When your big kid feels so far away (physically, emotionally, ideologically)
When our kids grow up and they’re in their late teens and early 20s, we can really feel the increasing distance between them and us. It’s painful. Even though we knew the time would come, we never expected that they would feel far away from us.
Never, when we were helping them put on their socks or reading them the same story book for the fifth time or driving them back-and-forth and back-and-forth and back-and-forth and back-and-forth to volleyball practice… never did we think they would feel this far away from us.
Yes, there’s the physical distance. They’re more often with their friends, teams and jobs than they are with us. Or they're already in their new apartments and their new towns. They just aren’t around and it's kind of shocking. After years of holding them close, our skin feels the loss of touch, the empty space, an aching physical absence.
And there’s their growing independence too. The way that 15 yr. old rejects your opinion, defies you, pretends they don’t know you and shrugs off your embrace. The way that 23 yr. old turns down your dinner invitations - they don’t have time.
How could we not have realized what this would feel like?
(Well, clearly, I’d forgotten how I treated my parents in those years. I was the queen of the cold shoulder. I don’t need you. You’ve ruined my life and I’m so out of here. Ooof. Sorry.)
The way I see it now is that there is a wonderful field between you and your child. You are here on one side and they are on the other. Two separate lives. Two different paths and purposes.
And it gets confusing.
You know that you can’t just go over their side of the field every day, remind them to pay their rent or finish their homework. You know they need to learn things for themselves. You know your intervention leads to more yelling or more silence (not sure which is worse). You know that only thwarts their natural separation from you. But there’s a magnetic force pulling you toward them.
A big pull on your heart.
And when you stay over on your side of the field, it’s so uncomfortable because you don’t know what’s going on with them. You’ve been so used to knowing what’s happening in their lives. What if they’re missing something important? What if they need you… Not knowing is unnerving at best; panic-inducing at worst.
And you feel like you should be doing something. Not just waiting for a text. You’ve been so used to being involved and active in their life… It’s agonizing to just sit and feel like you’re not doing enough.
You feel irresponsible, like you’re not doing your job as a parent. You want your kid to be happy and fulfilled, not struggling with the ins and outs of adulting. You’ve been so used to carrying responsibilities and averting difficulties for them… Somehow, you feel like you’re shirking your parental duties.
So many thoughts and feelings pressing you to check, meddle and control.
And just as many urging you to allow them more space.
It's unsettling, irritating and confounding.
So, where and how can you meet your big kid with all that?
In the field.
Yes, a wide, wild field. I see relationships with our kids as a dynamic space that stretches and bends as they become more and more independent. It’s a field we must learn to navigate.
There's an expanse of possibilities in which you two can meet. Sometimes it’ll be closer to their side, sometimes closer to yours. Sometimes down in a corner and sometimes right in the middle.
So, first, we step in.
What are good ways of stepping into the field? Not with interrogations. Not with expectations. And it certainly not with answers, imperatives, warnings…those approaches keep the distance and don't invite connection.
What would it take for you to step into the field with curiosity? Not in service of your own fears, your quest for a little more control or your need to know. I’m talking about pure and simple curiosity. A willingness to learn how they’re making decisions and managing their life. An honest question, followed by another. Really wondering who they are today.
And are you willing to step into the field as you are? To bring the truth of your experience and how it’s really going for you in this season of parenting? Our big kids need us to model vulnerability, confusion, missteps, excitement, doubt, pain, all of it. They need to see real adulting. They need to see you.
In a recent gift session, a mother asked, “How and when should I connect with my daughter (21)? She’s having some medical challenges and I think she’s scared but she also wants to manage it herself. I just don’t know how much is too much and how much is not enough.”
Toward the close of the coaching session, she had an insight I want to share with you:
“This distance between us hurts, but it's still love and closeness. It looks really different than it did a few years ago. But now I get it: It’s not less love. It’s just that this is what our love looks like now.”
I can’t quite describe the peacefulness on her face.
This is parenting, recognizing the ever-changing expressions of love between us and our children. May we recognize and respect their increasing independence and be willing to wander and practice in the field with them.
And for those times when the distance feels awfully big, I’ve created a 10-minute guided meditation for you. Find yourself a quiet spot and LISTEN HERE
Photo by Soner Ozmen on Unsplash
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