When my children were young, I thought when they moved out, my job would be over. However, those late teen to early twenties years were the most intense of my parenting experience. It is difficult to parent adult children as when they reach age 18, parents no longer have legal authority over them. However, children don’t all become full-fledged adults on their 18th birthday. As a matter of fact, I believe there are few young people ready to make their way in the world by 18. Many children don’t reach that level of maturity by age 21 either. I found this isn’t the time when parenting ends but it is a time of transition for both parent and adult child.
The boomer generation is huge. Not only were there a lot of us born at one time but the boomer generation is actually two large generations. Though the world has put us all in one box, we don’t all fit. Some of us have been grandparents for several years now, while others are having their first grandchild, and still others still have teenagers at home and are sending their firstborn to college. The one thing we do have in common (those of us who are parents)is that we are somewhere in the transition from parent of dependent children to parent of adult children. As far as I know, there are no guide books for parenting adult children but there have been times when I really wished that I had one! I experienced much personal growth when my children became legally adults but those times were often bewildering and my personal growth painful.
The children of baby boomers are very different from boomers themselves. They have to be. We raised them very differently than we were raised. Our generation questioned everything and experimented with traditional roles and family structure. We were busy doing our own thing but a lot of us felt guilty doing so. Seeking our own fulfillment took us out of the home and we made up for it by spoiling our children materially and we also often, over protected them. Family life revolved around the children and meeting their every perceived need. Mom wasn’t at home but the children seldom had to negotiate life for themselves and every minute was filled with some extra curricular activity. Mom’s of the boomer generation became super-moms, trying to do all things and do all things perfectly. Stay-at-home moms, like me, were rare and we reacted to the new structure of family by seeking to rebuild the traditions being trashed by so many people of our time. We made the same mistake, however, of making our children the center of the universe. One thing that binds the huge and diverse boomer generation together is that we raised a lot of dependent young adults with no confidence of being able to make their way alone. Most of our children weren’t and aren’t ready to leave home when we were ready to be on our own and many struggle with embracing adulthood long after they’ve become adults.
When my children hit the legal age of adulthood, they weren’t quite ready. I had no control over them and the only thing I had power to change was myself. Even though they weren’t quite ready, I’m glad I lost that legal authority as it forced me to let go. Children won’t grow up until they have to and when they have to, they are going to experience some hard knocks. Parents of young adult children need to be there for their adult children when they need support and nurture but also, need to turn a blind eye to some of the things their children are doing. We all grow by experience and parents who rob their children of painful experience and responsibility for their own actions, rob their children of owning their adulthood. The years from 18 to 25 were some of the most painful of my life and I don’t think I have ever shed more tears. There were times when I didn’t think any of us would survive but now, I look back and I’m amazed at what God has done.
My children are entering their thirties now and we are in another transition. One has children and those grandchildren were the force that healed our family and brought our son fully to manhood. The new additions to our family have refocused all of us and drawn us together in seeking to nurture these two new, beautiful boys. The adult child relationship that I enjoy with my children now is of equals in friendship. As a grandparent, I have gladly relinquished any parental authority and exchanged it for a role of supporter and one who’s only responsibility is to love everyone as they are. It is a comfortable position and one that makes those painful years of guiding young adult children worth the pain and trouble. None of us are perfect parents and we all create our share of dysfunction but as long as there is love, there isn’t much a family can’t work through. Boomers have been blamed for a lot of things and destruction of the family is one of them. However, we boomers also believe in love and in being loving and I believe that love has the power to heal any destruction we unwittingly caused. The human family will continue because God is love and God loves my children even more than I do. That is the lesson I learned during those painful years when my children began to enter the adult world and I was forced to let go. There is no better place for our children than in the hands of God. It is a relief to both parent and child when parents firmly place their children in His hands.
For you younger boomers who are struggling with parenting your young adult child, hold on. Things will get better and your relationship with your children will improve. There is a reward for enduring the struggle of parenthood even if they never let you fully retire. “Don’t ever ask them why, If they told you, you would cry, Just look at them and sigh, And know they love you.”