“Mom, you know you don’t have to worry so much. I think I can sort of figure it out and you keep forgetting that I’m an adult now. I just wanted to fill you in on what’s happening in my life, not to have you worry if I’m doing all the adulting things that need to be done. Those words stung. My daughter was right. I really didn’t have to worry so much now that she has left the nest and is a capable young woman living on her own, but somehow, I always do.
I caught myself saying, “I know, but worrying and wanting the best for you is hardwired into my parenting DNA”. Even though I know my daughter is competent to handle life, why is it so hard to stop parenting and worrying about all the little mistakes that might trip her up along the way? Somehow when they leave the nest, the parental concern mode does not just shut off and I was having a hard time remembering to stop parenting.
The very next day I was in mid-conversation with my son, and just like Pavlov’s dog, I instinctively went into automatic mom mode again and started, as he likes to call it “nagging”, and I like to call it “reviewing” with him all the fast approaching deadlines for his upcoming fall semester. Once again, I was reminded (or reprimanded) that I didn’t have to nag so much as he, in fact, had a schedule, a list, and had it all under control. I just needed to “chill” a bit and let him handle it.
Did the many years of parenting suddenly come to an end? What is a mom to do? Was there a handbook that I was missing that explains this new chapter of parent/child relationship? And exactly how do we learn to turn off the parenting button and just become more of a teammate and less of a hands-on coach in our newly adult children’s lives?
I’m learning, sometimes the hard way, that the roles of parent and child take many wild and woolly twists and turns over the course of a lifetime. Now, I find myself humbly admitting I am struggling with one of the most difficult times in this so-called parenting journey -- the transition period when our semi-independent and fully grown children are striking it out on their own and learning to let go and allow them to deal with their own lives.
Honestly, after more than 2 decades of being a mom and being the Chief Executive Organizer of Family Life, the old patterns of parenting behavior are hard to break. The innate (or insane as my darling children would say) need to make sure their lives are on the right track is a difficult thing to just stop. The old habits tend to trip me up and I end up needlessly worrying about whether my children are doing the “adulting” things they are supposed to be doing and fret about what will happen if they are not.
I know that I am not alone in this balancing act of parenting from the sidelines and I have to keep telling myself just to “chill” as my son tells me, not worry so much as my daughter keeps reminding me, and to remember that I did my job in preparing them to leave the nest; now it is time to trust in their ability to fly on their own and thrive as adults. But like I said sometimes it’s hard not to worry and I catch myself thinking, am I even a parent if I don't do or feel certain things?
And therein lies the truth that no matter how old I am or how old my children get, there are just things my children need to know about parents and what we will always do.
We worry: As much as we do not want to worry about you and we pray that all is going well, worry is just something that is built into our parental DNA. Our worrying may sometimes seem annoying to you, but the reality is we just don’t want to see you struggle or make the mistakes we did when we were your age, so we worry.
We nag: Honestly, no parent wants or likes to nag -- trust me. When we nag, it is our attempt to get you to pay attention to your responsibilities, family schedule, and at times to us. We know that our nagging annoys you. But guess what? It also annoys us as well. Parents get stressed, we try to control the situation when we know we shouldn’t and get frustrated which leads to even more nagging.
Tip, if you don’t want to hear us constantly nagging, then please just do what you need to do in a timely manner and listen to us the first time. I promise you will not hear us nagging so much.
We will be honest with you -- sometimes brutally honest. Because we love you, there will be times that you will need to hear the truth even if it is something that you don’t particularly want to hear. Unlike your friends, classmates, or work colleagues who may not be willing to tell you the truth about things because they don’t want to upset you or don’t know how to tell you that something is amiss, we will. Parents don’t intentionally want to upset you with the truth, but we care enough to tell you when bad habits, bad relationships, or even the occasional bad haircut might cause you anguish.
We will give unsolicited advice: Sometimes we forget that you didn’t ask us for advice and without thinking that mom or dad gene kicks in and we give you our opinions. It’s not that we don’t think you are capable of doing whatever it is you are doing, but giving advice, parental wisdom, life hacks, etc., is something that is very hard for parents to stop. Do know that when we give our unsolicited advice, it is usually given out of a sense of love and caring for you.
We will be disappointed at times - both with your choices and with how we react to some of the things you do. I’m going to let you in on a little secret -- sometimes our disappointment is not necessarily about the choices you make, but sometimes stem from the unrealistic expectations we have envisioned your life to be like. When we do get disappointed in your decisions, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love you or respect your choices, it's just that we can be disappointed if your choices lead to unexpected heartache or terrible consequences.
We make mistakes: We regret the things we should have done, and we regret the things we did and perhaps got wrong. Some of us regret being the nightmare helicopter parent or being the free-range non-disciplinary parent. There isn’t a parent around that doesn’t wish at one time or another that they could just go back in time and do a few things differently. Although it may be hard for some parents to admit, we can mess things up or stumble in our parenting role. Please remember, we are more than parents, we are human and sometimes need a little slack too.
We will always be your greatest cheerleaders: We will always be there cheering you on and giving you encouragement when you embark upon a new adventure or chapter in your life. Whether you are struggling in life, getting ready to graduate, delving into a new project or business opportunity, or any other aspect of life, you can count on us to be there cheering you on. Seeing you succeed is our greatest joy.
We will brag about your accomplishments: Yes, I know that some parents can and will go overboard with this and shout to the world on social media or brag about you to our friends. But when you succeed, we are bursting inside with pride and joy and want to share it with others. You’ll understand this more when you become a parent yourself.
We will sometimes (and maybe many times) wonder how you turned out right: There are times when we look at you and see the person you grew into and get amazed at how accomplished you are. All those years doubting if we were actually good parents fade away when we see you confidently adapting to adulthood. Yes, those countless life lessons actually paid off.
We will always be there to lend a hand, an ear, an extra hug, and maybe a dollar or two: No matter how old our children get, we will always be available for them whenever we can. I’ll let you in on another secret, we actually get excited when we know that we are the ones you will turn to in any situation -- especially when you need that hug because we sometimes need that hug too.
The one thing I really want my newly adult children to know is that parents will always love you for you no matter what. All of the emotional bumps and bruises, the clashing of wills, the joys and the successes you have gone through, remember this, we have loved you through it all and will continue to love you like no one else can no matter how old you get.