We grow up. Then our kids grow up. There’s so much joy in the journey, but it’s also tough. When we have our babies, we have so much hope for the future, but as we face the reality of the future, it is often a bit more challenging than we expected. Our children begin to adult and…
- We face strangers, hardly recognizing our adult children and struggling with the choices they make.
- We have difficulty letting go, continuing to try to guide their lives as if they still live under our roofs.
- We have difficulty helping them let go. They need us, so how can we say no to helping, even when we know they need to grow up and take responsibility?
- We feel cut off and abandoned when our adult children decide they’d rather do life without us, perhaps even choosing to “punish” us by not letting us spend time with them or grandchildren.
And the list goes on. Each situation and relationship is different, but one thing is certain: parenting adult children brings its own challenges with it. We faced sleepless nights with a baby, safety concerns with a toddler, separation when our children started school, and activities, peer pressure, and struggles for independence through middle and high school. We thought high school or college graduation might let us sigh and enjoy those adult friendships we’ve heard so much about—and we might get to savor some sweet moments—but our kids don’t stop changing and growing just because they reach twenty-one. Hopefully, we don’t stop growing either.
So, what can we do to ease the transition and help ourselves, our adult children, and our relationships? Not every tip that follows will apply to your situation, but let one or two challenge you to try something new.
Step through grief. It might seem like a negative place to start, but if we’re honest, we deal with grief throughout parenting. We move from one stage to another. In fact, about the time we get used to one stage and feel confident about what we’re doing, our children change, and we have to change with them if we want to respond well. Can you imagine parenting a 13-year-old like a toddler? Absolutely not. You can’t parent a 30-year-old like a teenager either. Refuse to get stuck. You might be sad for a moment, but make sure you also celebrate growth and change.
Give your adult children what they need. Not always what they want, and not what you want. This is a hard one, because we’re so invested in their lives, it’s difficult to take a step back, set ourselves aside, and determine the right priorities. It means listening well, choosing our moments to speak with wisdom, and letting them make mistakes and learn from them. That leads us into the next practice:
Refuse to think you have all the answers. You’re been at this adult thing a lot longer than your adult children. Instead of using that as a justification that you have all the answers and solutions, remind yourself that adulthood comes with responsibility, not just for your children but for you. You have the responsibility to be humble, admit you don’t know it all, and face the idea that while you’ve had many experiences that might help, your experiences and your adult children’s aren’t exactly the same. Just as you had to discover some things the hard, long way, so do your children (of any age). If you look back, you’ll probably admit you learned some of the best lessons as you struggled through trials. As much as you want to spare your children some of that pain and angst, overprotection and quick answers might end up robbing them of some essential, albeit rough, experiences.
Lead by example. If you want your adult children to grow in their compassion, mercy, patience, respect, faith, generosity, and love, you need to not only authentically live them out but also grow in them. You don’t have to be perfect. (Good thing!) You may not be able to share every struggle, but neither should you put on a show for them. They’re adults now, and they need to continue to watch you grow as an adult. Your adulting well is no guarantee they will follow in your footsteps, but it’s worth the effort, not just for them but for you.
Stop being surprised. If you find yourself continually hurt, frustrated, and confused when your adult children do the same things over and over, at least give them credit for being consistent. Why be surprised with their predictability? That’s not to say you excuse what they do, but you don’t have to bear the brunt of the stress.
Be responsible, but let your adult children take responsibility. Stop blaming yourself. And stop blaming them, too. Blame only digs a hole of insecurities and hurt feelings that are difficult to overcome. Honestly evaluate yourself often but only with the determination to learn and grow. But refrain from evaluating your adult children too often. You still have influence, but you don’t have the power you once had in their lives. You can pour into them, but be careful not to step into the discipline and control realm.
Give God your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. This one might seem obvious, but it’s easier said than done. We often say our children have our hearts, or they are constantly on our minds. Of course, we love and invest in them beyond what we can express, but they should never be our focus. They are not our possessions. We don’t know nearly as much as God does. As difficult as it is to believe, we don’t love them remotely as much as He does. They are His creation, and He knows every single detail of their lives throughout eternity. Moments along the way won’t always make sense to us, but we can trust God.