Parenting Adult Kids
I have to be honest…I really don’t know how to parent my grown children any more than I knew how to parent them when they were younger. It’s a “learn as you go” job, no matter how many advice books you read.
Maybe part of my problem with this is related to the fact that I didn’t have my own mom around to parent me as an adult.
When I was 18 and went off to nurses training, I sensed that my mom stopped feeling any responsibility for me. That may not be true, but that is what I felt at the time. I now try to give her the benefit of the doubt and remind myself that she still had four kids at home, and a couple of them were as challenging to parent as I was. I see now that there were also other things in her life that were extremely overwhelming to her.
When I was 26, she and dad moved several hundred miles away, “leaving me behind” with three little kids under the age of five. I know she wasn’t responsible for those three kids, but I remember her telling me later that she felt so free when they made that move. It made me angry. Didn’t she know that I needed her? I can see now that it was the first time in her life that she had the opportunity to get a job outside her home and be her own person.
Then when I was thirty-three, my mom died. This was just two years after one of my four children died. Now I had double grief, three little kids, a husband, and a career. It was now my turn to feel overwhelmed and I was once again angry at her when I remembered how her own mother had always been available to help her with her little kids. (by the way, anger towards the deceased is a normal part of grief ) The only mother I had was now gone forever. What I learned in the months that followed her death was that I had no choice but to stand on my own two feet as a person and a mom…there would never be anyone around to help me.
When I think back to what I needed most from her as an adult. I think my greatest need was for her to just “be present” in my life. I wanted to know that there was just one person other than my husband who truly cared about my needs and understood how I felt during the good and bad times in my life. (I know my husband cared, but as we all know, men are usually at a loss in understanding a woman’s needs. It’s frustrating for them and us.) I wanted to be able to lean on my mom, the woman who gave birth to me, who knew me from day one; and because of that, would be my “go to” person.
Because my mom was gone, first emotionally and then physically, I’ve truly felt all alone for most of my adult life. Perhaps some of that feeling is my own fault because I never leaned on anyone. Every other woman I knew was dealing with their own issues and I was a little jealous of them… most of them still had their moms.
As my daughters have become adults, I took that one need I had for my own mom and have tried to build on it as I continue to try to parent them now. I have truly wanted to “be present” in their lives, to help them physically, emotionally and spiritually. I know I have often failed at that, and at other times have probably been “too” present. I am really sorry for that, but like I said, I don’t now how to do this because when it comes to parenting, we just learn as we go.
I look at all three of my girls who are in their late 30’s and early 40’s and I'm amazed at what good, strong, capable women they are, in spite of having a faulty mom (but a really good dad) and I wonder, what do they really need from me? I don’t want to be intrusive, but I do want to be their “go to person” if they want me to be that for them.
The only “self help” stuff I read anymore is how to parent adult kids and how to be a good grandma. I recently read this…“Your parenting in the flesh is over. It's time to parent your children in the Spirit. Pray for your children and trust God to do what you cannot do — and He will." That is a challenge for someone like me who wants to be hands on…I think that is sometimes called co-dependency. After reading that, I had to do some self evaluation. Is there a difference between “parenting in the flesh” and wanting to “be present”? I’m still working on it. I do know I can trust God to do for them what I can't do and that is a long list.
I also read that if we do the vital spiritual and emotional parenting when our kids are young, relinquishing them as adults will be easier. “We will no longer feel compelled to use them as a means of working through the unfinished business of our past or as the focus of our future desires.” Now, that one hit me hard! I had to ask myself again if my desire to “be present” was caused by guilt for not doing that vital parenting when my girls were younger and I felt so overwhelmed? I know it has a lot to do with the unfinished business I had with my own mom when I was their ages… so I’m still working on that one too.
As my girls and I go through the different seasons of our lives, I recognize that all of our needs for each other have changed and will continue to change, but I hope they will always want me to “be present” to some degree in their lives. I hope they know I would feel honored if they wanted to lean on me when they need a mom, and will let me know what I can do to help. I will try harder to pray for them and trust God to do for them what I cannot do.
I will also try to not make them the focus of my own future needs and desires. I am not blind to the fact that as my girls mature and I age, their need for my presence in their lives will diminish and my need for their presence will increase. I pray for strength for them and grace for me during that transition. I do hope they will remember then that the three of them, and the nine amazing grandkids they have given me, will always be the source of my intense pride and pure joy.
As a mom and a writer, I hope what I'm sharing today will help them and others as they parent their own kids through all stages. Parenting is difficult and exhausting, but I also believe it is the primary divine purpose of both moms and dads. After we make the decision to become a parent, nothing is more important than doing that to the best of our abilities…to “be present” in the lives of our children.
© Brenda J. Young