Give and Take: Parenting An Adult
Son1 is twenty, and it’s no secret that in many ways I bumbled and fumbled my way through raising him. Just as it’s no secret that I use those bumbles and fumbles to guide my parenting decisions for his four year old sister, Ila. Looking BACK has made it easy to move FORWARD…but parenting an adult…well…once again, I find myself in unchartered territory. When it comes to knowing what’s appropriate and not appropriate, what actions stay behind the imaginary line and what actions step over that line, I have no experiences to lean on. And so, I will admit, that I’ve been a bit nervous. I mean, he was a guinea pig once. I don’t want him to be one again.
But believe it or not Hindsight’s wisdom DOES provide me a road map. After all, the things that make up good parenting at four, probably make up good parenting at any age. So lately, I decided to try this theory out. Could I transfer my new parenting truths when it comes to Ila and make them parenting truths for my 20 year old? This is what I came up with:
Parenting Truth #1 — One of the most important roles we take on as parents is that of problem solver extraordinaire. Now granted, Ila’s problems are infinitely different than Son1’s. Helping her tackle the big tire on the playground, is different than finding a way to help Son1 go to a college that he can’t afford. But, if being a problem solver is truly a parenting truth, then that characteristic as a mother should make sense at any age. There was an extra hurdle with this truth because Ila trusts me in a way that Son1 doesn’t. I wasn’t someone that was predictable when he was young, so why would he trust me now? So I have gently introduced the idea of letting me help him with dilemmas by modeling it with his sister. He has heard me say to her quite often, “If you can stop crying and use words, I can try and help you solve this problem.” Or, “If you stay calm, I bet we could figure out something that will help.” He has also seen the very distinct results of this; Ila asking for a hug when she’s upset, Ila coming to me and saying, “Can we talk about something that happened today at school?” The interactions between us are markedly different than the interactions I had with my sons, and I hoped that that’d be enough for him to see that I am different. That he can trust me. That I am here to help him solve his problems or here to just listen. This tactic seems to be working. After doing his best in our local community college over the past two years, Son1 applied to and got accepted to many colleges. One in particular, he set his mind upon. When the financial package came, it was WAY shy of what anyone could afford. But he came to me. He told me about it. He expressed his concerns and why it was essential for him to attend this particular college. He asked me to do something very specific in helping him solve it, which I was unable to do. And when I said no, the old feelings kicked in…I braced for a fight, for a fit. But then, the new mommy in me quickly added, “But I will do everything in my power to try and help you solve this another way.” That was it. His shoulders went down. He took a deep breath. We had a discussion. Within hours I had two solutions that the financial aide office explained to me. He chose one of them so that he could attend the college of his dreams. Problem solved.
Parenting Truth #2 — Let your children make mistakes in life. It is essential for them to grow and learn, for them to handle the adversity that will inevitably come. Let them make mistakes, but be there to support them when they fall or fail or feel defeated so that they know that mistakes are natural. Mistakes are normal, and nothing they could do would ever change how you feel about them. The great Rachel Stafford of “Hands Free Mama” taught me that telling your children to be kind to others is something we always do as parents, but telling them to be kind to themselves is something that is very rare. I have used this with Ila often. One day, after getting a helium balloon from her favorite Fairyprincessgirlfriend, she insisted on taking it with her to grandma’s house. I explained to her what could happen if she let it go, but she wanted to take it so badly. I let her make the decision and sure enough on the ride home, windows down in the car, Ila let go of the balloon and it flew to the heavens. She pursed her lips, she cried. I told her, “Be kind to yourself. It was just a mistake, and it may not feel good right now, but mistakes can be good sometimes because they teach us a lesson.” Ila wiped her eyes and said, “I learned to leave balloons that fly at home.” But this parenting truth hasn’t been easy to apply to my 20 year old. He is so used to the judgmental mama who freaked out over everything. He doesn’t readily or freely tell me of his mistakes. I know about some here and there, but the knowledge doesn’t come from him. I am hopeful however, because just the other day at dinner, Ila spilled her juice all over the living room floor. I jumped up from the couch and exclaimed an “Oh geez!” Instantly, Son1 was by his sister’s side saying, “Mom, chill out,” and then turning to her he said, “It was just a mistake.”
Parenting Truth #3 — Remind Them Daily of Their Worth. I know in past columns I have sung the virtues of positivity with your children, and I speak about this topic with much experience; first as a product of negative reinforcement and then turning around and doing that same thing to my sons. Constantly pointing out what they can’t do, what they won’t do, what they should have done is just not the right way to go…for so many reasons discussed in so many of my past columns. I readily remind Ila each day of her worth, telling her that I love to watch her play the drums or sing. Saying that her smile lights up even the darkest corner. Praising her hard working attitude even if something doesn’t quite turn out the way we hoped. And like the other two truths, I knew that I wanted to remind my son of his worth just as much as I wanted to remind my daughter. I will admit, this was hard. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. My son and I…well we just didn’t talk that way to each other and it was difficult to begin this truth with him. At first, when I’d say things, “You are so wonderful with your sister,” or “Wow Aidan, the recording of that song you did was just incredible” he’d nod and twist his hands and maybe mumble a “Thanks, momma.” However, the more I do it, the more he accepts it as being real and true and meaningful. And low and behold, those characteristics that I used to focus on as being negative are slowly being replaced and done away with…on his own…without me having to shove it down his throat. He IS special. He IS worthy. He has SO much to offer the world, and although I didn’t tell him those things before, hopefully he will someday fully believe it himself.
There are so many other parenting truths that Hindsight has provided me and I plan on trying every one of them out on the 20 year old to see if they hold true. But I must also mention that an unexpected bonus has come out of my “parenting-an-adult testing.” It turns out that the parenting truths above can apply to all humans not just offspring. How do I know? I know because just the other day, I was feeling mopey and low. I talked to Son1 about it before he dashed off to school, and later that night my phone buzzed. He had sent a text saying “There are ways that you could try to figure this out.” (Speaking of what was making me mopey and low). Imagine that…he knew that problems could be solved. And then this:
“I love you so much, and I am proud as a son to share in the immense progress that you have made to become such an amazing mother.”
Positive words from my adult son. I don’t think I have ever received such a gift. Those parenting truths have changed both of us and I believe that parenting an adult child might not be so hard after all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed. Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.