Parenting young children is about molding them. Parenting young adults is about accepting them.
When I became a mother, I pored over the book What To Expect When You Are Expecting. And then for the next year, I was glued to the follow up, What To Expect The First Year. Sadly, most parenting books end in the teenage years. It’s as if everyone agreed that once you have raised your kids to maturity, you’re not supposed to have challenges in your relationship with your child.
Of course, that is a load of horse crap. Early adulthood is an especially challenging time for children and their parents. Navigating your new relationship can be hard.
So here’s a little advice and some idea of what to expect when your children become young adults.
1. Parenting young children is about molding them. Parenting young adults is about accepting them. You will have an overwhelming urge at times to try to modify their behavior or control some outcome in their lives like you did when they were younger. Resist this urge at all cost.
2. They will tell you things that they did when they were children and you will be horrified. You will shake your head and wonder how they survived, or wonder how in the world you didn’t realize what they were up to. The important thing is to remember that they did, in fact, survive. And as an extra bonus, they still like you enough to tell you what was happening in their childhood when you were not looking.
3. They will have the toddler syndrome and want to do things all by themselves. You will sometimes know that they are not prepared for this, that they are going to make a royal mess out of it. And still you will need to let them do it all by themselves.
4. There will be awkward moments—incredibly awkward moments. If you treat your adult children as adults, presumably they will act like adults in your home. And you will likely run across things or overhear things you never wanted to know about. Just walk away and use your favorite form of brain bleach. Mine is vodka and reruns of “Parks and Recreation.”
5. From time to time, they will amaze you. They will tell a story, and you will realize that they have developed a truly great sense of humor. Or they will act with kindness, and you will discover that your child is a person that you genuinely like. You will realize that you are not responsible for all of their goodness—that some of it is just who they are. And you will be grateful.
6. They will remember the damnedest things from their childhood. All of the things that you plan carefully to try to make a good and lasting memory may or may not have taken. And if they do remember them, it will always be a little differently from what you remember and of course very different from what you planned. And those planned memories will not mean as much to them as spontaneous moments—events that you will not remember because they were just another moment in many long days of parenting. But your child will hold in his heart the time that you plopped down on the trampoline next to him and watched the stars come out while he told bad jokes. And your other child may remember fondly all of the times you royally screwed up. It is all OK.
7. Worry expands exponentially as your children age. Suddenly, you are not only worrying about your own children’s safety, but also about the safety and health of the people they love. My worry workload is not just two adult children; I have to worry about four adult children, and eventually I hope to add to that number with grandchildren. The worrying never ends.
8. They will have more embarrassing stories about you than you will have about them. So tread very carefully.
9. They will want to take care of you. You will find them struggling to find the right birthday present for you. They may want to give you money or want to hold your hand when you are going through a medical crisis. It is really tough to let them be there for you. But I have noticed that it seems to be the most important way that they demonstrate that they really are adults.
10. They will still go through developmental stages. Human development does not end at 18. We tend to think that the product we delivered to the world when they become adults is set in stone—that who they are at that fateful time is who they will be for life. But everything from their bodies to their spirituality will continue to mature. So take a deep breath and trust their process.
11. They will smell even the slightest whiff of disapproval. We think that we can hide our feelings about our children’s choices, but we can’t. If you don’t want your child to feel disapproved of, you have to change how you feel not how you behave. You have to remind yourself that your child is the best expert on herself. She really does know what she is doing. And if she makes a mistake, it is OK. She has the best safety net on earth: a loving family.
12. Loyalty matters. If you bitch about your child to another family member or a friend, it will get back to him. If you need to talk, do it with a therapist or a spouse. Never talk behind your adult child’s back.
13. Sibling wars will continue. Really, they will still bicker for fun and it will make you crazy.
14. Many children in this generation will need to boomerang. This is not your child’s failing or your failing. It is our society’s failing. Support your adult children in whatever way you can.
15. Above all, remember this. What holds relationships together is shared fun times. Your time with your adult children cannot be all about obligatory holidays and grow-up stuff. If you want to remain close to your adult kids, have fun with them.
Lynn Beisner writes about family, social justice issues, and the craziness of daily life. Her work can be found on Role Reboot, Alternet, and on her blog: Two Parts Smart-Ass; One Part Wisdom. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.