There is an invisible cord that keeps parents and young adults connected, no matter the distance between them. Thanks to texting and FaceTime, phone calls and emails, communication is not too difficult to maintain, even if, with some of our newly minted grown-ups, most of the answers to questions we ask are met with one or two words in response. But beyond technology, how is a parent supposed to stay not only technologically in touch, but emotionally, too?
As young adults grow up and make lives of their own, it can often leave parents bewildered by not only who they have become, but how to remain part of their lives.
Adjust Your Attitude
The first and most important thing to do is accept that your relationship is going to continue to evolve and change, just as your child - and you, most likely - do. When you become comfortable with your young adult's personal and professional evolution, and stop thinking of your offspring as your responsibility or yours to manage, you are more than halfway to a better relationship.
The first rule of parenting young adults is to not pass judgment. Even if you are sure that you know better, if you can feel it deep in your gut where all of the instincts for parenting are, you must wait to be asked for your opinion before offering it up. Nearly every parent who talked to the Legacy Project about this subject said the same thing.
A few kernels of good advice from interviewees in the Legacy Project
- Kids need to make their own mistakes.
- In conversation, augment, don't interject. Reinforce what needs to be reinforced.
- Don't be too critical - let them be who they are.
- All parents want their children to be happy, but their children need to find their happiness on their own.
- Remember that no one is perfect.
Modify Your Expectations
Whether your young adult lives 3 blocks or 3 states away, demanding to spend time with them is not going to work - ever. As parents, we will always think of our children as "ours," in a sense, but the reality is if you have done your job well, they will go out into the world and create lives of their own, sometimes completely and shockingly different from ours. You may think Sunday night dinner together is a priority, but your child may not. You can ask, and invite, but be prepared for modifications to your plans and be ready to compromise all along the way.
If your young adult lives farther away, planning visits needs to start with accommodating everyone's personal needs and boundaries. Your guest room is, no doubt, lovely - but your grown kids may prefer staying at a nearby hotel for a bit more privacy. Likewise, you are not obligated to stay with your kids when you visit, especially if there are things about their lifestyle that you are not comfortable with, from pets they own to partners they love. There is no "should" that everyone needs to follow when visiting family, especially your own kids. You must do what's best for everyone involved.
Appreciate Who They Are
No parent gets everything they ever dreamed of in their children, and once they are full grown people that becomes more clear than ever. Letting go of the ideal person you imagined and embracing the individual your young adult has become is crucial to staying connected to him or her. You may not like tattoos, nose rings, where he lives, who she dates, or how they spend their free time - but the hard truth is, it's really not your business anymore. No one wants to feel like they are under a microscope, especially not children of well-meaning but overly-involved parents.
It's possible that:
- They will not do things like you did
- They will not see things like you do
- They will not react to things as you have
- They will not follow your lead, no matter how hard you try to guide them
- They will not be who you expected
However, if you can be open-minded, patient, loving and flexible, you can keep your children close to you for the rest of your life, and isn't that what matters most?