One thing we can count on in this life is that nothing stays the same, change is a given. Each phase of life has a shelf life as one dissolves into the next. This is especially true for women and men who have been the primary caregivers of their children. There are the toddler years, the preschool years, the school age years, the adolescent years, and on and on it goes. Each of these transitional phases bring their own set of challenges that must be addressed.
I’ve noticed that one phase that’s not often talked about is the one in which our children pass from adolescence into full fledged adulthood, thus becoming “adult children.” Navigating through this familial shift is no small feat. Out of necessity boundaries must be reevaluated and redefined as both parent and child morph their relationship into one that works for everyone. I recently conducted an informal poll among friends and acquaintances who have successfully made the transition and learned some great ideas to help smooth some of the rough patches along the way.
- Form an informal book club. Becky S started an informal book club with her daughters. They each take turns choosing a book to pass around among themselves, then meet for lunch to discuss what each took away from the read. She says it has freed all of them to share their opinions on certain subjects involving fictional characters, because “it’s just a book.” After reading Middlesex, for example, she was able to discuss everything from politics to sexual orientation with her adult daughter, something she’s not sure would have happened had they not shared the book.
- Openly discuss what the new boundaries will be as the status of the relationship changes over time. Teresa told her adult children that she would keep from giving them her opinion in certain situations unless they specifically asked for it — an informal, verbal contract of sorts. “We’d had a great deal of conflict early on because I was just too involved in their [decisionmaking].” Something had to change, because all parties were getting pretty frustrated. The irony of Teresa’s story is that now that she’s given them permission to make their own decisions, they ask her for her advice on a regular basis. The difference is that they get to decide whether or not she becomes involved.
- “Keep your eyes half closed when your kids make mistakes,” another friend suggests. After all, they have the right to make mistakes and learn from them, just as we did, as Julie discovered as she fought to keep her mouth shut as her daughter and son-in-law acquired ever increasing credit card debt. “Lo and behold, they were able to mature from the experience. They didn’t need me after all!”
Finally, it’s important to keep your sense of humor at the ready and to remember that their trials and difficulties of adulthood shall also pass. Once the relationship as fully shifted, the parent/ adult child relationship will take on a unique life of its own. Hopefully, careful navigation through ephemeral rapids of early adulthood, the next period of life will provide mutual, loving benefit to both parent and child.