure that we are recognizing them as a contemporary as much as our child. This requires giving them space to be their own person. Space to make decisions while not offering our opinion without being asked. Other things like knocking prior to entering their home or room or asking their opinion and input on important matters provides them space. You desire your space as an adult; give them the same respect. Not only respect their space, but also respect their opinion and input on situations. Discounting their feelings or opinions solely because you are the parent can be both unwise and unhealthy. When we can see them as people and not just children, our perspective and conversation evolves.
One of the greatest things that we have to offer our adult children is wisdom. We have tried many things and failed. We have made choices that we have had to live with that if given the opportunity to change, we would. We have a vast array of experience that can help guide our adult children away from some of the pain we have lived through. This will require us to be vulnerable and open about things that they may be unaware of, but can be invaluable to them in their growth. Why make them pay a price you have already paid. Don’t be afraid to tell them you failed. It may be the best encouragement you can give to them. I urge you to practice wisdom while sharing. Sharing something too early or too late can be disastrous. Make sure they can handle it, but then trust them to handle it so they have the information needed at the best time to be of the most use.
One of the challenges for parents at high school graduation is suddenly their child becomes their contemporary. It creates this learning curve that is often challenging for parents. The child is usually pressing to be treated like an adult and the parent is learning to accept that reality. It requires new rules of engagement and behaviors. Their actions may not always portray the adult you think they should be, but it does not remove the fact they are and we must treat them as such.
With adulthood comes more responsibility. One of the battles of this transition is the desire to be accepted as an adult while managing the responsibilities of being an adult. We should respect them as adults, but it is fair and wise to have certain expectations of them as adults. This may include providing their own place to live or paying rent while living at home. It may include being responsible for their finances or how they carry themselves in public. As the old saying goes, “If you want to be treated like an adult, then act like one”.
Though raising adult children brings a new set of challenges, it is not the time to stop being a parent. It is time to learn to be the best parent you can be and understanding the role that you play in their lives. You are leaving a legacy.