Parenting Adult Children
During the short 18 years we invest in our kids before they head off into the world, it’s our job to work ourselves out of a job. If we’re wise (and I swear a bit lucky!) we’re able to gradually transfer both freedom & responsibility to our teens so that by the time they’re ready for their next phase of life, they’re prepared and mature enough to handle things on their own. Once they turn 18, the law says they get to do whatever they want –with consequences of course. This puts parents in a new and unfamiliar role. By this time, we know them pretty well. Their strengths, weaknesses, habits, passions…and blind spots! And those blind spots are often what makes “letting go” most difficult. As a mom of two adult children, I know how hard it can be to watch our adult “kids” move forward to uncover these things for themselves. (Especially when we see things around the corners ahead that could cause problems or painful lessons for them.)
If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I coach using a model which addresses our: Circumstances, Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Results. I recently learned an additional way to sort out my thoughts and reactions when it comes to parenting adults. (Ironically, it’s also helped me manage my mind around other adults as well!) Imagine you have a walk-in-closet that’s a state of absolute mayhem. Unfolded pants shoved into shelves, Piles of clothes spilling onto the floor (some in need of repairs), lose buttons, a box filled half-way for the thrift store, a pile of shoes missing their match… Now picture trying to organize that mess without taking anything out of the closet. Probably not how you’d do it, right? You’d take everything out first and spread it all out on the bed. Then you’d sort it, putting like things together. You’d hold each individual piece in your hands, inspecting it for damage before deciding: keep, donate, or toss? I want to offer that you can approach your thoughts about your adult children in a similar way. Take all your thoughts about whatever they’re experiencing and “dump them” all on paper. Then look at each one individually to decide which box they land in. Are you keeping old beliefs that aren’t serving you anymore? Do these thoughts still “fit” your child or has she outgrown them? Many of us have never taken the time to really get clear about what beliefs we hold as to who is responsible for our children once they’re not children anymore. Who do you believe is responsible for their choices? Do you believe God holds you responsible for your their behavior? What’s your role and why? Do you believe your parents are responsible for your behavior today? If not, at what age did this change? Keep in mind that that our thoughts will create emotions (whether positive or negative) which will drive our actions. If I think “He’s really messing up”, I’ll likely feel fearful. This could drive me to nag him, trying to tell him all the things I think he needs to know. Doing so then pushes him away and closes off our communication, feeding my fear that he’s going to “mess up”. But if I choose to think “I can trust that he’s going to figure this out.” I’ll probably feel more confident and give him space to explore and make mistakes. Doing so allows me to see evidence that I can trust him to figure it out. Notice that this doesn’t mean that we can’t share our hearts or our concerns with our adult children. But it does allow me to do so from a clean place, rather in a reactive manner or from a negative emotion such as fear or frustration. It allows me to communicate from a loving and trusting place…if that’s what I choose. Here are some optional thoughts that may give you some freedom: It was my job to plant seeds and nurture them. God’s got it from here. I just get to love them & help them explore their options; they get to choose their life & consequences.
It’s not my job to rescue them from the lessons God wants to teach them. This is the beginning of a new relationship. We’re both learning along the way.
We’re all going through this transition period. She’ll figure it out. God’s going with them to all the places I can’t.
The truth is, that your adult child is out of your control whether you continue to hang on or not. But I think you’ll agree that none of us liked to be “parented” when we had just been deemed “adult”. We all thought we knew more than our parents thought we did, and possibly even more then they did. And yet, we figured it out. They will too.
You’re learning a new role.
It’s a process.
And God will teach you both plenty along the way!
Not sure how to apply this to your own life? Why not do a mini session with me?
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