Parenting Adult Children

I have gone to a counselor/therapist off and on for over 30 years.  Part of the package of growing up in a dysfunctional household is an unrealistic idea of what is “normal” – or even that there IS a normal – family.  I struggle with “healthy boundaries” the way some people might have troubles finding their keys in the morning.  What IS a healthy boundary?  What is a healthy relationship with adult children?  Is the term “adult children” an oxymoron?

Let’s face it, after 18-20 years of being held accountable for someone’s actions, it isn’t easy to just let them loose when they have the special birthday!  I still feel judged and accountable for their actions today: the career they choose, the cars they drive, the house they live in, even their parenting!  So how does one transition into letting go, stepping back, having a ‘healthy’ relationship?  I believe the key word here is ‘transition.’

Each milestone we celebrated a little, cried a little, and even mourned a little.  Where did our baby go when they began toddling off to play without us?  Or our little friend when they left us at home to venture off to school for just half days?  I remember crawling into our big Chevy Suburban the day before taking my son to college to cry in private.  I cried so hard I thought my eyelids would turn inside out.  It didn’t happen in a day, I wasn’t ‘fine’ the following weekend.  Little by little, we both learned to create new connections.

The Tuesday lunches in Grand Rapids at Schnitz Deli are still fond memories from almost 10 years ago.  I would pick him up from the dorm and we would have lunch, do taxes, talk about grades, and I would drop him back off in front of the Wege center on Aquinas’s campus.  Yet today when he comes home to visit from St.Louis MO and Chiropractic college we navigate another transition.  I am not used to food disappearing from the refrigerator, or someone laying on the sofa.  Coming home from work to find him in my chair can raise my ire!  So we talk, and talk, and text, and talk some more.

My daughter, who lives closer, hasn’t had as much time or distance to buffer the transition from challenging child to mother of the same.  I catch myself saying things like “feed that baby” or “doesn’t she have a coat?”  Sometimes I catch myself and apologize, but mostly I don’t even notice.  I trust that she knows my heart and understands I am trying to let go and that I love her, and the grandbaby too.  We all laugh, talk and even argue about the change in relationships and the changing expectations.  I don’t know if this is “normal” but my therapist assures me it is healthy.  Keeping the lines of communication open, being here for one another, and knowing that the relationship is so much more important than being right, are key elements in the process.

Please share if you have any suggestions, advice, ideas that have worked…I know my sister and her adult kids and grandkids get together once a month for a meal and to reconnect.  They do this at one another’s house and take turns with providing food.  This seems to take the pressure off of major holidays and those expectations as well as not letting little hurts fester for too long.  Our Christmas vacations have helped us learn to live together for a few days – also knowing that it is only a few days – we can make it work.

I’m anxious to hear from you!  Let’s keep this conversation going!

Please share your thoughts ...