I just spent some of the holidays with my two grown sons, their wives and three grandchildren. It was a fun time, and I feel so grateful both families are healthy and thriving.
It was especially a joy to watch my two sons interact with their kids and wives and each other. They are adults now, with adult successes and challenges. Sometimes, it was difficult for me to know when to step in and when to hold my tongue. And sometimes, its difficult to deal with the more adult problems when Im asked.
When my boys were growing up, I made my way through sleepless nights, soccer games and swimming meets, chaotic dinner hours, endless mess, the agony of college admissions and all the rest. Now, in retrospect, raising little kids was a piece of cake. As long as I hugged them a lot and made good food, things were, for the most, part OK. I could solve most problems and distract them from the others. Home was the haven from all that might be painful and difficult out in the big world.
When they grew up, they fell in love, got their hearts broken, got jobs, lost jobs, moved many times and got married. They have children, struggle with financial issues, deal with complicated fathers, get ill and both have experienced deaths of friends and loved ones. These are big deals and new territory for me as a mother. It still breaks my heart for them to have to deal with any pain at all.
Sometimes I am consulted and sometimes Im not. Certainly, I worry when I know of these times, and Im gradually learning to know how to react.
I know its important for them to build their own lives, so I wait for them to ask and then I am very available to them. Im keeping the lines of communication open, and most of the time, they just want someone to listen. They want sympathy and steadiness and support when they are in tumult.
They sometimes want guidance, but not all the time. This is the tricky part, to know when to offer it. I must recognize and respect the differences between us, and I need to see them in their lives as they are now, not when they were 8.
I also encourage them, when appropriate, to work through the unfinished business of their childhoods. None of us was perfect parents, and all people have family baggage. The sooner they can make sense of this, the healthier it is for their own families.
Many adult children are returning home to live with parents for economic reasons. This must greatly magnify the issues described above. Kudos to all parents who can do this.
The goal of parenting is to bring into the world kind, caring individuals who are responsible for themselves and the world around them. Economic times have greatly shuffled the normal timeline for this.
Another aspect of having adult children is their newfound appreciation for us as parents! As I watch my boys struggle with kids who wont eat, potty training and finding the right schools, I feel a new respect from them as a mother and keeper of the flame.
We will always be mothers and fathers, no matter how old our kids are. Well always celebrate the joys and worry about the hard times. This time of parenting, less hands on and more esoteric, can be much more fulfilling.
Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years. She currently has an early childhood consulting business, supporting child care centers and families. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.