As my four technically grown children insist on continuing to get older – grow up as it were – I have no choice but to keep revisiting how this feels. What I have noticed recently is that the feeling won’t stay still long enough to actually put a name to it; it’s definitely not the same feeling as when any of the kids left home for the first time. Now, a full two years since the youngest two flew the coop, the feeling of being sans kiddos has shifted once again. It may be because our youngest two also turned 20 this summer. That event came with a strange little feeling all its own attached to it, and that feeling was, “Wait, what?”
The reality is, we have fully entered the 20-something years, and that terrifies me because I remember my 20-something years, despite certain and specific measures I took that should have prevented that very thing from happening.
The bottom line is that I’m not technically parenting any longer; I’m the parent of adult children. This feels both weird and refreshing, with a dash of terror (see above).
It feels weird, in that I now have time to do things for myself that I’ve long put off; but it’s refreshing because I have far fewer worries by volume (WBV). The endless minutiae of parenting is solidly in the rear view mirror. They have their own zip codes, their own roofs over their heads, their own refrigerators to fill (or not), their own clothes to wash (or not), their own jobs to quit or keep, their own schedules to keep, and their own dreams to follow. Their daily lives are solely theirs to manage.
The common parenting refrains of, “Do this, not that,” and “Great job!” have been replaced with, “How are you doing?” and “If you need anything, let me know.” By “anything” I of course mean all the things I needed in my 20s: an occasional shoulder to cry on, money, a kick in the ass, a favor, a few drinks and a good meal with someone else footing the bill. I am more of a visitor in their worlds, and in fact, they in mine, as the person who existed before the mom re-emerges, in all her splendor.
Being a parent of adult children requires that you keep your mouth shut a lot more than you used to, as well as a firm understanding that you, as a parent, don’t necessarily have a voice in certain situations. I cannot strong-arm my adult kids into making the choices I think are best for them because frankly, I don’t know what might be best for them – because they aren’t me. (I had a boyfriend once in my early 20s who was fed up with my inability to understand why he didn’t want the same things I wanted out of our relationship. In a particularly tense moment, he clarified it for me this way: “We don’t share the same fucking brain, Lisa.”)
The same thing holds true for adult children, who now have adult-sized problems. While I might think they should do A or B before or instead of C or D, they are now both the deciders and the doers. My job is to love them – to reassure them that no matter who they vote for or sleep with, where they live or who they live with, what they major in or what they don’t, I will love them just the same. My job is to remind them that whatever life lobs over the fence to them, they will be able to handle it.
Getting back to the “Let me know if you need anything” suggestion, one of the weirdest (a.k.a., hardest) things about being a parent of adults who are living their own lives is that there is no longer an overlap of our worlds. There is not even an intersection on many days. Days can go by and I have no idea what they are doing, how they are spending their time, who they are spending it with. I understand this is the natural order of things and that it’s healthy, in fact. But that doesn’t change the fact that some days if feels great, and other days it feels “just OK,” which I guess is the point of this blog.
I was thinking recently that I might try to call each of our kids every Sunday, just to see how that feels. It’s more for myself than anything. I’m starting to see that next phase of life coming, right around the corner, which will be when our eldest graduates from college in December and relocates even further from me than he is now – about a three-hour drive. The separation will continue to widen and will for the other three right behind him. So if they need a shoulder, or advice, or whatever, they can pick up the phone on Sundays when they see my name pop up on their screen. If they don’t need to, they can skip it and let me go to voicemail. I won’t whine about it. Maybe they’ll pick up once a month, and maybe they’ll call me when I inevitably miss a Sunday and say, “What happened to my Sunday call?”
That will be a good feeling.