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Parenting Adult Children

Romans 12:2 and Philippians 4: 6-7

I have done a lot of learning and reflection over the past few months regarding how to parent my adult children. As much as I learned and was prepared to parent the best I could while they were young, I somehow neglected researching this stage. I just assumed that because my parenting was going to be so awesome that my children would naturally choose lives that were perfect. I could simply sit back and gaze adoringly on the golden paths of my adult children’s lives.

When I get real about my thoughts, these are them, folks. I really did believe this, and I bet somewhere deep down you do or did, too. Somehow, we turn our fantasies about our children's futures into expectations and we don’t even realize what we’ve done. We believe that our children can, and dare I say should, live pain free, mistake free, mess free lives. My life has not been bad-choice free, and yet I somehow tied my ability to parent in love, point them towards Jesus, and do all of the “right” things as a mechanism to control the outcome. Let me definitively say, we cannot control the outcome.

I recognize now that this desire to control the outcome was so that I wouldn’t have to experience difficult feelings. Golden children on a golden path equals happiness for all and a pain free life, right?

I think I need to point out that I really am blessed and my kids are pretty much as golden as they get, both in character and in circumstance. Everyone has met Jesus, even if not all of them attend church. No one is addicted to drugs. Everyone is responsible. They are authentic. From the outside, you would wonder what I was trying to control when everyone is “doing fine”. I say this to underscore that even when circumstances are good, and your children are devoid of any “major” problems, you can still struggle with control.

When our children are younger, it is our job to train them and teach them in the way they should go. I had the right to have a say in some of the choices they wanted to make. My involvement in their day to day lives as a stay at home homeschooling mother was extensive. And I loved every minute of it. I loved being privy to their experiences and relationships. However, as they have gotten older, I had to be educated that it is no longer my right to be involved in their day to day lives. It is a privilege that I get only if they afford it to me. What a huge change!

As an Enneagram three, achievement is my jam. I love success, both mine and other peoples. I am viewing this new season of limited access as a beautiful challenge. I am challenged to be the most open, unconditionally loving, safe place for my adult children to land. And I’m up to it!

Let me share an example from my life, with permission from Lulu. Recently, our daughter moved out. It was a mostly happy move, but based on some discussions we’ve had, I know that part of what precipitated the move was because I was all up in her business about how she was choosing to live her life. A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I noticed that she stopped sharing her location with us on the Find Friends app. My initial instinct was to feel hurt, but I have been learning about how to manage my thoughts for the renewal of my mind, so I knew that feeling was tied to thoughts I was having about the situation. I asked myself, “How do you want to feel about this?” I decided I wanted to feel proud of her and of my response. In order to feel and act that way, I had to think through some thoughts I could have that would produce that outcome.

Here’s what it looked like in real time. Kinda messy, but you’ll get a better picture.

*Katie sees that Lulu has stopped sharing location. On a Saturday night.

I think she doesn’t want me to see where she is. I’m suffocating her with my “helpful” advice and opinions. She has to protect herself from my “saying something”. These thoughts produced my hurt feelings.

What if she is at a strip club? A pot dispensary? An unsafe area of our city? (Mind you, she hasn’t given me any indication that these things might be the case. These are just my thoughts). These thoughts produced feelings of panic and worry.

I don’t like having hurt feelings, or feelings of panic and worry that are not tied to reality. None of these things that I’ve been thinking could be true. I’m making these thoughts up in response to her action of no longer sharing her location and feeling real feelings based on my made up thoughts. Regardless, I’ve decided I am going to act unconditionally loving towards my daughter no matter what choices she makes. If she IS anywhere like I’ve thought above, my response is still the same, so I may as well identify some thoughts I can believe that produce feelings of love rather than fear.

I begin to think instead, what if she just needs space and independence? When I was her age, my mother had no idea where I was or what I was doing. Why do I feel like I have the right to see where she is at all times at this point? She doesn’t even live with us anymore! The thought that Lulu deserves her independence because she is a capable adult sits well with me. As do the thoughts that we have taught her well and she is prepared. I choose these thoughts and they are JUST AS TRUE as my hurt or panicked thoughts. But these thoughts are the ones I need to produce the feelings and responses I desire.

All of this processing took place through the beginning of the week. Rob and I discussed our options for response.

1. We could ignore that she stopped sharing her location with us.

We decided we didn’t want to do this because we highly value open communication in our family. Even though she didn’t tell us what she was doing or why, we were going to continue to just be who we are and lead by example. She also highly values open communication, but I know we made it difficult for her to be open with us in the past with our “advice”.

2. We could ask her why she stopped sharing.

We decided not to ask her why, because ultimately it doesn’t matter. It is her right to l live as she sees fit and she can choose to share this info with us if she wants. Or not!

3. We could tell her we noticed and what we thought.

This is what we did and it was a great opportunity to start to form the kind of relationship we want to have going forward. Here’s what we said:

“Hello gorgeous girl. Dad and I saw that you stopped sharing your location with us. I just wanted to let you know that we are absolutely fine with that. We also wanted to let you know that we are not going to comment on, or share our opinions about, or lecture you for where you choose to go. You have the right to live your life as you see fit and we have the right to love you unconditionally! I know this hasn't’ always been the case, but we’re learning. :) You don’t have to respond to this. Just wanted to let you know. Have a great day!!!”

She didn’t choose to respond to this directly, which really is totally fine. We are beginning to love with no strings attached, for real.

What about you? Are there areas in your children’s lives in which you are too involved? Are you trying to control the outcome to save yourself from uncomfortable feelings, maybe at their expense, like me? It’s never too late to start to build the kind of relationship you want.

If you need help with this, reach out to me. I’d love to hear what you’re going through and share some of this thought work I’ve been learning. I’m not perfect at it by any means, but I am beginning to discover that I do actually have immense control over my life when I choose not to be conformed to this world, but to live transformed by the renewing of my mind.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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