Parenting Adult Children

our magic

“We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow path and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and our youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.” Robert R. McCammon

We are all imperfect human beings, trying to do the best we can with what we have. We make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are easy for others to see, which makes people easy targets for others to shake their heads and call them stupid. Some mistakes are easily spotted by some or even most people. With my own children I often see where things are going to lead long before they hit the mud. Sometimes it is appropriate for me to caution, more often, now that they are adults, it is not. Parenting is a life time responsibility to love and support the human beings you birthed into the world.

It is also a gift.

Loving our adult children requires developed skills that we hopefully gained in the process of raising our child from birth to adulthood.  Along the way we should have become practiced in unconditional love that was able to let go at the appropriate times.  We learn that loving one another often requires distance. It requires a respect that supports the struggle and the person who is trying to grow, instead of needing to be the one that knows it all. We cannot let our need to be right trample on fragile ego’s. Adversity teaches, if we let it.

We also should realize that our child is their own person and we have no right to insist they be anything else. The balance between supporting our child to be responsible while providing emotional support can be tough.  Some parents struggle with overstepping their involvement in their kids lives.  Some parents continue to undermine the child, and do more to sabotage their child than to support them.

We expect others to sometimes be unkind. The cruel teacher, the unkind tax or bill collector, the kid that we beat out for a spot on the team …. as difficult as it is to deal with people saying and doing unkind things towards us, we all have that in our life. What none of us expect is for our own family and loved ones to join those people, to affirm that we are worthless, stupid, irresponsible, etc.

One of the greatest things my husband taught me, was how to not dwell on the negative. He deals with the problem, and moves on. His children messed up, he addressed it.  That involved a frank discussion, attending the details that needed fixing, and his support and encouragement for them to do the right thing. He never belittled them, or stepped in to take over.  Everything he did was to empower them to stand up and face their responsibilities, to learn the lesson, and to move on better people.    And then, he let it go.  “Hey, who wants to play cards?”

His love never even flinched for a second under the weight of any problem.   Life went on, just as before, just as loving,  I have never heard him hold on to a mistake as a forever discussion or evidence of their lack of worth or ability when the next problem occurred.  Just because they messed up with their money this time would never prompt him to withhold money or to lecture them the next time. If a teacher said they did something stupid, he did not join in with the teacher to destroy their fragile self esteem. He reminded them that he loved them, no matter what they did, and that he was on their team and they would get through it.

People cannot grow and change if those around them only reflect back to them their mistakes and never their potential.

I hope parents will think about that. You can teach the lesson and help the child to learn, more so by encouraging the child and supporting them than you can by beating them harder with the same stick. I never corrected my child in public. I never said bad things about my children to other people. I would never do that now. They have enough people teaching them about hate and negativity, my job is to teach them about love and why they want to be better people.  If you think this was important when they were young, know that it is even more important now that they are adults.

I heard a parent say once that they had prayed they would never have another child like their one “difficult” child and now they had a grandchild exactly the same. They said it with a great sense of frustration and to suggest they were being further “punished.”  Sure they may have laughed a little when they said it but what message does that send to the child, now an adult? What message does it send to the grandchild? Parents teach their children who they are and what their value is throughout their entire life.  They do it in the way they talk about and to their child, and by the way they talk about them.

Could you tell someone who your child is? Can you name things about your child that you love? Do you see any of their accomplishments, or do you only see their failings? Are they even current failings? Do they have any relevance to here and now? Have you ever considered what constant negativity and lack of demonstrated love does to children? Especially when they are grown ups? If your children are over 20, it is time to let go of your need to fix them and be the perfect parent. It is time for you to address your need to present an image instead of having relationships of substance and meaning.

When is the last time you told them that you were proud of them and what they are doing?  When was the last time you told them you loved them? Our children will not be us. They will not be characters in our stories. They will be human beings with their own story, with strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. We can travel through our lives disappointed and alone, never giving ourselves the chance to experience real love, or we can let go and open ourselves to that give and take. Relationships only work when we focus on doing ourselves and allowing others to do themselves.

Your adult children are now adults.  They are your equal.

This is the appropriate time for them to be your friend, if you will let them. You don’t write the script for anyone else’s life, not even your children. You will never know love if you can only love them “if.” Love your children where they are. Get to know who they are. Encourage their journey and their experience. Be the port in the storm. Be the home where they get to be vulnerable and are still loved and given space to heal. Let them learn their lessons. Stand back and keep YOUR answers to yourself.  Respect them.  Share with them.  THIS is what it is all about.

One day life will take you out of the drivers seat and put you on the sidelines and your life will be reduced to a very small circle that remember you, or see value in you having lived. You will hunger for your children’s love. Trust me when I say, they will only be capable of reflecting back to you what you reflected to them. You may not need their money, but money is a poor substitute for the peace that aging people seek in their lives. Their disappointment in you may cause them to withhold their love just as you once did with them. They may be embarrassed of you, or have no experience with loving and supporting because you never modeled it for them.

Life is a cycle, we enter, we learn, we serve, we are served. Our happiness is directly tied to the love, or lack of it, we demonstrated and served others. Your children need your support and encouragement, especially as they age.

Family of Superheroes

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