We got through the Terrible Twos and, even worse, the Terrible Teens. The children are raised. What now? How do we maintain a close family relationship when our kids are adults?
The answer is maybe we don’t. Family configurations change as children become adults and start their own families. Parents may become extremely peripheral, an afterthought. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
My instincts tell me one thing: once a mother, always a mother; you never stop worrying about your children and wanting them to be happy. But how should you actually behave toward them?
Maureen Daniek, a life transition coach (www.coachforlifechange.com), says first and foremost, treat grown children as independent adults responsible for themselves. That means do not give unsolicited advice; do not bail them out of trouble; be very cautious about lending money; try to avoid having them come back to live at home but have clear boundaries if you do; don’t intrude on their lives with a lot of questions.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that it was my job to ask questions, to give unsolicited advice and to provide a nurturing home. Giving all that up makes me anxious. But I can get behind Daniek’s directive: “Don’t fix all the food and clean up all the dishes when they visit; have potlucks and have everyone clean up.” That is one of the few solid perks I see of dealing with adult children.
I am not alone in my confusion at this transition after putting my whole self into raising my sons. ”Parents don't like when I tell them, ‘In order to grow a healthy adult
relationship with your children, let them lead,’" says Natalie Caine of Empty Nest Support Services. “This is an ongoing weeper in my practice.”
”The process of letting go and shifting your parenting role takes practice and humor,” notes Caine. “You have never been in this role before, so be kind to yourself. Listen more than ask questions. Feed back what you heard and then ask [them], ‘What do you think would work?’”
I envisioned long talks with my adult sons about ideas, beliefs, values, the news, family stories. But Caine says that “behavior needs to shift on both parts and that takes short communication.”
So where is the adult friendship if we’re not going to exchange ideas and have blissful conversations?
Dr. Richard Horowitz,parenting coach and author of “Family Centered Parenting: Your Guide for Growing Great Families,” offers some comfort: “One size does not fit all. A lot depends on the nature of the relationship as adulthood emerged. The degree of independence and the quality of communication prior to the child becoming an adult (that in itself is an arbitrary marker) will dictate the trajectory of the future relationship.”
After coming across the same advice over and over in regard to relationships with adult children, which seemed to boil down to “Leave them alone!” I was relieved to read “Adult children still need parenting and these relationships should be organic and negotiated between adult child and parent.” Thank you, Dr Horowitz.
I am willing to work on detaching from former parenting behaviors and accepting my sons want and will have more space and independence from me. But I am still a mom and it has been painful to give up the bond I nurtured as each of them grew from babies to boys to men.
How do you feel about the parental transition to having adult children? Join the forum discussion and share what your relationship with your kids is like now that they are grown. What are differences between sons and daughters as adults?
Judy Kirkwood is the mother of two sons: one who calls regularly and one who doesn’t.