When children are young, parents try to imagine them as adults. At that time, it’s impossible to visualize them as adults. Sometimes, looking ahead, moms and dads picture folding endless piles of laundry, picking up toys, coats and empty soda cans for eternity, and then falling into bed nightly exhausted. It can seem like the “work” of parenthood will never end.
But it does. And when I look back, it seems like my daughter’s childhood flew by like a speeding train. I do remember those long, demanding days, but I miss building snowmen and drinking hot chocolate with mounds of whipped cream on wintery days, too. Fortunately, I get to relive some of this joy with my grandkids.
Now my babies are adults, 38 and 40 years old. So, what is my role now? What are my responsibilities? What are my obligations? What should I expect from them?
A friend called me the other day to tell me that her son was having marital problems. He’s 25 and has always been a responsible, levelheaded person. Married for several years, he told her that he is having a romantic involvement with a neighbor. She was very upset and anxious. She had never imagined that her son would be involved in such a problem. “What should I say to him when he calls?” she asked.
One of my daughters has struggled at times with financial issues. She’s not always the most financially organized person in the world. I have helped her out, but how should I approach these issues if they crop up again?
As our children grow older, their problems grow larger, become more complex, and can have an impact on others. Our adult children will have struggles with careers, relationships, children, finances and maybe even with us. At each juncture, we must sort out with them what role we want to assume in their lives.
Here are some points to consider.
■ Your children have to find their own way. Yup. Just like you did. Adults have to find their own way in life, make their own mistakes, make them again, learn from them, and chart new directions. This is a major component of adult development. Don’t get over-involved in their struggles.
■ Don’t give unsolicited advice. If your adult kids want your advice, they know your telephone number. Lots of times, I don’t give my kids advice even when they ask for it. What if I’m wrong? And I don’t want to influence them. I want them to figure it out on their own.
■ Be their cheerleader. It’s always helpful to tell your adult children that you have confidence that they will find the right answer for themselves and that they will be able to work out their problems. (Even if you aren’t completely sure.) This message of faith nurtures their self-confidence.
■ Be thoughtful about providing help. Many adults need money at some point. Some will ask you and some won’t. Only support those enterprises that you believe in. My youngest daughter asked me if I would pay her health insurance premiums so she could quit a terrible job. I declined because I believed that she should find a new job before she quit her present one. She was angry and disappointed. But she did find a new job and it all worked out. I didn’t feel obligated to provide “unconditional” support. On the other hand, I helped her with graduate school because I believe in education.
■ Develop an adult relationship with your adult children. This is a process because these adults will also always be your children. You have always been devoted to their well-being and their happiness. But, work on developing an adult relationship. Don’t treat them like children just because they are your children.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.
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