Answer: it’s both and it can be beautiful and bumpy, so buckle up!
If you had asked me a few years back whether I thought parenting would be harder when our girls were young adults, I would have chuckled and said no. Then I might have wondered why you were asking…
One of my biggest parenting challenges has been to sit back and watch as our daughters navigate the harder life lessons that come along with #adulting. I labored through those years under the notion, that once they reached adulthood, all the lessons I taught would have a trickle down effect. I know that does actually happen. It’s just not happening all at once.
Like every other parenting stage, much of it has been really rewarding, but truthfully, there are times when it feels like I’m herding cats.
Where is the owner’s manual, or at the very least, that big red “easy” button, when you need it?
My job is to teach. To protect them while also allowing (age appropriate and non-life threatening) mistakes. There is no definitive rule on how to do this. It’s not always as simple as it sounds.
Maybe dodgeball is a better comparison? Remember that movie with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller? “Just remember the five D’s of dodgeball: Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and…dodge.” Parenting adult children is like a dodgeball game. Except you don’t always feel like you’re dodging. The lines are blurred. It’s harder to get out of the way, and just like in the movie, you often take one to the gut, the head, or both.
It starts when our children are small and we are new to the parenting game. Our first inclination is to “fix” whatever is wrong. They cry; we pick them up. We kiss all the boo-boo’s big and small; even the ones we know we don’t need to. Maybe we want to give them all the things we didn’t have as a child, or we feel some guilt when we go to work and try to compensate for that. Maybe they sleep in our bed when we really don’t want them to, or we’re tired, so we let it slide when they misbehave.
I don’t believe you can ever love your babies too much, it’s simply not possible, but as they get older, we have to learn to separate the boo-boo’s. Hovering like a helicopter to keep them from experiencing pain, or spoiling them just because you can, doesn’t benefit you, your people, or anyone who has to be around them for an extended period of time.
Fred is running by the pool after you have asked him not to. SallyJane is out of bed for the umpteenth time, for no apparent reason, and now wants to sleep in your bed. Every child and every household is different. How do you manage it?
Me? I was a young mom “with everything to prove”. There were many things I was steadfast on. Sleeping in our bed wasn’t a regular thing at our house. I use this example because I have been asked this question dozens of times over the years. They could sleep with us if they were sick. They could fall asleep with us when they needed the extra cuddles. That was it. I always felt our kids needed positive separation from us and that quiet time with my husband was very valuable to me. We all know that having one child in your bed is like having a whole herd of them in there! Who could possibly be well rested after dangling precariously from exactly 1.64 inches of a mattress all night? While they might only be three feet tall, those little stinkers spread out, into all four corners of the bed, like a giant octopus. Their head is angelically placed on the pillow, but their knees and feet are somehow wedged in your sternum and kicking the small of your back simultaneously!
Uhhhh, no thanks.
“Please don’t run by the pool Fred. It’s not safe. You could slip and fall.” Suddenly, there is howling and skinned body parts. I clean up the knee, or elbow, or chin (or all three!) and Fred is poolside, marinating in sunscreen and consequences.
That said, I certainly doled out more than my share of kisses for those questionable boo-boo’s. The key? Find the balance between their currency and your own and choose wisely.
You’re not always going to get it right. Sometimes we’re just too overwhelmed, or too damn tired to dodge the ball! I’ve said before that parenting is about using the tools you have to put your best foot forward 99% of the time. If you missed that post, you can read it here. The remaining 1% is reserved for the days when that last nerve is on the brink of nuclear detonation. It’s OK, we all have them.
As hard as it is to separate, I am learning that I cannot allow parental guilt to be a factor, at any stage. We are allowed to make, and then reconcile, mistakes! It’s expected really. Life can wear out even the most persistent “Mary Poppins”, and I guarantee that the spoonful of sugar she sings about won’t save you!
Besides, Mary was never a parent, remember? She just flew in, solved the household problems of the moment, and then drifted away on the breeze.
I can tell you the scenarios only become more challenging as kids get older, but I have discovered the basic principles are the same.
So how do you know when to dodge? The truth? Sometimes you don’t; sometimes the answer is really easy, whether you want to see it or not; and sometimes the answer is to draw a line in the sand and not step over it.
Staying connected: Adult children are often focused on themselves. Do your best to keep your lines of communication open. You want to know everything that is going on in their lives, but you don’t want to know everything. Parental guidance should begin to take a back seat to the opinions they are forming on their own, but they continue to need the emotional and moral compass provided by parents.
Finding the balance: This has been one of the most difficult for me, but stepping back is vital to their success as adults. Sometimes they take the scenic route. You won’t always agree with their choices, which may be vastly different from yours. Express your feelings without guilt. Let your child know that, even when you don’t agree, you accept that their opinions and choices might differ from your own.
Trusting your choices: Remember that the word NO is a complete sentence. Successful parenting includes setting standards for behavior while fostering love and mutual respect. Taking a hands-off approach, in order to avoid conflict, will leave children without clarity regarding what is expected of them. This can breed a “victim” mentality and a child who cannot see fault in their actions. That behavior isn’t beneficial to anyone.
Setting expectations: Young adults need to learn to take responsibility for themselves. Allow them make their own decisions and live with the consequences. This is often easier said than done.
Setting limits: It’s easy for parental guilt to jump in the driver’s seat. No matter what mistakes have been made in the past, if you have done your best to reconcile those mistakes, move forward. You are not a doormat. Boundaries should move to the forefront. No more blurred lines. Be clear and fair. Don’t be arbitrary in setting limits. Explain your reasons. They may not understand all of it right away and that’s OK. In the long run, the relationship between you and your child will benefit.
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I feel like I have taken more shots to the gut in the last two months than ever before, but I am determined to turn good people out into the world. What is most important to me is that our daughters continue to develop into strong and independent women. Women who among other things; love themselves and their families, work hard, surround themselves with a circle of wonderful people, and understand the importance of paying it forward and giving back to their community.
I’m still learning. Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge.