Parenting is the most challenging full-time position in the world, for which there is no job description, no paycheck, and no sick or vacation days. There is also no retirement plan. Just because your children are grown, have graduated, or are no longer living at home doesn’t mean that your responsibilities as a parent come to a screeching halt. On the contrary, you may stress, worry, advise, and support now more than ever, but the context will change.
When my children were babies, I would often stand over their cribs during the night to make sure they were breathing. Now that their rooms are empty, I find myself standing over my phone, checking for signs of life via their social media accounts. As they became teens, I would lie in bed and listen for the familiar beep of the alarm to let me know they were home safely. Now, the ping of a text message from miles away offers me the same relief.
Yes, parenting your grown sons and daughters may look different as they assert their independence, but what you might find in this new relationship dynamic is that they need you more than ever, whether they want to admit it or not. They may seek your advice now rather than roll their eyes when it’s offered, and your conversations may take on deeper and more meaningful levels as you begin to relate to one another as adults. Like any life transition, this new phase of parenting may feel unfamiliar. Still, there are ways to navigate these unchartered waters that can make your child feel seen and heard as an adult while allowing you to still play a significant role in their life.
It can feel strange to go from talking to your child every single day to hearing from them a handful of times per week. After all, you’ve been a part of their daily lives for at least 18 years, weathering the ups and downs. But at some point, you have to acknowledge that your child has a life that doesn’t include you in the daily mix. Jobs, friends, and classes become priorities, and they begin to find their own paths. Trust that you’ve given them the tools they need to make good, solid choices and give them the freedom to create their lives so that when you do check in, there is much to talk about.
I remember when my oldest son came home from college for the first time. His hair was long, his ears were pierced, and he announced that a tattoo was on the horizon. This is a child who grew up attending a small, conservative, private school, so I instinctively understood where this desire to explore his individuality was coming from. Rather than react with shock at his new “look,” as I am sure he anticipated, I complimented the tattoo design he was considering, and we talked about where he should go to get it done.
A year later, his hair is reasonably stylish once again, and he still hasn’t gone through with the tattoo. Honestly, if he wants to, that’s his business, but once he realized it wasn’t “forbidden,” it lost a little luster. The point here is that if you want your grown children to come to you with the bigger issues life will throw at them, then you have to decide which of the smaller issues are really worth a strong reaction.
As a parent, it’s only natural that we want to “fix” our children’s problems. We’ve had many years to practice – between kissing boo-boos, chasing monsters out of closets, and playing referee to sibling arguments. As they enter adulthood, however, they probably don’t need you to “fix” anything as much as they need you to listen and maybe even offer advice. After getting his first “real” job in college, my oldest son called me, exhausted and irritable over the demands of work and school, coupled with the paltry paycheck he was receiving.
My first instinct was to send him money, but when I offered, he balked. “No, mom, that’s not why I’m calling. I just need your advice.” After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I realized that he was not looking for a solution; he was looking for reassurance in the fact that almost everyone (including his mother) has been there and done that. He needed an ear, not a hand or a handout.
As mentioned, parenting does not have a retirement age or monetary compensation, but it does have some pretty amazing benefits. Watching your offspring as they straddle that line between child and adult, making decisions that are the result of the values and ethics you’ve tried to instill over the years, is extremely rewarding.
Being part of their lives as they embark on career paths, find loving partners, or become parents themselves is nothing short of surreal. Raising independent, productive, kind, and empathetic members of society is one of life’s greatest accomplishments. Take pride in the job you’ve done, sit back, and enjoy some of the job perks that come with this new relationship you now enjoy. You’ve earned it!
After your kiddos are gone, it’s a great time to take up a new hobby or just treat yourself!