Kids as Adults – a New Kind of Parenting

Being a mother never ends. We all know that.

Here I am with two grown kids, and still I worry – not like I did when they were growing up, but they are there, all the time, in my train of thought. Is there  a moment as a mother when you aren’t a mother? Are you able to put aside the mother in you?

parenting, adult children, raising children, empty nest, adults, how to parent adults, baby boomers, midlife

Not me. Not ever.

Over the past few months, my kids have both returned home. My daughter, freshly graduated from college, started her dream job, and my son has spent this semester at home attending a local junior college, sorting out his options. My daughter moved into an apartment; my son is returning in January to the university he had left last spring. This is all good – but as all moms know, nothing is this simple. And as all moms know, it’s incredibly difficult- no matter their ages – to let our kids go about their business without sharing our – welcome or not – opinions.

I see this all around me, every day. I hear it from my friends – we all try to put some respectful distance between us  and our adult children. We hold back, usually… sometimes…as often as we can, wanting to let our kids make their own choices and, also, their own mistakes. These choices and mistakes are so much bigger than when they were small – unlike forgetting to turn in their homework, some decisions as an adult can be life-changing – marriage, jobs, having children. Watching them figure these things out without wanting to tell them what to do is as difficult as it was letting them first walk to school without us when they were small, or  watching them drive off solo when they first got their licenses. It’s like holding back the tide of an internal ocean.

Yet this letting go, this distancing ourselves from them is part of how they become independent of us – perhaps the most difficult part of parenting of all.

Because as our kids grow independent, our roles as mothers change – and we have to change, too. For some it’s easy, but for most it’s a complicated, multi-faceted experience. I have felt everything from guilt to pride to loss to, yes, even relief, as my children have grown up and away, as we have pushed and pulled against each other through this time in their lives. Yet I know it’s best for them – and for me, too.

So we grow up, alongside our children – we grow from new parents, eager to learn everything there is to know about our babies, our toddlers, our grade-schoolers, and especially our teens – to seasoned parents of grown-ups, now individuals who need to keep  parts of their lives separate from us. The learning about our children has slowed, our understanding of them more or less defined by the years we spent raising them. Now we have to learn to be parents of adults, respecting them. They are no longer children, but the men and women we have raised them to be.

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  1. says

    Well said Sharon! The objective is for the kids to become well functioning adults, launched into their own lives.
    I feel anguish for those whose kids fail to launch or rebound or who flounder and wander.
    Nope, being a Mom never ends!
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  2. says

    Well said. The thing that’ s hard for me to learn is we all have to make our own mistakes. We just don’t seem to learn from other’s mistakes. And it is our job as parents to push them out of the nest. We all eventually learn to fly.

  3. says

    My father-in-law used to say “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, bigger problems.” It just seems like the stakes are higher now as they become adults. Raising small children was physically demanding, but adult “children” are mentally demanding. We’ll always be Moms.

  4. says

    I totally get what you are saying Sharon. We are going through a few growing pains with two of ours right now. And because they are not quite adults at seventeen and nineteen, and because some of the decisions they are making are just downright stupid (in my opinion), I just want to wring a few necks. I know I need to let then make mistakes, but it is so hard, and I don’t want to see them get hurt. Very, very tough. And when they were two, I thought it was difficult LOL!
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    • says

      Something magical happened once mine both were 20+ – their childhoods were firmly behind them and they both are now truly adults. You’ll see! Letting them go through the pain is so important, but such a challenge.

  5. says

    What do you do when your college-aged child (19, a sophomore) is doing s0-so work in college? Not terrible but not great. And it isn’t an IQ problem? Do you let them keep floundering? Til they figure out how to manage time better, or to even recognize that as an issue? To see if the change in a chosen major is a solution? I know I don’t know everything my daughter is going through…and that’s probably good. You do have to go through some painful times on your own, right? My husband and I look back and say, that’s probably when we grew up the most in college. Anyway…please tell me many kids grow up in fits and starts and it isn’t always the smooth transition you’d hoped for. Please!! :) I think I had fairy tale expectations…she probably did, too.
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  6. Laurie says

    Being a mother never ends but the pride and joy that I get engaging with my adult children knowing that they are independent, compassionate and good human beings, is just terrific. I know my kids have appreciated me giving them respect, distance when necessary and not being intrusive in their lives.

  7. judy williamson says

    Hey, I am YOUR mom, and I still have not figured out how to treat you as an adult…..It is easier to think of you as my child.

    This is TOTALLY my issue – I will work on it……don’t worry!!!

  8. says

    How priceless that YOUR mom just commented! I’m 55 and my mom still, although she’s seen me through 4 kids, 3 new granddaughters and 2 husbands, thinks of me as her kid…still trying to help but keep a respectful distance as she sees and hears of events in my life. So, see? It doesn’t end as long as we’re breathing. Really? What a blessing.
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  9. Jenn Willey says

    Loved your post. Being a mother of toddlers, this seems so far off. However, I took the perspective of a daughter in law. My husband just recently had a talk with his mom and her “unsolicited” advice regarding our toddlers. Such a tough spot to be in.
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  10. says

    Great post! I just recently blogged about something similar. My 3 sons are all adults; I also have 3 grandchildren. It is SO hard to not want to still mother them all. I loved being a mom and my sons and I have always had a great relationship. But I miss them terribly; they live far away and can only see them 1-2 times a yr. When I hear of the troubles and problems they have I wish I could jump in to help. One son who has a disability but has been living alone and on his own for about 10 years now. It’s been very tough for him. (He’s been assaulted, robbed, lost his job, etc.). Another son is in the military and was recently deployed for a year. (His wife and children lived alone on a small military base waiting for him to come home.) That mothering-caretaker feeling has never left. I try to do what I can from a distance but it never feels like its enough. I hurt for them. And as a mother, I always wanted to take that hurt away. Now I can’t do that anymore. It’s hard.

    • says

      It’s something we just don’t think about when our kids are small, isn’t it? It sounds like you’ve got a lot to think about where your sons are concerned – a mother’s work is never, ever done!

  11. says

    I am the mother of three sons,four stepdaughters and nine granchildren and can testify to parenting never ending or being easy!
    My youngest left home two years ago and it was huge adjustment for me to make as I had been parenting for 27 years by then. I had to reevaluate who I was and figure out what my relatiosnhip with my husband was as we had only ever been together with children and now it was just us. It took a few months and I finally love having the space to ourselves. So now that we have got comfy being us my youngest is coming home. Only for a month or so before he heads off overseas. Those last too sentences are some major adjustments in themselves.
    Thanks for a great post.
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  12. Laura Pierson says

    Hi Sharon – Sorry for being late to the party, but I just read this post. My friends and I talk about this constantly, and we all agree that parenting toddlers was MUCH easier than parenting adults. I am learning to keep my mouth shut most of the time.

  13. says

    Thx for sharing. I can so relate to all. But most of all parenting to grown kids is hard for different reasons. Love the things u said and yes it never goes away. Us worrying about them. It is even harder to let them make a mistake, when you see it coming an can not tell them.
    But I have stepped in to it a little deeper. My baby girl just had her 1st baby girl. One thing I can say the sweet baby is two months old but my girl has grown up an is more respectful to me now. Very appreciative also I have gotten so many calls just to say Mom thanks for all you have done for me an my brother. Your the greatest.
    Thanks again an keep it coming. Nita D

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