It’s been a hectic holiday season, and I was able to spend the majority of that with my children and their children. It was crazy and fun, but it also made me give a lot of thought to how my role as a parent has changed.
It’s an odd coincidence that my daughter just wrote about how she feels my parenting as she was growing up had some benefits for her, because I, too, believe that there were a few (perhaps only a few) moments in their childhood when I managed to be a competent parent. I actually never even doubted that, even while I know that like all parents, I made some glaring mistakes.
My problem, as it appears to me now, is how do I act as a parent when my children are now adults and with some children of their own? Obviously, I’m no longer giving out allowances or setting curfews, but is there still a place for parenting with your adult children?
I find I’m more apt to hand out advice now than I was when they were children. I tell them how to handle family relations, what to say to their doctors, how to manage their study time and what to use to clean their toilets. Even as I am saying these things, and I can read from their polite expressions that they find me intrusive, I know in my own mind that it is not necessary. I know that I can be a help to my children without burdening them with a step-by-step instruction on how to run their lives, something I seldom troubled to do to them when they were still children at home.
I have to remember that the decisions they make now are not just concerning themselves; they have significant others, different lifestyles and different philosophies to consider. But there are still things I can do, right? One thing I’ve got to learn not to do is open the checkbook too often. Even my children tell me I have a habit of distributing money too quickly, when sometimes they need to work out what they need on their own.
So, except for curing my quick-draw on the checkbook, what else can I do to prove that I am a parent, but that I also know that my children are grown? How do I tell my children that I’m proud of their educational endeavors without sounding condescending? How do I express that I think their choice of significant others is both sound and intelligent without sounding creepy? How do I offer advice or opinions without sounding as though I think they don’t know how to do it?
I contemplated this during my entire holiday with them. I do a lot of the clean-up in the kitchen simply because I like to leave the house in good shape when I go home. I was glad of this on Christmas night, because I found myself caught in an attack of the “weepies” (I can’t call them baby blues at this age), because I felt myself inadequate as the parent of adults. I was able to spend a few minutes alone, counseling myself on this question.
I think the answer I came up with is pretty brilliant. The answer is, that my parenting of my children is not what defines me or them. I can be their support and I can offer my opinions, but life does not balance on whether or not they follow me like willing sheep (I really don’t want that, by the way). I can appreciate them as both family and a part of my world, as long as I have other things there, because I no longer need to spend all my time setting their curfews or giving out allowances (okay, I’m really going to work on that open checkbook thing.)
By the time I was finished with the kitchen and headed back out to join the Christmas crowd, I had not only re-gained my holiday spirit, but I found myself with a huge surge of enthusiasm for the coming year. I can’t explain why, but I have the most optimistic feeling about the future right now and I think it boils down to the fact that I have come to grips with my role as a parent of adults.
So, I will try to compliment without instructing, listen without directing, and most of all, I will try to enjoy the wonderful adults they have become…whoever is responsible for it!