Big Kids



A lot of things I believed to be true when I was young have not played out. At 18, I moved beyond my parents’ reach but discovered I still couldn’t do everything I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it. Despite the optimism of the speakers at my graduation, I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be, either, mostly because I didn’t know myself well enough yet. Over the years, I have learned that love doesn’t conquer all, that my dad was wrong about — well, a lot — and that no moisturizer yet invented will get rid of wrinkles.

Here’s another one. Several years ago, during our kids’ adolescence, I clung to the idea that if I could just get them to their 18th birthdays, my work would be over. This notion, too, has proven false.

Our three younger children are all living away from home. One more is married with children of her own. I imagined I’d be wiping my brow and calling this a job well done by now, but truth be told, parenting is not over. It’s just different.

One of the hardest things about adult children, at least for me, are those minds of their own, which we intentionally fostered. Mike and I have over a century of wisdom and hard knocks between us. We can see pitfalls from a mile away because we’ve already fallen into them. We could save our kids a lot of pain and aggravation if they would only learn from our mistakes. But guess what? Our insights are worth exactly nada. The kids still call us for advice. They even listen to our opinions when they haven’t asked for them. But unless we are confirming what the kid already believes, our great advice goes nowhere.

To adapt to this new phase of parenting, Mike and I have devised a strategy. When we feel frustrated by our adult children’s choices, we ask ourselves, “Does this decision affect me directly?” Usually, the answer is no. If a kid takes a job that doesn’t pay enough, then s/he will have to find a way to supplement that income. When one of them decides not to take antibiotics as prescribed, I give a brief warning about superbugs and then try to remember whose health will be affected — as in, not mine. After one of them adopted yet another dog, I had a few things to say about priorities, but then I let it go. Why? Because that extra dog doesn’t affect me directly. Car registration lapsed? Not my car. Sheets not changed for months? Gross, but still not my problem.

Much as we’d like to save our kids the trouble of learning everything the hard way, the hard way seems to be a necessary part of becoming an adult. Despite all the knowledge we have to share with them, they have to experience the grownup  world for themselves, not just take our word for it. I am positive that their lives would be infinitely less messy if only they would follow our helpful suggestions, but I also know it would be weird if they did. We want our adult children to stand — or fall and get up again — on their own, without looking back over their shoulders for our approval.

One of our sons is currently mourning the end of a long-term relationship, going through all the misery that comes with that kind of loss. A few days ago, I offered some (solicited) advice about how to meet new people. He came over for a little extra moral support last night, and I heard myself repeating what I had already suggested.

“Hey, I’m getting deja vu here. Didn’t I say all of this the other day?” I asked.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “I don’t remember.”

I was a little peeved. “Why should I even bother talking to you if you’re not paying attention?”

He grinned. “I don’t know, Mom. Maybe I feel better just listening to the sound of your voice, as it goes in one ear and out the other.”

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Published in: on August 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love this!

  2. Uh, how much did you ever listen to YOUR parents when you were an adult? Our parents had a few things worth listening to, but not much, because each generation occupies a different space in time. Parents remember things as they were when they were young. Besides, it is a lot of work trying to sort out the useful advice from the outdated advice so you might as well just make your own mistakes.

    • Point taken. Lessons learned through experience always make more of an impression. However, some words of wisdom are immutable. Like, food left out on the kitchen counters will draw mice, roaches or both. Ignoring an infection doesn’t make it go away. And if you dispose of your dead pet snake in the garbage can outside, you will never get rid of the smell unless you move.


      • But then there is common sense, which one hopes would find its way to the next generation and cause them to pause before putting dead animals anywhere except in the ground.

      • One hopes. One is sometimes disappointed.


  3. If I could write as well as you I would think that I had written this post.. ;) Great post. I am finding it challenging to keep my thoughts to myself when it comes to our sons.. Sometimes I am successful but many times I am not. I guess I am still growing up.

    • Fortunately, I am not burdened by the need to keep thoughts to myself. Nobody wants to see my head explode. It’s hard to stop trying to fix everything, but asking “does this affect me directly” often helps me straighten out my perspective.


  4. It doesn’t make sense, but my kids, when given advice either solicited or not, usually do just the opposite. I’ve given up but not before biting my tongue a lot.

    • We refer to this as the “kiss of death” effect. Nothing kills a good idea faster than having it spoken aloud by a parent.


  5. In Simon and Garfinkel’s words “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”….. from “The Boxer” I believe it

    • Exactly!


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