Parenting adult children is another phase of life with different challenges than when your children were younger.
When do you let them fly out of the nest and leave you behind? How do you plan to shrink your household to something smaller and get rid of that large expensive family pool?
I have parented two children into adulthood and having many friends at this stage of life, I’ve learned there are many lessons to be gained by others. One of my colleagues had her eldest child of three leave and in that moment of disbelief she stated “what was that about?!”. Years of day and night dedication to ensure homework was done, teeth brushed, orthodontist appointments were attended, rooms were cleaned and then just an empty room … and silence. What was that about?!
Growing up can happen suddenly and we are not immune to thinking of our children as younger than they become. They can grow up suddenly and fly out of the nest and leave us wondering about what happened.
I remember vividly having a vivacious teenager daughter that disagreed with nearly everything I suggested. From about the age of 14 years I would end up saying, “When you are 18 you can choose to live somewhere else and create your own rules, but until that point our rules in our home”. Then magically that day arrived when she turned 18 and sometime about a week later she approached me candidly and said, “How long am I allow to stay for? When do I have to move out?”. I didn’t realise that we had never discussed staying, only leaving! In the end and many years later she has still not left even though I was sure she would.
I believe it is important to visualise your children leaving home in adulthood, and preparing a life that does not revolve around them. Once your children enter their late teens you should spend time planning a life without children and a life with adult children. Here are my tips to keeping close relationships with your adult children when they are about to leave home or when they have flown the nest:
- Speak positively about their ability to manage alone and with others that are not you.
- Carefully and non-judgementally share about areas that you are concerned about. Don’t be repetitive, but mention if you are concerned.
- Believe that they have coping skills that will activate once they leave you. Being overly dependant on parents is common and often young adults become more active in self-care and self-direction when by themselves. Some children take longer than others before they realise they need to look after themselves!
- Be clear on whether you are able to afford to leave a room available for them to return. Don’t be harsh or threatening, just clear if you need another person to move in like a grandparent or niece, or turn the room into a study, or move house and downsize.
- Don’t downsize too quickly, most young adults will return a few times before moving out with a group of friends or partner permanently.
- Keep the relationship growing by inviting them to family dinners or go to the movies, etc. Find out what your adult child likes and let them know that you still want to be around with them. Enjoy and develop a new range of activities that they enjoy with you.
- Don’t be invasive. You don’t want them to move away even further because they feel that you are still invading their personal space. It is very difficult to find a balance but with trial and error and being open with them can help.
- Involve the other parent even if the parent is no longer a part of your life and divorce occurred in the past. Sometimes being parents of older children permits you to put aside the past and work towards a mature and collaborative future.
- Support your children with finding supportive friends that will provide help in times of need.
- Don’t be too quick to offer help in time of crisis. Remember that you are trying to train them to think for themselves and learn to cope. Let them experience the effects of running out of money and eating baked beans, running out of fuel and having to walk, finding no clothes in their wardrobe because there is no mother in the house to wash and iron their clothes.
Patience is a key at this stage of development and some children take longer than others. Start visualising a future with them moving out and then you will not be shocked when it does happen. Perhaps I need to write another article on how to get your adult children to move out when they refuse to leave!
Author: Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (Hons), MAPS, MAICD.
Vivian Jarrett is the Clinic Director at Vision Psychology in Mt Gravatt and now M1 Psychology at Loganholme. She is passionate about providing high quality psychology services to Australians from all walks of life.
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