Sometimes memories seem clearer than reality. Today as I watched my oldest daughter back her car out of our driveway, the grown woman she has become seemed to suddenly vanish, leaving in her wake the image of a giggling, towheaded toddler climbing into her car seat.
From our first days as parents, we know that our children won’t always be living with us. But when they actually venture out on their own, we step into a new area in our relationships. And many of us must relearn how to affirm our grown children as independent adults and establish new boundaries in our relationships, while still trusting that God will continue to work in their lives.
We bless our children when we let them go, but we still stay connected. By communicating clear expectations, parents and children can learn new relationship patterns that don’t revert back to early parent-child interactions. To do this, parents and adult children need to take time to define their expectations of each other so their relationship can be healthy and respectful.
This can become complicated if adult children need to move back into their parents’ home. One mother, Pam, imagined what life would be like once her two boys grew up and left home. Yet her 30-year-old son lives at home with them now, following a business setback and college expenses.
To assist children returning home, parents might set boundaries while still recognizing their child’s independence. Regardless of where adult children live, they need to be recognized as adults. In Pam’s case, she and her husband provided clear ground rules in advance — regarding chores, bill repayment, etc. — that would eventually result in their son being on his own again. (If children move back home because of an illness or other tragedy, the parents might be more concerned about their children’s stability or having their physical and mental needs met, before addressing other matters.)
Affirming and respecting choices
My friend Amy and I recently discussed an ongoing dilemma she has been facing with her daughter Nina. Before Nina was married, Amy said, “We often got together for lunch, talked on the phone, dropped by each other’s houses for coffee and attended church activities together.”
Amy expected the amount of time they spent together to change when Nina got married, and it did. She is no longer able to see her daughter as much as she would like. Other parents experience this same type of separation when their children decide to make decisions that are contrary to their parents’ beliefs, such as children living with a boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage or quitting school before graduation. Parents have a choice whether to support their children’s decisions, but they must realize they no longer get to make those choices for their children.
Parents bless their grown children when they accept the fact that their children are now responsible for their own decisions. Parents can no longer prescribe the course of their children’s lives nor manage the events and experiences that come their way.
To truly bless our children, we respect not only their independence, but we also let them manage the consequences that come from their choices. Of course, our prayers can always beg God for the best for them, but our response to them should not be one of picking up the pieces all the time. They get the joys and problems that come from their choices. Additionally, we should tread lightly when offering advice that our children haven’t asked for. We shouldn’t tell them where to spend their money, to whom and when they should marry, whether they should attend church and whether to have children.
Too often I wanted to plunge in and fix things in my grown children’s lives that only God can fix. I gave advice when listening would have been better, said “yes” when saying “no” could have produced greater growth, or disputed their need for privacy when I wanted to know something that wasn’t any of my business.
Simply put, parents are no longer in charge of their grown children. That time has passed. But we remain their parents — which requires wise discernment regarding how we will stay connected and what we say to encourage them, when we can. We need to recognize that they are now adults, accept that they make their own decisions without trying to control them. And when we do that, we become a blessing to them.