We begin parenting in earnest…
As I get older and embrace being a grandparent, I see myself moving farther and farther away from parenting. What I have found is that the person I am, to be a mother, changes with the age of my child. Additionally, it is not the same person that I am, to be a grandmother.
When I am mothering, I am enmeshed with my child. I am in their faces, I want to know what they are eating, whether sleeping, and are they having bowel movements? I am in their business completely because for this time, I am responsible for all consequences of my actions and my child’s actions. No matter how things fall out, I am the one that pays the bill.
As time moves through childhood, boundaries begin forming and I can gradually back away from the heightened alertness of caring for the infant. As the child ages, I will allow the child to make small decisions and also to face consequences for those decisions.
We know that kids will sneak candy and overeat. They may suffer from a stomach ache as a result of the decision. During this phase it’s important that I draw a line between the decision and the consequence of those decisions so that my child can recognize that a relationship exists.
The teenage years demand heightened sensitivity and heightened awareness of my child. The enmeshment continues as we discuss, on a daily basis, activities and futures to consider. While the physical requirements of child rearing diminish (I am no longer feeding and bathing my child), the emotional requirements ramp up. The intensity engulfs parents and children. Safety becomes an overwhelming concern as we contemplate safe places, safe people and safe situations to allow our children to engage with.
As my child ages, I am going to back off more. There comes a time when my child will tell me if I am making parenting mistakes. While there is feedback that is ridiculous and you would never listen to it, most of the time, we should be listening if our child is willing to let us know that we have made a parenting mistake. If you are interested in a healthy relationship with your child, you will listen very carefully to feedback. The point is, you are communicating and as long as that is true, you can stay close to your child.
Nineteen years ago (it has now been 30 years), Jill and I had our very worst argument and it was because I refused to accept her adult decisions. I wanted her to go to college and “become” something, she rejected a scholarship to Penn State and instead, decided to get married to her high school sweetheart. The argument was bitter and it cost me dearly – as I did not attend the wedding, I was not invited. Almost two years passed before her father died and during that time I had no contact with Jill and my heart hurt the entire time. It was a lesson in how to love your adult kids, nothing is worth losing them.
Acceptance is one of the most powerful gifts you can give to your adult kids. Youth (15 to 29) is a time of fear and anxiety and our current culture is much less forgiving than any culture that preceded it. Our adult kids need to know that there is at least one safe place to land, and that place is home. If it’s not you, your kids will find a place to land and that place may not be safe. Acceptance is a key principal for success with your adult child. But, only if, you are interested in continuing a relationship with your adult child.
All humans have an inalienable right to self determination. America has worked hard to preserve this right. Adult kids have these rights and even more-so as they struggle with the clumsiness of their own independence.
I recently read an article in the AARP Magazine [April/May 2019 aarp.org/magazine], it was funny, yet serious. The title is “How to Get Your Kids to Hate You”. The author did a great job of illustrating these issues with the following checklist:
- Track their (adult kids) movements
- Make gifts to your kids conditional
- Offer outdated and outmoded ‘help’
- Provide ‘constructive’ criticism (I don’t even know what this is)
It is hard to change from enmeshed parent to fascinated friend, yet you do not have the right to tell your son who to date. You don’t have the right to tell your children what vocation they will practice.
Approving or not, your children have the ability to do exactly as they please and if your disapproval is too painful for them, they may just shut you out.