How Far Do We Parent Our Adult Children?

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As we say goodbye to the toddler and teenage days of parenting, we enter new territory: parenting adult children. This stage presents a new set of challenges, as those before them did. In the continued spirit of embracing simplicity, I came across my well worn (and well marked!) book “What to Expect the Toddler Years”.  It made me smile in reflection, but it also made me think, if only there was one like this for the young adult years!

Conversations with friends as of late have debated, “how far do we get involved?” This is especially important when opinions aren’t solicited, namely when our “kids” are still living at home (through their 20s and even into their 30s). What expectations should we hold them to, ensuring their independence is fostered while also letting them experience life lessons as they occur?

Coincidently, while on a recent “mini-vacation” with girlfriends, this topic was one of the first we embraced during our catch up. As we shared, laughed, and poured a second glass of wine, one of the conclusions was “should we really be calling this stage parenting?”  

Wikipedia states that Parenting or child-rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of child from infancy to adulthood.  

We concluded: it is more about developing the next stage of our relationship (with our children), and not parenting at all.

There are many areas of “building” this adult relationship. This includes cohabiting (living together as adults and respecting boundaries), contribution to household requirements, financial expectations, emotional support, career support (how far do we extend our own professional relationships and advice?), their relationships (specifically with significant others), and one of the toughest – allowing them to fail at times and not pick up the pieces.

Our two children, Paige (26) and Joshua (23) live at home. Paige relocated after completing post-secondary education, and after 2 years of work and the reality of financial independence (in an expensive city), chose to return home and save money. Around the same time, Joshua graduated too, secured employment, and made the decision to remain at home and save.

Michael and I welcomed the return of our daughter, as well as the opportunity to provide our children with a “head start”. As a mother, I was thrilled to have my family together again, knowing this period in life is finite. However, with it came some frustration, primarily around expectations – for all of us. There were some tough days and loss of patience. Eventually, it led to a much-needed conversation of “what does this new space look like for all of us?” It was important for us to talk, especially to ensure our family relationship was not compromised.

We concluded that it can’t just be Michael and I “telling” the kids what they had to do, but more so, respecting the fact that we’re all responsible adults with differing approaches, thoughts, and opinions. We asked them what they believe this new space of our lives needed to be and how it could work, as well as what were they willing to contribute emotionally, physically and financially. It was a lengthy (and at points, tense) conversation but it was honest and productive – we all felt good about in the end.

It is important, as hard as it can be, to ensure our children have a voice as they continue to make and learn through tough decisions. Despite the fact their decisions may cause disappointment for us at times, we should resist the urge to always “fix it” for them. In reality, we’re doing them no favour by doing so. But we do need to be there to gently guide and offer advice and emotional support. We need to ask ourselves, “When do we decide to let them live their life?”  

This is a small aspect of many experiences with our children at this stage. But one thing is for sure, we are building a foundation for lasting relationships as a family of adults. One that provides solid ground for a future extended family of spouses and grandchildren.

What to Expect the Toddler Years did not go into the “purge” pile. Instead, it went right back onto the bookshelf with a smile, and the anticipation that one day – I will pass it on as “what Mom used when you were young!”

Why? Because the addition of new members to our family will one day brighten our home even more. And…because I can!

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Mother and daughter visit over teamother and sonmother and sonfamily

Photos: Kderk Photography ,  Leanne Lynn Photography and Michael Zaporzan 

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