The challenge with parenting adult children is…well..they’re adults. As much as I can always see them in my mind’s eye as those little children who needed me so much or followed me around or asked endless questions, the fact is now they are taller then me and have to worry over things like rent and bills. In many ways it is a relief not to have to be the one person responsible for daily things like getting food ready, giving baths, helping with homework or rides to play dates with friends. In other ways, it is difficult to realize that when they are going through life’s bumps I can no longer just kiss them and make it better.
Parenting is an exercise in letting go. When my children were infants, the sheer volume of their need was sometimes overwhelming. They were so small and helpless. I could not interpret what their cries meant. Were they just hungry and wet or did they hurt somewhere? Were they afraid? Was this normal or something dire? I just remembered thinking how good it would be once they could actually tell me what was wrong.
Once they did find their voices, conversations were very enlightening and often a joy. It also had it’s own set of worries. Did I really have all the answers they sought? What if I guided them wrong or gave them the wrong impression about a crucial life issue? I felt the weight of being the one to open to world out to them. Books helped a lot, movies did too but their peers often had them coming home with challenging ideas that often made me doubt myself and question my own values.
And yet, from this perspective, I cut myself some slack. My husband and I have done a pretty good job. We taught them to stand on their own two feet even as we both stood behind them with our arms outstretched to catch them if they fell. We taught them to question the things they see, to seek things from the heart. They are fulfilling our dreams for them but sometimes we are tangled in our own fulfillment. Nothing is ever as it could be. In many ways it is better for being unexpected. Sometimes, lots of times, it is harder.
What is evident now that they are adults is that we cannot travel their journey although there are times they let us come along for the ride. We still have so much in common. At best we can be spectators, cheerleaders, shoulders to lean on. At one time we made decisions for them but now they do that for themselves. They can listen to our advice but they don’t need to take it. They are free citizens of the world and what they make of that will be their own doing. It’s what we’ve always wanted. It’s what we fear the most. We all have our demons. We are all given tasks in life to work out.
I am fortunate. My children have reached adulthood. They are forging their own lives. I don’t negate that life can be harsh but it is beautiful too. Falling in love. Traveling to new and exciting places. Sharing times with a friend. Beautiful music. So much to live for. It is hard sometimes not to see that little girl running with her long wild hair streaming behind her or that little boy bent intently over the intricate Lego sculpture he has created. They are with me at every age in my memory, pressed between the pages of my heart. Yet, I helicopter. I hover. I worry about them, think about them, let them go. Each day I get better at that. Or I hope I do.
I know they have their own battles to fight. They must get to know who they are and what their place is in this messy, glorious thing called life. I see their strength and their need to work things for for themselves. I am here and they know it. Kahlil Gibran once wrote that although children come through us they are not actually from us. Yes and no. I see his point but I know that as they came through me, some small piece of me has stayed with them. I believe that of every parent. Each step is letting go even more. I am an adult and so are they. They’ve got this.