The very outcome I wanted as a parent, for my children to be adventurous, to follow their dreams and to dream big, has now become my source of daily concern. (How did that happen? Ughh!!) And while my heart still encourages these sentiments, my mind is searching for ways to overcome the anxious thoughts and embrace a new parenting philosophy ‘my girls need me to be their friend, more than their parent.’ It’s strange how that old adage has reversed over time.
So, I’ve been doing some reading on ‘staying close while letting go’ and found these thoughts helpful.[i]
Our adult children ‘don’t want a micromanager vetting their playmates, fretting about how much sleep they get or kibbitzing about how they spend their time. Instead, they’re looking for the very thing you once fantasized about: a wise and loving friend and mentor.
Question is, how do you, the parent or empty nester, restructure the relationship so you’re neither too involved, nor so hands-off there isn’t much of a relationship there at all?
The new you: advisor extraordinaire. It may be helpful if you think of yourself as a consultant instead of a 24/7 manager. Just like in the corporate world, good consultants offer expertise only when asked, couch it diplomatically and expect that at least half of what they say will be ignored. That’s OK. It’s no reflection on your superb (of course!) advice. Your input is just a part of what your now-grown child may be using to make a decision and in any case, it’s not your choice to make. But you can avoid hurt feelings on both sides if you preface your advice with phrases such as “One possible solution might be …” or “You’re probably looking at many issues, but one thing to consider is …”
Don’t zip it. Keeping communication lines open is even more important now as your roles shift. Talk frankly and openly about what both of you want, need and expect in this new relationship. It may be as simple as a Sunday evening call home (yes, Madison), or another regular way to keep in touch.
Be respectful. You probably wouldn’t criticize a friend’s choice of profession or hemline, yet it’s common to blurt those well-intentioned, but oh-so-poorly-phrased criticisms to an adult child: “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” or “What kind of job is that for an adult?” If you truly thought your friend was making a terrible mistake, you’d tell him, but carefully and tactfully. Exercise the same respect and compassion with your adult child. At the same time, be aware that your adult child will probably hear implied criticism in just about everything you say, including “Gee, you look tired.” Talking it out helps.
Nurture the relationship. Here’s the best part: Friends do stuff together. They talk on the phone, send texts and spend time together exploring shared interests. They respect each other’s busy schedules, but find ways to stay connected. Enjoy it.