Letting go is not about waving goodbye and seeing your first born leave home – that is an aspect of letting go, but only a physical one. When our kids leave home they are simply moving location. The real letting go happens when we pull back from parenting our children and letting them be autonomous.
This of course happens in stages – as our children grow in moral understanding and maturity, and as they gain life skills we start letting them make choices, and do things for themselves. This is letting go – to some degree. And how well we let these little choices happen as they grow up will directly affect how easy you, as a parent, will find letting go at 18, when they are an adult.
Letting Go is a Daily Choice on how I am a Parent
One of the words that I have started to use to distinguish between being a parent of a teen and being a parent of a young adult is directive parenting. Directive parenting is when it is our role as a parent to give direction, instruction, training to our kids. It looks different over the years as the kids do grow up but our role is directive – we are teaching and directing their choices as they grow in moral understanding and life skills. As our kids grow older we become less directive and then when they become an adult we leave the directive parenting behind. We can no longer be directive, we no longer have the authority of parent to tell them what to do.
Instead we become an influence in their life. We are there for them, we can support, encourage, and maybe even challenge (if they are receptive) but we can’t tell them what to do. Moving through these stages of directive parenting is really what letting go is all about.
As our children understand and choose to live by a certain virtue, we can let go the directive parenting for that issue. And so goes our parenting: being directive and letting go for each aspect of growing up – until they are 18. Even if we think they still have a ways to go in moral maturity, we must stop being directive. If we continue to tell them what they can and can’t do they will pull away from us, there will be a strain, if not a break, in our relationship. There comes a time our kids are ready to be self-governed even if they aren’t morally mature enough to do that well. In our society this seems to happen at 18.
Letting go is a heart issue for parents
The heart is the seat of all that we believe. What do we believe about our child? At any age, but since I’m focusing on letting go as our children enter adulthood – what do we believe about our young adult?
- Do we believe they are a person, due our respect?
- Do we believe they are responsible for their own life and actions?
Our choices, our actions, come from what we believe. Sometimes though we need to be brought face to face with seeing our actions, and realizing that they aren’t in line with what we believe. When this happens we need to make an adjustment.
Do your interactions with your adult child stem from these two beliefs? Or do you need to make an adjustment?
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When our kids don’t follow through in life choices like we would like them to we may feel embarrassed or disappointed. And though there is some reflection on family ultimately if our children truly are to be self-governed their choices have to reflect directly back onto them. We must resist the urge to take control – or to be directive again – when they are making choices we don’t like. When our children were toddlers we had to resist parenting out of embarrassment or disappointment – it is the same when we have adult children. We cannot revert to being directive parents because we are embarrassed or disappointed, we cannot take their choices on board as judgement on ourselves. They are their choices.
Yes, we can feel sad. Especially since we know the life that comes from making wise choices, and the consequences that come from making unwise choices – but we must let our kids make choices and walk in the consequences of those choices.
My Measuring Stick
One of the mental check lists that I have in my head when I consider handing over responsibility to my adult children has been the idea of having a boarder live with me. If I had another person – from outside my family – living with me, what would be my expectations?
- How would I talk to them?
- What would I expect of them?
- How would I handle their choices?
This works as my measuring stick because it takes away the directive parenting habits of earlier years. I would never treat my boarder like I would treat my 10 year old. I would treat them like an adult. And here lies the prompt – I should treat my adult kids like an adult!
5 Examples of Letting Go
Each of my children have presented me with different challenges – but here are five things that I am very aware that I have had to tweak my thinking and my expectations as my kids move into adulthood.
1–Family time: When our kids were kids I was in control of what our family time looked like. I expected everyone to be at the table for dinner every night and I shaped our family routines and commitments around that value. Though my children value family time, and family dinner they also have other commitments happening. We have talked about what is realistic, how can we balance their sport commitments with the need to connect together. Together we have come up with a plan.
2–How they use their time: I have learnt to ask them before I make any decision for family time – I ask them if they are available to do something. I don’t assume they are available or interested. I invite them to join us (Unless it is a prearranged agreement – like our Sunday morning breakfast). When people invite us out for dinner, I check if they want us as a whole family, or just Peter and I, I get the adult-kids to RSVP for themselves. This is also reflected in that the adult-kids are getting invites without us tagging along (and rightly so). If I need something extra done, I ask if they can do it giving them the full freedom to say they can’t. Sometimes it looks to me that they are wasting time, or their time management is out of balance – but that is their deal, not mine.
3–How they look after their stuff: Their bedroom is theirs. If they choose to live in a mess, then they must respect my house and close the door. I can’t dictate how they look after their stuff. This includes how they spend their money, how they look after their car, the amount of data they use (if they are paying for it!) Their stuff is their stuff and I can’t just assume to use it – and though this is a family standard from when they are young, now they own bigger stuff – like a car, or a phone. It is theirs and I need to respect it as such.
4–The choices they make: the movies they watch, the clothes they wear, the bedtime they choose – unless these choices affect the other people in our house, these are their choices to make.
5–How they relate to others: How they engage online, how they engage face to face. They are now making their own choices. Another aspect is that they start to seek out others to input into their life. Though I encourage this, at times it can be challenging especially if the friend or other mentor gives advice or encouragement opposing your thoughts – but we must let our adult-kids seek out support for themselves.
Because I have a relationship with my adult children, and they are receptive to my input our relationship is more like a mentor relationship instead of a parent (in the directive sense). I have the opportunity to give suggestions and make reminders and hold them accountable to their decisions – but only in a way that connects with what I know their values are. If I give suggestions and reminders to them based on my values, it comes across as nagging – and I’m overstepping the line of parent and adult-child. My job is to help them be all that they can, yes, but in respect for their values.
Letting go is hard to do because it means we aren’t making all the decisions, we aren’t giving all the instructions, things don’t go our way. Letting go is about letting our children be self-governing. It is challenging because now we have to relate to adults – that is the bottom line with letting go. Can I relate to an adult? Can I relate to my adult-child without being the boss?
Over to you:
Do you have adult-children in your family? What issues have you found yourself having to be conscious of?