The last task of raising a child is letting them go.
Allowing them to flap their cute little wings and fly… giving them a gentle nudge out of the nest to get them airborne. Ah yes, little birdies, spread your wings and fly.
OK, sometimes it’s more like a hard shove off a cliff… but then the harder transition from the parent-child to an adult-to-adult relationship must be made.
This process doesn’t happen overnight. The ritual sounds easy in theory, but it can be a bit sticky in practice. It’s difficult not to remain mommy or daddy, and even harder for the chicks not to revert back to being children.
Conversation is one of the biggest stumbling blocks during this process. Neither side has had practice speaking to one another as adults. It’s all too easy to return to the talking AT each other that dominated the teen years, not so long ago, instead of talking TO each other.
The filter that prevents us from saying things we might regret to our peers leaks like a sieve when family is involved. Then suddenly it’s right back to the old teenage shouting matches.
Physical distance can be helpful in this case. Not living in the same house removes several parts of the parent – child dynamic. The old “while you’re living in my house, you’ll live by my rules” answered by the “I’m an adult, you can’t tell me what to do” argument is certainly not the recipe for an adult-to-adult relationship.
Sure we miss our kids, but by not seeing them very often, our relationship has actually grown closer. It’s more of a special occasion when we do get to see them.
It also means we talk on the phone a lot. As a father, I’ve found phone calls with our girls, The Piglet and Decibel, much easier than with The Boy. The Piglet and Decibel are more open and nonchalant about what’s going on in their lives and we chat easily on almost any subject.
The Boy and I can talk like crazy about politics, religion and sports, the topics most people avoid when trying to prevent arguments, but not so much about personal stuff.
He can still get somewhat defensive about things — like I’m trying to grill him. Some of it is no doubt my fault, still sounding too much like the old “did you do your homework yet?” dad. Some may be that we haven’t had enough time apart yet.
A sure way to knock the legs out from under a fledgling adult-to-adult relationship is sticking one’s nose in where it doesn’t belong – especially when it comes to belief systems.
We instilled our moral code while raising them, our offspring know what we believe – continually knocking them over their heads with it while they are trying to figure out life does no one any good.
There’s an old saying that goes “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” It’s important not to annoy the pigs. It’s a sure way to shut them off.
I want them to be comfortable enough to come to us for counsel, and they do. Relationships, bad bosses, fixing flat tires, culinary catastrophes – Veronica and I are the resident, non-judgmental experts. We listen, listen, listen and are mindful when we give out advice. We relish that role.
Our life experience sure comes in handy, we have helpful hints and we’re careful to let our kids know that — as much as we’d like to — we can’t fix their problems.
There is a delicate balancing act between hovering over every aspect of their lives and being there for them. Conversely, their asking for help or advice is quite different from them expecting us to support them financially.
We made it very plain to our kids BEFORE they left the nest, that we would not be their source of income once they finished school. My father did the same for me and I’m sure glad he did.
Knowing this ahead of time gave our Spawn time to plan, prepare and make arrangements… in other words, become adults. I think we were successful in conveying to them that they had to make it on their own while understanding that we will always be there for them if things ever get really bad – or when they just need to get something off their chest.
Up to this point, I can say that I am extremely pleased with the way the transition from our parent – child relationship has gone. Not only do we have three great children that are happy and successful, we have three new adult friends that we love like family.
YOUR TURN: How have you come through this difficult period? Can you relate? Any tips for the rest of us?
28 thoughts on “Who’s Kidding Who?”
I knew I loved your sense of humor. Had no idea I also shared your parental value system. So nice to read your views. I am new at the Adult Child bit, my only daughter (known as The Child in my blog) is ‘only’ 23 and and only child to boot. You really nail the part about how hard it is to talk ‘adult-to-adult’. Maybe it’s the same-sex barrier. I notice that you feel some awkwardness with your son; I feel some with our daughter…but my husband doesn’t (!) One helpful tip: try talking in the car. There is little eye contact (that is, if one of you is driving), so the talk feels (slightly!) less confrontational.
Love the talking in the car idea, thanks!
Wow …. David & Veronica ….. I had no idea you guys recycle very old comments & articles until just now!
I just read this article thinking it was new (seemed familiar though) …. then read the comments ….. and low & behold … their was a comment I made over a year ago republished by you!
That nightmare situation is over now …. I had to pay my ruthless ex off because of a completely corrupt divorce judicial system in California. I also had to pay a completely untrustworthy female lawyer thousands which she used to sit on her hands till I fired her and payed my ex off. She was as painful to deal with as my ex.
We do repost some articles from time to time. Glad to hear your situation is resolved.
I feel like I have had a mature relationship with my daughter since the beginning. I was a single mom and we did everything together – she rose to the occasions rather than me having to come down to a child level. She moved out to LA at 18 for 3 years and then back home for school. She is 27, living at home and she pays rent, cable, phone, etc and we have a very mature GREAT relationship. I relish our time every day.
Once a hover mother, always a hover mother. That’s my motto. He can deal with it. Why should I change? It worked well for all those years, I think it’d be confusing if I changed who I was. Sometimes he tells me I’m annoying, but secretly I think he likes knowing I’m still mommy.
Such a difficult transition. My ex and his mother have made the process more difficult than it needed to be. I had hopes for the smooth transition you mentioned but at 19, it is still a struggle.
Hang in there and give things a little more time.
What a terrific post and discussion. Thanks for sharing.
Hope to be in your situation one day. Thanks for the inspiration.
I agree that treating them with respect is the key, and it’s something I have always done, even when they were children. I think you hit the nail on the head in your blog when you wrote of talking “at” them rather than “to” them. I tried not to talk “at” my children ever. I aimed to instill in them from an early age that everyone should treat everyone else with respect, and aimed to lead by example 🙂
You couldn’t be more correct Anna – respect is key in every relationship. Thanks for sharing!
Remembering respect and empathy have helped me. Try to put yourself in their place–remember what it felt like becoming an adult, and what attitudes or actions gave YOU grief. Then try and not make the same mistakes.
Very sage advice.
I know! I have adult sons and I learned that I had to back off. Don’t call every day – maybe once or twice a week. If they live close – don’t just “drop in”. Especially with daughters-in-law involved. Took me a while to learn!
Yes! Our kids aren’t married yet, but we will keep that in mind – new mistakes for us to make – and learn from!
Make lists of what you respect about your friends; make lists of what you respect about your kids. Refer to list 1 when making list 2, so you don’t get caught up in the “looks so cute in his uniform” stuff – make it about accomplishments based on choice and challenge.
In your head, refer to your kids as Mr. __ or Ms. __ as if you had a business-client relationship.
Don’t make belittling comments masquerading as support or humor.
Back off and give your opinion only when requested.
Be supportive, not demanding, controlling, or – even with the best of intentions – guiding.
Ask THEIR opinions – and really listen.
Thanks so much Katrina – great tips!
I agree with your approach with your children’s transition to adulthood. I went through a nightmarish 5 year divorce in which my negligent, abusive ex-wife was given everything (ALL property, and profitable rental business developed during our 7 year marriage, and unneeded child support). I paid my support (and had 47% custody) and all children are adults now. Unfortunately for me (and our children), my ex-wife believes that a parent should continue being the source of income and financial support for children well into their adult years (just as her mother did for her-spoiled rotten). My 24 and 22 year olds seem to be gainfully employed with their careers and tell me they are. (they ride around in nearly new BMW’s and Mercedes!) My third child (19 & 1/2) does not want to even try to find work because my ex gives her whatever she wants (the most expensive things too!) I’ve tried to advise my youngest about education and career goals – she doesn’t listen and viciously insults. She is very immature and her mother is keeping her conditioned as a dependent child and is now just as spoiled as her mother is! She says all three are still financially dependent on her and she wants lots more money out of me! This is a lie in regards to my two oldest. Ex is a pathological liar. To make matters worse, my ex-wife is extremely angry at me for not hopping on her band wagon of unconditional support. I disagree …. my kids are not stupid and can do well for themselves. So my ex-wife’s solution is to attack me financially …. she has filed a court action demanding $40,000. on a 13 year old property issue which was supposed to be finished with, but the laws were changed recently making divorce issues eternal …. there’s now no statute of limitations on anything! Eternal war=MADNESS. Ca. Legislature did this. The contentious issue she’s pushing for was unjust & wrong then (and was never pursued), and still is. Never thought this would happen in my children’s adult life or in my old age! my adult children are all very upset at their mother and want her to stop, but, she won’t!!! – too greedy & abusive. I’m told if I battle this in court, that it’s up to the court’s discretion …. it’s a 50/50 win/lose battle …. but attorney costs are about $5000. to even start doing anything. My ex is not sane or reasonable and I see her aggressive conduct affecting all my adult children badly – and me. I’m in pain. What would you do?
Wow, I don’t know. Maybe some of our readers have some ideas. Anybody?
Your post pretty much mirrors our experience with our twenty-something year olds. Those last few years before they left were not all that pleasant. I think that might be a species thing so that we will be willing to let them go and they will be chomping at the bit to leave home. We have two sons. One is a communicator and stays in daily touch. The other lives two blocks away and we hardly ever hear from him. What’s nice is that they both seem to feel that family (including extended family)is important and they are happy to join in family get togethers. The older one is now engaged which will change the family dynamic again, but he has chosen a young woman who also seems to value her family ties.
I feel that we did prepare our “spawn” for the real world. They were raised in a fairly affluent neighborhood and insisted (grumbled) that they were the only children who were expected to do their own laundry and cook. When each came home on his first college break, they expressed astonishment that their dorm mates didn’t even know how to do laundry. As older teens they both also had jobs and understood how to manage their money by the time they left home.
It’s a delicate balance. You want them to feel competent and capable of living independently, but you also want them to know that you will be there for them in times of despair (and there will be some).
At the other end of life, I am involved with a recently widowed mother who is in her 80’s. This being human thing is a complex tapestry—thank G-d.
Our oldest dropped out of college, joined the military, and recently got married. It was difficult when he left but we have formed a really wonderful adult relationship, and he’s recently married a woman who encourages our family ties (love her!).
The last time I talked to him he’d gotten a promotion (which he started this Monday). He said he wanted to ensure he had a solid background for finding work when he got out of the military because the thought of not being able to take care of his family (he and his wife are hoping to have kids when he gets out in a few years) scared him. Such a grown up thing to say… proactively backed up by his actions. I can’t even tell you how proud of him I am. 🙂
It’s hard when they leave, but it’s nice too, in a whole different way. We still have three at home and when we can all get together it really is special, just like you noted.
Thanks for the post. Your story is a good one, and I enjoyed reading about it. Sounds like we’re both pretty lucky. 😀
Thanks, agreed we are lucky. But sometimes luck takes some work too.
oh how I can relate with this post. I have 2 grown daughters. I had to learn quickly to keep my mouth closed on many things. What a challenge it has been! Great post!
Thanks. We think it really pays off in the adult to adult relationship.
Totally agree! My parents and I get along much better when I don’t live with them. It seems like when I’m visiting my dad for too long a stretch I revert to child like behavior….. meaning I still like him to come tuck me in! haha
Ah – I have a 17 year old and it has been hard, sad, weird all in one. This pre-empty nester period is far harder than I could have imagined. And yes, we’re both figuring out how to relate to eachother in this new chapter. The fact is, I probably haven’t had any “control” over him in years LOL.
I have to admit – the albatross & shark visual does make me giggle. Of course, I don’t want him to be eaten by a shark, but the little nibbles always teach us, right?
Treat your kid w/ the same care a new friend deserves. Be honest & say when you’re confused. You’re not the leader anymore