Giving Grown Kids Space
Her son had recently moved into his own apartment. She was so proud of him.
But she was worried too. There are a lot of responsibilities to being on one’s own and she wanted to make sure… So she checked in with him. Have you paid the electricity bill? Did you sign up for the equal payment plan? Did you ask for an energy assessment? What about the other utilities?
She couldn’t help herself; she kept thinking of things.
Sometimes, as parents, we see ourselves like expediters, responsible for making sure our kids have everything they need on their journey. We’re conscientious and reliable. We’re preparing all the food and equipment for an expedition (probably more than they need). We’re worrying about potential hazards and fretting about whether they’ll be ok. We are constantly checking our internalized list of all the things a ‘good’ parent should teach their children.
And sometimes we go overboard.
Back to the woman I mentioned: she was soon checking in way too often. What about your bank card? Did you change your address on your driver’s license?
Her subconscious fears had her overstepping the boundaries. She was afraid of him making a costly mistake. And she wanted to spare him from difficulty, disappointment, embarrassment or frustration.
But what her behaviour was actually doing was undermining her son’s self-confidence. He was feeling smothered and began avoiding her calls. Underneath that, he was feeling like she didn’t believe in him. And that couldn’t help but amplify his own self doubts.
It certainly wasn’t her intention. She really just wanted to make sure everything went well for him. But now she was feeling shut out and that was painful for her.
I’ve seen over and over with the parents I’ve coached... Their concerns and sense of responsibility as a parent override their inner knowing that they need to give their grown child more space.
The thing is, dear expediters, we don’t know exactly where they’re going - to the top of Everest, the depths of the Amazon or just the other side of town. We’re not in control of the paths they will take and we cannot prepare them for every possibility.
It’s easy to get led astray when our attention is focused on our sense of responsibility to make sure they have a fulfilling life and make a good contribution. Our neighbours are watching how we do. Our parents and media sources certainly let us know their expectations. And our loving parent hearts are yearning to do it ‘right’.
For this woman, it backfired. What she wanted most was to know her son was doing ok. But her worry led her into excessive behaviors that pushed him away. She wanted to stay connected. Instead, their communication had dwindled and now she really didn’t know if he was ok.
“How can I give him space and still feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to as his parent?”
Here are some approaches that I’ve come to know from working with parents:
1. BE REAL. Say what’s true for you. “I never knew I’d feel this way when you moved out. I’m questioning if I taught you all the right things. I’m worrying about things that really aren’t life or death. I want things to go well for you. I have faith in you but it probably doesn’t sound like it. My mouth is running a bit ahead of my heart these days. This is new territory for me and I’m figuring it out.” Our kids need to see us flailing in new waters and uprighting ourselves. So they know it’s ok when it happens to them.
2. BE APPROACHABLE. Your grown kid isn’t going to come to you with a problem or a mistake if they know they’re going to get an I-told-you-so or a freak out. Are you truly approachable for them? Are you a calm, receptive lakeshore or an unpredictable geyser? When you are approachable, your kid trusts that you will listen compassionately, calmly and open-mindedly. They come to you.
3. OBSERVE YOURSELF. Pay attention to your fears, reactions and thoughts. What’s up for you right now? What is it that you’re not trusting? Observe your patterns and identify what’s next for you in your self development. Stay in your own lane and cultivate the way you need to be parenting this young adult at this time.
4. TRUST THEIR FOUNDATION. You have not prepared them fully for every possible situation. There’s no way. But you have given them a reliable foundation. Rest into knowing that you have planted many seeds and, in the right season, they will grow. Have faith in who your son or daughter is becoming.
They will follow a path that neither you nor they can see. They will make choices. They will sometimes run and sometimes stumble.
What role do you want to play in that?
You’re not driving. You’re not navigating. But if you relax into trusting their journey, you will get to meet them at many rest stops and lookouts along the way.
With you on the journey,