Let’s talk about “Letting Go” of our adult children.
As our kids get older and leave the nest, we parents face lots of issues. We have the practical side of preparing and helping them physically move out, and then the emotional minefield of dealing with our lingering void when they go. We know we must manage that void and try to keep it in check. Easier said than done.
Let’s talk about the worries we face when letting go and the importance of understanding our adult kids’ boundaries. Let’s learn to let go and stop being proactively involved in our adult kids’ lives. We should let go to help ensure the Big Win: A healthy, happy adult relationship with our kids going forward.
The Practicals and the Fundamentals
When our Treasures prepare to leave, we try to assist them with the things they need to start their next life. We may be invited to help them write a packing list or be in a position buy some extra things they could use. We may even see them off in a moving van or ferry them with a packed car to their next home. We can practically help them and be busy and happy whilst doing so.
But then, after our child has moved away and the busy preparation time has ceased, we face a looming, lingering void and accompanying thoughts and worries. We expect this is “new normal”, but that doesn’t mean it’s welcome.
I vividly remember standing in the bedding department of a department store buying some sheets for my departing kid and feeling an oppressive worry swell in my gut. My thoughts progressed from “have I taught enough of the practical lessons?” to “have I addressed the fundamentals of life?”. That subconscious, maternal teaching plan which gently lingered over the last 18 years suddenly morphed into an urgent, stiffling Call-to-Action. Have I instilled both the knowledge of how to make a bed, how to wash sheets, and also an understanding of how to choose the right person with whom to share that bed?
Let’s ponder these Practicals and Fundamentals. Have we taught our kids enough practical lessons- like how to refill staplers and how to cook a selection of healthy meals- but also enough of the all-important fundamentals to be productive and happy members of society?
Have we taught our kids how to assert themselves and when to be modest? Have we taught how to receive constructive comments and when to ignore criticisms? The balance of understanding emotions without being too sensitive? When to be a people-pleaser and when to focus on pleasing yourself?
Have they learned to listen clearly to their inner voice guiding them through the temptations of life? Have they learned when to trust and listen to others? Do they comprehend the balance of supporting an argument whilst retaining a firm but polite demeanour? Have they learned how to respect their friends and colleagues? How to be remain true to their personal goals?
And did we teach them well enough?
Some of my kids have grown and flown. Some are still at home. When we lived together, they all called my thoughts “Mummy’s Wisdoms” and listened, often whilst rolling their eyes, as I rattled off my sometimes-obvious list of thoughts and lessons. I wonder if the lessons were all heard and absorbed? Will they be remembered when needed? I know the answer is probably no, not really. But I tried my best.
That’s a fundamental point: Every day we can only do our best. We then must let go and have faith that we have equipped our adult kids to figure it out on their own.
Importance of Boundaries
It is detrimental when parents of adult children don’t understand boundaries and the importance of letting go. In my experience, proactively holding on may not be ideal for a future healthy family relationship. Boundaries must be drawn and letting go is a first important step.
I don't want to over share, but I have a personal story to tell.
I am an only child of two only children. The bond was close. Maybe too close. So close that my loving and well-intentioned parents actually joined our honeymoon. They surprised Partner and me by arriving unexpectedly on our departing plane, with seats directly behind us, and then announced their plans to meet up with us regularly throughout the next two weeks of our honeymoon. I was thrilled to have them. My patient, shocked Partner less so. Partner laughed that he really had no idea what he had married into. We realised then we had to quickly draw boundary lines. Our romantic dinners didn’t work with my parents around. I love my parents immensely yet vowed then to not impose my own needs on my kids’ lives.
Let your adult child go. My parents always had the best intentions, yet our relationship suffered because they did not see any boundaries in my adult life. They did not Let Go. Over time we stumbled through a painful communication process together and now enjoy our adult relationship. My point is: Spare your kids that process. Don’t waste time.
Let’s understand boundaries and let go of proactive involvement in our adult children’s lives. Let’s be there when they ask, but not impose. Doing so will help cement a healthy and strong future relationship.
It's Their Mountain Range
In my experience, kids go from one set of challenges to another. These mountains they must hurdle grow more significant as they get older. Their, and thus your, worries evolve from exam results and university acceptances to first jobs, to ultimate career and partner choices. There’s always another mountain range they must conquer. And the stakes increase at each mountain.
The key is to understand that it is THEIR mountain range that they are conquering. If we are lucky, they may involve us in their problems and decisions. Our advice may still help. Our laser focus may still guide. Our experience may still enrich. We have raised our kids to know we are here for them when they need us. They will seek us out when they need to.
We must let go of proactively solving their problems. We must get involved reactively- when we are asked. And they will ask. They will ask regularly throughout the next chapters of their own life’s adventures.
They will definitely ask when they have their own kids. Then we can focus on the grandkids and hold on once again for a long time. At least I hope so. That’s my plan for The Next Half.