Adult Parenting

[ 9 ] Comments

by jendoop

My oldest daughter graduates from high school in less than a month. As it gets closer my excitement over the grand possibilities of her life transform into a myriad of fears. For more than 18 years I have been responsible for her safety and well-being and now I am stepping back, and it feels like there’s a cliff behind me.

This is adult parenting, not just that I’m learning to parent an adult daughter, but that I need to act like an adult to parent! Being honest with myself about what is going on between us, what baggage I’m bringing into it from my past and hers, and what her future could be like (the trials mentioned in her patriarchal blessing didn’t comfort me) has made this a difficult few months. It feels as though our relationship is going through growing pains. I miss my friend as she pushes away to find independence. I fear that as she gets out in the world she’ll look back and see all of my flaws and not want to come back. I worry for her safety and success in a world that is so cruel and unfair.

Looking into the future I need a better idea of how this is going to work out. Right now I have negative pictures in my mind, can you help me replace them with positive futures?

Tell me how your parents handled your transition to adulthood, what was good for you and what could they have done better?

If you have adult children how did this process go for you? Would you do anything differently looking back?

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

9 Responses to Adult Parenting

  1. Liz C says:

    My mother helped me launch. Once I hit about 13, her attitude and bearing toward me sort of changed from “mama” to “dearest older sister ever”; she definitely still had the parental role, but she very much treated me as a younger, but very intelligent and rational, peer. I think the respect and confidence I felt from her really aided my transition to independent living (at 17).

    My own oldest is hitting 17 this summer, and for the last few years, we’ve been making the same transition. So far, so good. She’ll be at home for at least another year, but she has taken on increasingly adult roles. It’s kind of cool, actually!

    As an adult daughter of a mom who helped me make the transition, I can say that it was interesting to realize my mother had flaws, and it didn’t stop me from loving her or wanting to be around her. She was also very open with expressing her own feelings toward her mother (who was flawed), and helped me learn that I could love flawed people very deeply, and without fear. That was a significant gift.

  2. Bonnie says:

    I had a hard time with my oldest. She had a lot of anger issues in her teen years and I responded exactly the opposite of how I should have, and held tighter. The most important thing I learned was the power of our faith in them. It’s one thing to have faith in them – that they can solve their own problems, that they can handle what will come, that they will come back – but it’s another altogether to be able to communicate that in such a way that they will believe it. A year or so after my oldest moved out (at 17) to go to college, after calling to tell me all the things her professors were teaching that were 180 degrees from my opinions, I learned to say, “The world is filled with many perspectives, and mine is only one. I have great faith in your ability to sort this out.

    She then began to actually ask my opinions, instead of telling me I was wrong or what the other opinions all were, and I was stopped from offering them, for a time. I would simply say, “I don’t want to poison your opportunity to work this out in the best way for you. But I do have great faith in your ability to work this out.” Sometimes it nearly killed me, because one of my great failings is my willingness to share my opinions. But after a while she developed the confidence that she would have had in her teens if I had actually done what I said we did and exercised a sliding scale of responsibility and control.

    This morning I had the same discussion with my #3 son. I have encouraged and reminded and outlined consequences and cajoled, but it is done. If he wants to graduate from high school, he is going to have to do the last two packets and he is going to have to listen to the two conference sessions again and take notes to graduate from seminary by Wednesday. It’s beyond the time to try to push his car while he’s standing on the brakes. If he wants to lose everything he’s invested over the last four years, he will have made that choice. I have great faith in him to recover from that if that is what he chooses. He’s as resourceful as they all are.

    Sending letters to the initially struggling missionary son, I remembered something from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. While I didn’t agree with all his observations, I did agree that women tend to do what the now married maiden did to her prince charming (I wish he had had an equally insightful story for women, but …) They tend to undercut the men in their lives. When I read Mother of my Mother I learned a lot about the generational yoyo between women in families, and it really helped me understand my relationships with my mother and daughters, and I changed some things.

    End of the story: Girls Come Back. Even if we hold too tight and don’t have faith in them during their individuation, some time in their mid-twenties they come back and it’s wonderful. Have faith: in her, in you, and in time.

  3. Janet Clawson says:

    Jen, you have to remember that this lovely young woman is a work in progress, as are you. God is not finished with her yet — and in some ways, He’s hardly begun! And YOU are not much farther ahead than she is. If that doesn’t seem totally comforting, it still is reality. And in that light of that knowledge, you can afford to be not so hard on yourself, and to be not so hard on her when she doesn’t make what you think is a choice that is in the best interests of her future.

    I have a tendency to blow my children’s lives and possibilities out of proportion — both negatively and positively at times. But mostly, I would have to say, negatively. When I seem to be beset by negative feelings about my kids — and by that I mean worry and anxiety, mostly — I immediately know that I do not have the Spirit with me. Because when I pray about my kids, I never feel Father in Heaven to be negative about them. He is always positive about their growth and their talents and their possibilities. He is even positive about their weaknesses. So if I can’t mirror those feelings, I know I have to regain the Spirit. Sometimes that requires TONS of time on my knees. Often it also requires a trip to the temple, to get my perspective back. But those two things really help to keep me on track — in fact, without them I am sunk, as far as my relationship with my kids is concerned. Because I am not what I would consider a very intuitive person, and not at all a very intuitive mother. I have got to have the Spirit with me, or I am toast.

    I know that I am not in control anymore of my adult children. That sense of loss of control happened earlier with some than with others, depending upon what age they started to assert their independence. It was never a comfortable thing at first. And for every child so far, it has happened a little bit differently. I would say that it took Father in Heaven giving me a kick in the pants and letting me know that I had just worked myself out of job — or should I say, into a new one — for me to learn to just go with it. For at least one of my kids, it was imperative for me to make that switch cleanly, or I think I would have compromised my loving relationship with that kid, and perhaps caused a rebellion which would been SO not his best interests. For my other adult child, it happened gradually — in some ways, it is still happening. I anticipate that with each of my kids, it will happen uniquely, based on their individual personalities and needs.

    One of the things that has helped my husband and me quite a bit though, is that a number of years ago, we established a set of age milestones for our kids. By that I mean, we decided at what age they were cleared to have an email account, to have a facebook account, to have a phone, to have a more relaxed set of filters on their computer, to be a driver with other teenagers in the car, to be out till midnight (midnight is the all-purpose curfew at our house, no matter what age you are), to do whatever they desired to do with their own money (and that included not saving a cent, if they chose to do it). The kids had input on these milestone decisions, but in the end, we as parents were the ones to set them up. And after we set them up, we made a pact to abide by them. The kids knew about them, and we are agreed to play fair and square; they agreed to be trustworthy, so that the milestones could apply to them when they reached an appropriate age, and we agreed not to jerk away privileges (unless they had blatantly disobeyed specific instructions in specific instances), even when we were anxious about our kids’ judgment, or lack thereof.

    That set of milestones has helped us as parents not to be too high-handed with our kids as they have grown up. It also has forced us to help them learn to be ready for each new set of responsibilities or privileges, as they have grown into them. I CAN’T say that it has lessened my anxiety as a mother! But it has helped me feel a degree of peace, knowing that our expectations have been clear, that the kids have been taught right from wrong on as many levels as we could think of, and that I have done my job thoroughly before they have left the nest.

    I don’t know if any of these thoughts are helpful ones to you, Jen. Being an adult parent of an adult child can be a very uncomfortable thing at first. But just think — that is what we will be to our children through the eternities, as well. We have a LONNNNNGGG time to get used to the role! Hopefully practice will make us perfect. 🙂

  4. Lisa SH says:

    My oldest is also graduating from high school on June 1st.
    We have gradually been giving him more and more responsibility for his life and teaching him to make good choices as he has grown older. If you have not done this then you only have two choices. One, step back and see what she can do and hope for the best or two, continue to parent her and gradually back off.
    It is important that starting at the age of accountability we start letting our children make choices and mistakes and gradually allow them to take more accountability for their lives. These spirits have been prepared for this time and those things mentioned in her patriarchal blessing are probably similar to those of her friends. The end of times is the end of times. My patriarchal blessing has all kinds of scary stuff in it and my life has not been any where as bad as reading my blessing might have one believe. That said, I am still here and there is still more to go. We know this is the end of times and we know the Lord does not give us more than we can handle.
    Have faith that the Lord knows what he is doing and have faith that your daughter has been given the gifts to excel in her life. I am sure she has and she will be fine.
    Just have faith

  5. Ray says:

    I’ve tried hard to parent in such a way that I can accept my adult children as adults and let them make their own decisions – even when I might see things differently than they do and even when I don’t like a decision they make. I’ve tried to raise them to know I love them and will accept them no matter what they do – not without consequences in extreme situations, but completely nonetheless.

    I have three adult children and one who leaves for college this fall, and each of them has made and will continue to make mistakes. What I will not do is harangue them about those mistakes or preach incessantly to them about what I think they should or shouldn’t do. They know by now what I believe; they don’t need constant reminders; they need love and support – in any way I can give those things to them. I allow them to operate freely at this point within their own spheres and live according to the dictates of their own consciences.

    I posted the following on my personal blog yesterday:

    “Teaching Children to Build a Faith that Will Last: Disagreeing with Something Said at Church”

  6. jendoop says:

    Thank you all for your perspectives (and keep them coming). I’ve always seen my role as a mother as one of preparing my children to be successful and happy adults. It’s one of the reasons my gratitude for the atonement increases each year, I’m so grateful my children have it to heal my mistakes and also so that they can make their own choices and learn while still retaining the ability to return to Heavenly Father.

    I felt like I had prepared well, and was even excited for my daughter. But the last few months have been difficult and she’s been her own worst enemy in some ways (aren’t we all) which has led me to doubt and react out of fear instead out of confidence and love. Like Janet said, I probably need more time on my knees to retain the love and confidence in the midst of problems.

    Liz, I love the feelings you developed from your mother, learning to love flawed people. We’re in trouble if we don’t learn that at some point 😉

    I’ll have to look for Mother of my Mother, Bonnie, these generational relationships are heavy on my mind recently.

    Lisa, You are right, this is better as a long term process.

    Thanks for the link Ray, I’ll read it.

    An interesting aspect of this is probing my own heart to find what love really means to me. I want to demonstrate healthy and mature love, not insecure, panicked, possessive love. As my old heart throb Sting sings, “If you love someone set them free, free, free, set them free.”

  7. Paul says:

    My oldest son taught me that it is their job to separate from us. It has not been pretty, but neither were childbirth, skinned knees, adolescent broken hearts and so on. My experience: the do come back and often in surprising ways. Bonnie’sphraseology is what I have also adopted.

  8. Paul says:

    BTW now five of my seven are adults. And we have so far all survived to tell the tale.

  9. templegoer says:

    Ride the wave, Jendoop.
    What I have been thinking mostly of late is that if I knew how to do this, then I wouldn’t be here. It is so very hard not to be in control, but then again, was I ever.

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