You thought you weren’t going to make it when your babies were newborns and you were sure that you would drop them on their heads or forget to feed them or hug them to death or flat out want to kill yourself if you couldn’t get them to quit crying and go to sleep.
You thought parenthood is not for the faint of heart. Then they could walk and talk and were still tiny and cute like puppies- so cute that even their three-year-old tantrum seemed charming. All you wanted to do is put them to bed, snuggle them, read stories and sing songs. Those were the days.
That toddler age is still in your frames on your bookshelves. We remember them fondly.
The Giving Stage
Life trudges on and our kids are physical manifestations of our aging. Instead of the pencil on the wall measuring their height as they grow, we have a sort of pencil mark standing in front of us with outstretched hands asking for money, or food, or a ride through their middle school years.
I call this the giving stage. Until they can drive, our kids just need and want. They need help with school, friends, and life. They want clothes, movies, and a new iPhone with all of the features. They want without the cuteness and love a toddler returns. But they are my kids, and from some out of body alien experience, I just want to give to them.
The Tightrope Stage
It doesn’t end here though. Once high school and driving hit, their kid problems get more adult-like. They still want, want, want, but now that they drive they don’t feel like they need anymore. They don’t need us to get places. Therefore they don’t need us to remind them to do their homework or to eat a balanced meal, or for that matter, to come home and eat with the family.
I used bribery here and tried to cook wonderful meals that they didn’t want to miss. That helped keep family dinners around longer. But this phase of want without perceived need leaves even a parent feeling used or taken advantage of. At least in glimpses. But once we can get Satan out of our head, our hearts swell with joy over their independence and personal achievement.
This is a rewarding and challenging phase for parents. We are still involved in the daily doing life together, while trying not to hold on too tight, lest we would create a failure to launch generation. Yet, we are still providing, on their terms not our own. We can’t just love with physical abandon of a death-threatening hug. We don’t want to become their friend because they are still not adults, even if they think they are, and need our guidance even if they don’t think they do.
This is the tightrope stage. This is trying to keep the balance of parenting and allowing your kids to become their own self. The problem here is that as we are so focused on not falling to the ground from our tightrope, we look up at the end of the line and we have adults staring back at us. Full grown people who are taller than us, smarter than us, and ready to conquer a world that has already worn us out some.
Parenting Adult Children
We are now parents of adult children; albeit young adults.
Young adults who have to figure life out. Their life. What God has for them. His will, not mom and dad’s will.
But, I am still your mom, my soul cries, when they tell you they aren’t coming home for Thanksgiving, or they accepted a job in another city for the summer. And you try to remember what you did at that age when you had your first adult-sized problems. Did I really go to my other stupid, only-been-an-adult-for-like-5 minute friends, and ask their advice instead of my parents who are wise and sage and love me more than is possible for a human heart? Did I do that too?
When the daily calls slide to every few, and then the texts and call backs even slow down because their lives are busy and they don’t have time. What the heck? I didn’t sign up for this part of parenthood. Don’t you remember that I gave up my sleep, my sanity, my vacations, my money, my free time for you? Don’t you realize that you were so demanding of time and attention as a small human that had so much need that your parents gave up friends and family, purpose and passion, to focus on your needs?
And yes we chose to. Yes we decided to have you. Yes we wouldn’t go back and trade it for anything.
But how do we parent adult children? What does that look like? How do we navigate?
The Letting Go Phase
As our children move away for college or life after college, parents are also left with transition. My thoughts feel like a rapid cycling tornado at times. Do I move on and start getting a life? My kids are busy figuring out life. I can shift gears now and make friends again, pick up hobbies, throw myself into work. Until they slow down, get homesick or miss me. If I am not available when they have a need, they will get over it and move on….but then I miss it. I miss the precious moments of getting to be Mom again. I don’t have time for the phone call when they want to talk. I had plans already the weekend they decide they can come home.
If I move on with my life I might miss the fewer and further between intersections with their lives.
If I don’t move on, I become the nagging Mom asking when I will see them, when will I hear from them. Because remember this is the transition years. It was only yesterday that they still needed me for everything. It was only yesterday that they were fussing at me for not answering the phone in the middle of the work day because they had a crisis and needed to talk at that precise moment. It was only yesterday if their dad and I said we had dinner plans out that they looked like an abandoned baby bird squawking for food in the nest.
Their indignation has turned into mine.
I feel left in the nest without my babies wondering if they have crashed in their first solo flight or been picked off by a predator. I feel like I am missing the highs of their life as well. I am like any stranger looking on Instagram to see what they have been up to and to know that they are alright.
And while I am having this pity party I also know that I wouldn’t want the alternative. I wanted to raise strong independent kids with minds of their own and lives of their own. I wanted them to folllow Christ and all that He has planned for them. I am proud of their choices and I know that their struggles are necessary for their own spiritual development.
I don’t want to change a thing. Really, I don’t.
I just don’t want to mess my part up. I want to be the parent they want and need…even if it is different in this phase.
I just want the how-to guide on being a parent of adult children. I want the rule book on what I am calling the letting go phase!