NEW YORK, New York—Listening and letting go are two lessons I’ve been living and breathing from moment to moment the last two weeks while traveling with my two children.
I’m a parent of an adult and an emerging adult. My daughter is 25; in a few months my son will turn 18.
It’s both a fun and challenging terrain to be in, where restraint and unconditional love are the name of the game.
We’re traveling together to support one another’s dreams and to tick off items on our bucket list as a family and as individuals. In our little family unit, there are collective goals, as there are individual goals.
This is something I always remind myself: that the paradox of parenting is such that we nurture our children well so that one day we—and they—will be confident enough to let go. And this is why it’s also important to keep alive dreams of your own—all the more if you are a single parent.
From a very early age, I’ve trained the children to pack their own bags, and to ensure that whatever they carry, they can lift. Travel light. Bring only what you can carry. If it’s too heavy, repack or leave it behind. It’s a philosophy I’ve tried to instill in them about travel and life.
Susan Vogt, in “Parenting Your Adult Child,” says: “The natural inclination from having raised kids for more than 18 years is to give advice. As understandable as this is, I will repeat: The older your offspring, the less advice you should give—unless it’s requested. You may worry and pray as much as you like. The statute of limitations never runs out on worrying or praying.”
That is so true. I have never prayed more than I ever did in my life, especially now that they are all grown-up and going off on their own. Traveling on a long-haul flight by themselves, riding the subway at night in a city known for many dangers—what’s a mother to do but pray, pray for protection every step of the way?
In her book, Vogt describes a transition parents can make from being responsible for a child to being an adult child’s collaborator. “The collaborating parent must cultivate the art of being supportive, while no longer being the one in charge,” she says.
Letting go of one’s child is having confidence that God loves each of our children at least as much as we do, or even much more—just like His love for each one of us.
When parenting young adults, wisdom primarily takes the form of discerning—
knowing when we must intervene and when we must not.
These last few weeks I’ve been catching myself a lot, giving the children enough leeway to make decisions on their own, and finding great joy in watching them take on responsibilities that I used to take over while on a family trip.
Rule of thumb
When parenting young adults and adult children, the rule of thumb is, if you’re wondering whether or not to say something, ask yourself if the behavior that’s bothering you is serious, dangerous or simply unpleasant.
For example, if it’s an unruly haircut or a clash in fashion style, it’s best to hold your tongue. However, if it’s a dangerous habit like drinking alcohol every day, then of course, as a parent you need to step in and say something.
Let them flex their decision-making skills, and when the decision falls through the cracks, love them still.
At this stage in parenting, when the children are in their late teens and early 20s, they are more likely to talk things over with you in a peaceful manner, and they are better able to see your point of view if you explain things in a calm and sensible manner that shows respect.
Physiologically, their frontal cortex is ripening like fine wine, and that means improved judgment, less impulsiveness and a greater likelihood they’ll think before they speak.
My children will be fully mine for only perhaps five or six more summers, and then they will go and have lives of their own. I look forward to an extended family that will one day include their spouses and my grandchildren, and then it will be a different joy to look forward to. For the time being, though, there is now, and all the beautiful memories and shared joys we can build and nurture together in the remaining seasons of love where there are just the three of us.
‘Good Grief’ workshop
If you, or someone you know, has recently lost a loved one to death, I’ll be running a six-week, once-a-week, two-hour “Good Grief” workshop to equip you with skills that will help you navigate the wilderness of your grief experience. Workshop starts on July 9.
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.