The Job That Lasts a Lifetime

When the last child turns 18 and heads off to college, your job as a parent is done, right? Not so fast! The phrase "Once a parent, always a parent" is true. Often, parents are surprised to find that the onset of adulthood for their children doesn't translate into renewed childlessness for them. The children may be out of the house off to college, starting their own families, building careers but Mom and Dad will always be Mom and Dad.

It's how you parent from this point on that makes the difference.

Geographic distance doesn't necessarily mean relational distance. Sure, they're adults now, with adult responsibilities. But after 18 years of disciplining and directing, it's time for advising and befriending. When the kids leave the nest, your relationship can grow. Parents can befriend and wisely counsel their grown children, and vice versa. Sadly, some inadvertently push them away by attempting to control their actions.

Of course, your children have to want their independence. Some suffer from the "Peter Pan Syndrome": grown offspring who still want to be treated like children. This syndrome cripples many grown children, making it near impossible for them to live their own lives. The scenario is common: an adult child refuses to become self-sufficient, and parents enable their prolonged adolescence by providing food and shelter and putting up with excuses.

Among the most disturbing dynamics in the empty nest years is when grown children become parents: parents who do things differently than their parents did. It takes great restraint to allow adult children to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. But the alternative imposing your opinions on them will only serve to drive you apart. It's best to reserve comment for life and death situations or until you're asked.

Done right, family ties can be strong even when all family members reach adulthood. You can be best friends with your grown children and it's a friendship worth pursuing.

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