Several years before my kids got married, I began reading and preparing for the inevitable. I knew that what I would face after they left home was going to be some of the hardest stuff yet, and I wanted to be mentally prepared. I wanted to transition well. I wanted to be that mom and mother-in-law who would ease right into being a parent of adult children, who would know I was doing, and for the transition to be an easy one. I wanted to do it correctly!
There’s No Perfect Formula for How to be a Great Parent of Adult Children
I’ve read books about the interesting dynamic between mothers and sons, how to handle mid-life, what to do and what not to do when you have adult children, and how to “tame the dragon within” (a book about how not be the mother-in-law from Hades!) And just like every other season, even though I’ve gleaned some wisdom from each book, walking out this season with real individuals, and my own sinful, imperfect self, is proving to be similar to past seasons.
I’ve got to do this one day at a time, clinging to and relying on God, allowing myself to grieve the ending of one season and embrace what I’ve gained in this new season. I am learning a new way of living and thinking, and it is taking time. What I have found is that nothing that I have read adequately prepared me for the day that I would wake up after each of my child’s weddings and realized that they would never be living in my home again.
The Unique Challenges Parents of Grown Children Face
As I went searching for resources that would teach me how to navigate being the mom of adult children, I noticed that there are countless books and articles written that state what a parent of adult and/or married children should do or not do. That was the main focus. It made me feel like now that my children were grown, I had become the enemy, one that is in the way and more of a burden than a person. It felt like I was suddenly held to a standard that requires me to be on stand-by, void of feelings and needs, waiting to be needed or wanted by my now grown children and their spouses. At times, I have come away more discouraged than inspired.
With that in mind, I decided to turn the tables for a bit and list some things that parents of adult children need to hear. I really believe that if we take the time to listen and understand each other then the parent/adult child relationship has a much better chance of thriving and growing into a healthy, loving, respectful relationship.
8 Things Parents of Adult Children Need To Hear:
1. “I don’t expect you to be perfect. I love you unconditionally.”
I don’t want my visits to be dreaded. I want to be a blessing to you. But please remember that I am human and will do and say things that aren’t always helpful. I am working on that. If we can strive to love one another unconditionally, then we can overlook insensitive statements and just enjoy one another’s company.
2. “I will talk with you if you do something that bothers me.”
Please don’t rant to your friends or your spouse about me, and please don’t be passive-aggressiveness or rude. I need you to treat me in the same way you want me to treat you. If and when I do mess up, please talk with me about it so that I can make things right and change whatever I need to change.
3. “Thank you for calling, I appreciate your care for me!”
If I call you at an inconvenient time, please don’t get irritated with me. I am no different than your friends that call you and need to be treated in the same way.
4. “You are more than just free babysitting!”
As much as I will want to be a part of the lives of my grandchildren and help with them as much as I can, I am still a person and (prayerfully) your friend as well. Please view me as more than just free babysitting.
5. “You are so much more than an obligation.”
I want to be your friend and I want bless you. My desire is that, when we are together, it be an enjoyable time and that we enjoy one another’s company. I want us to be able to relax together and value each other as family and friends.
6. “I will try not to have expectations or take advantage of you just because you are my parent or parent in law.
We want to help you in any way we can, and we love being able to do that, but it really does mean a lot to us when you show appreciation.
7. “I know that as a parent, your love for us is like no other.”
I am working hard to be patient with you as you figure out how to relate to me as an adult, and I am working hard to relate to you in the same way, but I am also your parent. I am here for you to help you through hard times, to pray for you, and to try to encourage you, as I have all your life. Please allow me to do that. I see it as a privilege to be able to be a support system for you. I will work hard to not offer unasked for advice but it means so much to me when do you ask my opinion.
8. “I know you did the best you could as a parent and that no parent is perfect.”
Please be honest with me about things that have bothered you over the years, so that I know how you feel, so that I can make things right, and so that you can hear my perspective. I want to be able to move forward in our adult relationship, and need for us to be able to work through these things together.
My goal, as I walk through this new season, is to be the best mother of adult children and the best mother-in-law I can be. But in the same way that my children are adjusting to their new lives and roles, I am adjusting as well. I am learning a new way of living, communicating, and functioning as an individual. I am figuring out how and where I fit into the lives of those that were once the center of my everyday life for 27 years.
I want to be sensitive to my adult children and their spouses, to be a blessing to them, and to serve them in the way that they need to be served. I really do. But I also feel like, if they are mature adults, it should be okay for me share with them that I am adjusting as well, and that I am not going to ever be perfect in my new role. If they take the time to see me as a person who is adjusting right along with them, then it will help me even more to be a blessing to them!
The parent/adult child relationship can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. If we can see each other through eyes of grace, and learn to relate to each other as adults who are on the same team, we do not need to fit into the stereotype that our culture has set before us. We can use our relationship as a platform that will magnify a God that desires for our relationship to be a reflection of His own patient, unconditional, sacrificial, grace filled love for His children.
Related: 10 Things Your Kids Need from You to Learn How To Leave And Cleave
Gina Smith and her husband have served on a Christian college campus as the on-campus parents for over 20 years. They have lived on the campus where they homeschooled and raised both of their children. In her spare time she loves to write and recently authored her first book, “Grace Gifts: Practical Ways To Help Your Children Understand God's Grace." She also writes at her personal blog: ginalsmith.com.
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