I have adult children (an oxymoron for sure). I have found myself not knowing the right things to do or say more and more often as my kids age. Of course they do not need the same kind of nurturing they used to. And, it turns out I’m not very good at mothering adults.
I still want to be able to fix the things in their lives that need fixing. I still want to be able to take care of their hurts and disappointments. I still want to be able to tell them what to do, knowing they will obediently follow my instruction, because after all, mother knows best.
I have seven kids. Four are young adults. They are great kids. Great kids. They all have some similarities but they are all very different people with individual strengths and weaknesses. I love kids. I was a really good mom to the babies. I did a great job with the toddlers. I did well with all of them in elementary school too. And then. And then. I had teenagers. Teenagers are ridiculously hard to deal with at times, but that’s to be expected. Right? Everyone warns you about teenagers. But they do outgrow the teenaged attitude like they outgrew the terrible twos and life gets better again.
There was no instruction book handed to me when the babies were born. But, I did okay without an instruction book, really. I was a young mom with a lot of enthusiasm. I suppose my first babies and I grew up together in some ways. I should probably apologize to the oldest. He endured most of my learning experiences and was so often my “test subject.”
I’m finding that an instruction manual would come in handy about now though. Anyone seen one entitled, “How to mother grown children”? This is not easy! Adult children sometimes still need guidance. Should I wait ‘til they ask me for it or just go ahead and offer it? If I should wait, should I wait until I see pending disaster? If I watch silently will I be asked later why I did not speak up? If I speak up will I be accused of interfering? If I am the voice of caution am I also the voice of pessimism? A dream crusher?
There is this high balance beam I’m finding myself walking. The abyss on the left side of the balance beam is very quiet and labeled “neglect” while the cavity on the right echoes with the voice of that interfering Emily Gilmore of “Gilmore Girls.” Emily tells me to offer as much advice as I like, in the most condescending voice I can muster. Hmmm, those two options are pretty far apart so the balance beam might be a lot wider than I was originally thinking, huh? Maybe I won’t fall after all.
But it does seem that often a mom cannot win-for-losing. What does a good mother say to her young adult child who asks, “Hey mom, do you like the muffins I made?” The answer I want to give is, “Yes, they are good but next time you might want to pull them out a few minutes earlier.” Did I just give helpful advice or crush my daughter’s enthusiasm for baking?
What does a good mother say to her young adult child who decides he wants to drop out of college and become a professional rodeo clown? Does she encourage him to follow his dream, and tell him she will be cheering from the sidelines? Or does she try to talk some sense into the young man, who by the way, will forever blame her when he is sitting behind a desk and not out in an arena being chased by a bull and living his dream.
What does a good mother say to her young adult child who tells her he just made an appointment to get another tattoo? Should she fein interest and excitement when she wants to beg her child to reconsider? These things are so hard.
I have just begun walking that balance beam. Gone are the days when I get to make all their decisions and the days are getting fewer and further between that they even ask my opinion. I usually have one but I am getting very good at hiding it. It is hard to parent when your kids are old enough to become your friends.
A few days ago I sent my mom this message: “Having grown kids is so much harder than having little kids.” She knew exactly what I was talking about and she spoke to me from experience. After all, she has walked that balance beam for a lot of years before me and I am her adult child who she has to watch blunder through life as she bites her tongue.