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Mom or Mommy? Parenting Adult Children

Kristen Houghton

Sunday, March 2, 2014 • 10:43am

I have always been one of those people who want to do something; take a class in documentary film making, make more time for my husband and me, take an exotic vacation; the list goes on and on. My mind is filled with ideas that I put it on the back burner of my life intending to “do it” next month, next year, when I have time, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It was a chance remark made by a friend that helped me realize how I was wasting precious time by putting things off. I was talking about wanting to go to France but, as usual it was assigned to some time in the future. My friend off-handedly responded by saying, “I wouldn’t keep putting off what you want to do, Kristen. You and I, we’re getting closer to the Gate, if you know what I mean”. I knew exactly what she meant; the Gate to which she was referring wasn’t the pretty white picket one surrounding her property, it was one of the after-life pearly ones. Her message was clear; no matter what we’d like to think, we’re not going to live forever so don’t wait, grab life and live it as well as you can. Carpe diem!

Now seriously I have no intention of reaching that heavenly gate any time soon but, as we all know, there is no guaranty on how much time is allotted to each of us. I wanted to start to carpe diem as soon as possible. In order to do so I needed to get the rest-of-my-life priorities straight and make necessary changes. Taking stock of what was preventing me from doing things I longed to do was priority number one. I loved my career as a writer, even deadlines don’t bother me. My marriage is solid and happy. So far, so good. Then I looked at my role as a mother.

Most relationships naturally change as time passes but motherhood for me was still the demanding role it had been when my children were, well, little children! I was still a Mommy and not a Mom. It seemed that I was always available, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for my children. Intense mothering had me in stress overload. It was time for me to stop parenting as if I were still the mother of minor children. My “girls” are adults, yet even as adults, they ran to me with every conceivable problem, big or small. In fairness to them, this was in no small part due to the way I had always responded to their problems. My usual mommy reaction to every need was always the same; “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it” and I did. The saying that “You can only be as happy as your least happy child,” rings very true even for mothers of adult children. We see their problems and we want to take care of our child and make things alright for them. It’s a daunting task when your children are little and even more so when they have adult issues.

The worst thing any parent can do is to react emotionally to a child’s problem, something that I had always done where my daughters were concerned. I love my daughters, and, God knows, I’d spent their formative years protecting them, supporting them in their activities, and making sure they had the best education. However, in my need to cushion them from hurt and sorrow, I was not always successfully teaching them to be independent. The instinct to take care of them caused me to react in emotionally charged ways.

My solution of “I’ll help at all costs” was not only damaging to my relationship with my children, (they weren’t given the chance to gain precious insight and experience by self-solving a problem on their own), but also my relationship with my husband, their father. His love for them is boundless but he does see them as adults and feels that they should be able to handle daily hassles by themselves. “Not everything is a major crisis, honey,” is what he tells me. “They’re intelligent young women; let them work out what’s going on in their lives.” As far as being a parent of adult children went, I had to understand the fact that I couldn’t parent educated adults with post-grad degrees in exactly the same way I did when they were eight years old! It was time for me to “adult-parent”.

That hyphenated word meant that I would be available to them, I would listen to their problems and advise them as best I could, but I would no longer be the one who says “I’ll take care of it”. As responsible adults they had to do the problem-solving with only some minor parental input. I was entitled to live my life the same as they were to live theirs. As hard as it was for me and for a short while for my children, I did it. “Adult-parenting” was delightfully freeing.

My daughters and I began a tentative adult level relationship that has blossomed well ino  Mom-daughter one. I am happy to see that these “girls” of mine are young women of substance and strength, more than capable of navigating their way through life. They need Mom but not definitely not Mommy. Throughout our lives we have many roles; motherhood is only one of them. The role of mother should change and adjust just as all roles we play adjust to the circumstances of our lives. Our children will always be our children but there’s a vast difference between the minor child and the adult one.

 

© 2014 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved

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