Read an Excerpt
Secrets To Parenting Your Adult Child
By Nancy Williams
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2011 Nancy Williams
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJust When You Thought Your Work Was Done ...
"The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need, can hit hard." —Sloan Wilson, novelist
I held my little one in my arms, and my husband set the suitcase down and curled up next to us on the bed as we shared our first few moments at home together as a family. We couldn't stop smiling as we looked at that innocent, perfectly formed little person and then into each other's eyes. We had a new identity.
While our son lay there quietly, nestled among the pillows and surrounded by his proud parents, we dreamed about the future that was ahead for our new little family. Our thoughts bounced back and forth from excitement to fear, from confidence to uncertainty. We vowed to do our best as caregivers, protectors, guides, providers, defenders, and teachers. Parents.
"Can we really do this? Are we ready?" I wondered if I could measure up to all the books I had read and examples I had seen about how to be a great mother. My husband gently took my hand and offered assurance: "Nancy, we'll be fine. God gave him to us, and if we stay close together and listen to Him, He'll help us be the best parents we can be."
Sound familiar? If you are a parent of grown children like us, you probably had that same experience as you took on the role of raising a child. When we all cradled our newborns in our arms those many years ago, we envisioned spending eighteen years or so training our children in the way they should go and then launching them off into adulthood. We assumed we would complete our parental tasks and face the "empty nest."
The pages on the calendar seemed to turn quickly, and before we knew it we watched our children blow out eighteen candles on a birthday cake. As we celebrated this milestone in their lives, our minds drifted back to our own graduation from teenager to adult. For many of us, the ink was barely dry on our diploma when we heard the good-byes and well-wishes from family and friends. Some with tear-filled eyes and others with sighs of relief. Armed with a set of luggage, the old family car, warnings from Dad, and a care package from Mom, we headed out the door and into our future.
Whatever the circumstances, whether off to college, away to the military, or out to find a job and our own apartment, we left our childhood behind and flung open the door to adulthood. Ready or not, there we were—officially on our own. We now held our future in our hands as we stepped out into the world to make our mark.
As we brought our own children to this threshold of adulthood, we assumed they would follow a path of independence and self-sufficiency similar to ours. We started taking steps to prepare ourselves—and them—for the time when we would let go and watch them fly off on their own.
To soften our grief, we began to dream and plan for life after the children were out of the nest. Travel. New careers. Fewer financial obligations. Remodeling. Free time to enjoy our hobbies and interests. There would be tears of sadness from one eye and tears of joy from the other as we set aside the role we had carried: parents raising children.
Then the long-awaited, much anticipated day came and we realized the expectation of closing the chapter on parenthood was only a myth. The reality? Parenting doesn't stop when our children grow up. And the nest doesn't always empty when or how we thought it would. Our children may or may not be sleeping under our roof. But regardless, our sense of responsibility continues as we search for understanding about this new identity: parents of adult children.
Now That They're Grown
A large percentage of our adult children ages eighteen to early thirties and even beyond—sometimes referred to as Generation-Xers, adultolescents, twenty-somethings, and emerging adults—are successfully stepping out into their new roles as adults. They have taken the necessary steps to prepare and are now creating a new life for themselves both personally and professionally. They are buying homes, managing their own finances, traveling, building new relationships, perhaps starting families of their own. They speak to us about their goals and passions along with their commitment and determination to seize all life has to offer. As parents, we stand on the sidelines and cheer as we wonder how we fit into this new picture, praying God will guide their steps along His plan for their lives.
Some of our adult children, however, are not in as much hurry to leave home. Others go but come back after graduation from college or a failed relationship. There are those who can't find a job, perhaps due to increasing competition in the marketplace. Some find a job, but not the ideal job of their dreams or one that will adequately cover their expenses. Many seem to be slower in growing up and reaching a level of maturity to take charge of their future with confidence and responsibility.
Our children say they do care about their futures, but some wrestle to know how to make the dream of success become reality. As a result, many of them struggle with significant anxiety, pressure, and uncertainty. Even if they don't automatically turn to us for support, we want to do what we can to help.
Our Changing Role
No matter where they are on this journey into adulthood, we may find our adult children looking to us for insight, counsel, mentoring, and encouragement. They want to relate to us—adult to adult. We need to be ready and willing to make that shift with them. Whether or not we agree with the life choices they make, our responses to those choices can significantly affect their lives and our relationships with them. That's where our insecurities as parents may come to the surface.
Jane, a mom of a young adult, described it so clearly: "I'm struggling to find my place in my child's life right now. I find myself guessing a lot about the right way to help. I don't know how to step back yet stay connected. It's an awkward time for both of us."
Another bewildered mom captured the frustration we often feel as parents: "I know there's a time to speak and a time to keep silent. I just don't know which to do when!"
Today's parents may have dreams of their own for launching their children out of the nest and into adulthood, but we now recognize that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to parenting our adult children. We need to respond to each one individually as we evaluate their readiness to move into this new phase of life. Indeed, it's not just about the number of candles on the cake. We should consider their needs—emotional, physical, financial, educational, spiritual, and social—as we determine how to support them and cultivate a new relationship: adult to adult.
It's also important to evaluate our own definition of successful parenting. Author Stephen Bly contends that our success as parents "is not determined by [our children's] economic good fortune, scholastic achievements, social popularity, or how rapidly or slowly children pull away from their parents.... Successful parenting means you have helped your children become the persons God wants them to be."
The question is not if we will be concerned. We love our children and will always be vested in their well-being. They may not be physically living at home, but we do see them as still in our emotional "family nest." Our challenge? To determine how we will channel our concern in ways that will support and encourage them to develop both self-sufficiency and a positive connection with family.
Our first step is to set aside our preconceived ideas and seek God's wisdom to understand our own children individually. We should ask questions and listen when they speak. They want to know we are behind them as they move into the role of adulthood. Our support coupled with their movement. We need to talk with them (not at them) as they develop their life plans and share from the wisdom of our experience. But it's important to acknowledge that it is their unique future they are creating, not our history for them to copy automatically.
We need to pray for them and with them. There may be fences to mend. We need to set boundaries while maintaining a connection as family. Our children long to know we love them—unconditionally. We need to be their strongest cheerleaders, celebrating their victories and supporting them through the struggles of life. We need to communicate openly, honestly, and respectfully, even when we disagree with their choices.
Just as we encourage them to take care of themselves to the best of their ability—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—we must do the same for our marriages and ourselves. We also face significant life changes, many similar to those of our adult children. We are closing the chapter on childhood activities we shared with them and now developing new interests, even new relationships. Many of us are contemplating career changes. Finances are taking a priority focus as we consider our current needs and look ahead to retirement. Some parents are dealing with relocation issues as they make plans to downsize into a new living space. Whatever your plans may be, know that changes are on their way.
About This Book
As parents of adult children, we are facing a variety of challenges as we negotiate our way through this passage of our lives. In the chapters ahead, we'll hear insight, encouragement, and strategies—secrets—for responding, from both parents and young adults. Several of them have shared from their personal experiences, and out of respect to their families, we have changed names and some details to protect their privacy. Marriage and family experts will also step in to offer wise counsel. At the close of each chapter, we will pause for you to reflect on your own personal story and consider how you will respond to the opportunities and challenges before you. You may want to join other parents to read and discuss the book together.
As the mother of two adult sons, my parenting world was male-oriented. That is, until one of my sons married a wonderful young woman. I've talked with many mothers who have raised daughters and we've discovered we share many joys and challenges in common. I refer to "he" throughout the book rather than "he/she" for brevity. Let your mind translate to your own parenting language as you consider the stories shared and apply the truths to your own life experiences.
For us, and our children, it is the dawn of a new day, time to begin another chapter in the relationship we are continually building with them. What will be reflected on the pages of our family's history? The days ahead will write the answer. The health and well-being of a relationship is dependent on each person's dedication and contribution to it. We cannot control how our children will respond to this changing relationship now that they have stepped into an adult role. They are responsible for their own choices. However, we do know this truth: The opportunity is ours to seek God's guidance in order to contribute our best offering as parents to our children. It is our calling and it is our blessing. And it will be an integral part of the legacy we leave for generations to come.
Join me in the pages ahead as we consider together how to contribute our very best as parents toward building a healthy relationship with our adult children ... now that they're grown.
Excerpted from Secrets To Parenting Your Adult Child by Nancy Williams Copyright © 2011 by Nancy Williams. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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