Do Your Kids Outgrow You?
I came across this quote on a parenting website: “They outgrow us so much faster than we outgrow them.”
The quote is from author Jodi Picoult and, although I have no idea of its context in the novel from which it was quoted, the owner of the parenting website was lamenting her daughter not needing her anymore and not connecting with her like she used to. And I had an immediate contrary response.
I don't think children outgrow their parents. Unless, of course, the parent isn't changing and growing too.
Yes, if they are staying stagnant in their perspective-taking, their kids will outgrow them. If they are stuck in their same old reactions. If they are trying to parent their teenager the same way they parented their seven year old. If they’re blind to the aspects of who they are and what they believe that are contributing to the problem between them and their child. If they refuse to take responsibility for their own behaviour. If they steel their heart against the changes happening in their child or dig in their heels. If they stay trapped in their fear about what's going to happen to their child or their resentment about who they really are. Then yes, their child is going to 'outgrow' them.
I don't have to tell you that teens and young adults are changing quickly and becoming more and more their unique selves. They’re making more decisions about what they do and who they do it with. They are figuring stuff out and learning new ways of navigating their lives. And their hearts are coming into contact with what’s deeply important to them.
A wise parent is doing the same thing, growing alongside their kids. They are developing their self-awareness and becoming more and more their unique selves. They are figuring stuff out and making shifts. They are evolving as humans and growing as parents.
What do I mean by growing alongside your child? Here are some examples:
You feel like your daughter is being intentionally schnarky with you. To be growing alongside her means you are noticing and taking responsibility for how you are receiving and responding to her rudeness. Depending on the individual, that might mean working on establishing boundaries that work better for you. Or maybe developing a stronger voice and steadiness to have connected conversations. Or it might mean learning to be with anger. The point is, you’re not just thinking she’s a b-tch and staying out of her way as much as you can.
No, you step in. You know there's not much you can actually change about her behaviour so you choose to go within and see what’s there for you to learn about yourself. What does this aggression bring up for you? What stories is it telling you? What emotions arise around this? Is it sparking your own anger or evoking fear? How are you experiencing it in your body?
You explore bravely and intentionally. You talk to your loved ones and mentors, write in your journal, meditate, pray, sing, run, whatever your ways of connecting with inner landscape. You root around beneath the surface and see what gems of wisdom lie waiting there for you - gems that enable you to shift and grow.
You create room for something new to emerge in yourself. What might be your new way of being with her hostile energy? If it triggers your own anger, you might want to be cultivating your ability to allow anger in you. If it evokes hurt feelings, perhaps you’re cultivating more discernment. If it brings up guilt and ‘bad parent’ voices, you could be developing your grounding and faith.
You get to the heart of the question: How do you really want to be responding to this situation in your relationship? What would be true to your heart?
This is your personal growth. And this is growing alongside your big kid.
Your son is running with a rough crowd and jeopardizing his college program or his job. You feel angry that he’s carelessly risking something that would set him up for the future, just to go have some fun.
But instead of yelling all that at him and shaming/ threatening/ begging him, you turn you attention to your own inner work. You compassionately wonder about how you're defining recklessness. Does it connect to a part of you that is reckless? Or a parent that was reckless? Are you relating to recklessness with a fear of being judged as a parent or perhaps a fear for your own security?
In addition to asking yourself such questions, you pay attention to what happens when you perceive something as reckless. Are you disgusted and turn away? Are you puffing your chest out and making yourself bigger? Is your belly churning or your heart rate increasing? Are you feeling compelled to step in and take over?
The evolving parent is taking a look at what’s yours in this tension between you and your son. You are being honest with yourself about your behaviour, your reactions and your words. And in this growing self-awareness, you can be relaxing old ways of seeing and judging recklessness and putting to rest your old habitual reaction to it.
As you’re healing old wounds and/or letting go of old patterns, you are becoming more aware of yourself. You are choosing to look at things from a broader perspective. You are making room in your heart for more understanding.
This is growth. And this is growing alongside your almost-adult child.
These are the parents I work with. They are doing inner work and evolving as humans. They are finding new resources within themselves and allowing more of their essential selves to emerge. Their kids aren't "outgrowing" them because they are growing alongside their child in a relationship that continues to evolve.
This is how we stay connected to our kids, even as they stumble and learn through adolescence and the beginning of adulting, even as we stumble and learn through all the new stages of parenting.
It is my hope that your kids will be in beautifully growing relationships with your grand children. And that they pass that legacy down your line. May it be so.
With you on the journey, Lori
Subscribe to my Sunday Letter to Parents HERE.