Looking back — learning forward

Help! I am feeling a new learning curve in my parenting. As a parent of young adult children, I am at the departure stage. As with every other stage, I imagined what this would be like, and once again, it ain’t what I thought.

In 1974, the American Psychoanalytic Association declared parenting a “developmental process.” Ellen Galinsky, author of “The Six Stages of Parenting” writes about the growth process of adults as they parent. She highlights the predictable challenges that come at each stage from the anticipation we feel in pregnancy or pre-adoption to the departure stage which requires that we let go and stay connected in new ways when our children leave home.

Several weeks ago, I was just getting comfortable in my parenting role as the mother of two adult children, and then “bang” it changed. I needed to figure out once again how to allow for the separation and move on to find new connections with my children. As Galinski writes, this is another time for letting go, for parents’ evaluation of how they have been successful and ways they have not been. It’s a time for looking at whether parents have achieved the kind of relationship that they’ve wanted with their adult children. I was feeling all alone in this developmental process when, within a week, two resources appeared.

Julie, a friend now living in Florida with children older than mine, called. After going on about how I want to help my children pay closer attention to money and health care benefits and a whole range of blah blah blah…she remained silent. After a pause in my expounding she said, “Karin, your teaching days are over.” “But my children have so much to learn” was the thought that first raced through my mind. Then relief and sadness swept over me as I realized the truth of what she was telling me. My children did not need me as a teacher anymore. Because my children will need my support in other ways, I must open my eyes to the unknown landscape and learn again the art of compassionate acceptance rather than interference and control. It is by closing the comfortable teaching door and waiting for another door to open that allows me and my children to grow into our new stage.

Later I am working with another friend, Audrey, on a writing project and she said, “I think our job is to be supportive now and not to do for our children things they can do for themselves.” She clarified that when she felt the urge to teach or do for her adult children, she asked herself these questions, “Would I talk this way to a friend?” “Would I do this for a friend?” She went on to explain that we can become so accustomed to the necessary dependency of early childhood, it can be difficult to see the necessary steps toward interdependency in the later stages.

Faith, trust, clarity, curiosity and often a bit of humor are the qualities that will get me through this tricky transition. My learning is to let go of the outcomes I want and to accept the choices, work, partners and life styles of my adult children.

In practicing this new learning my growth will come, not as I hang on to my imagined role, but as I adjust and grow into the current reality of our life as a family. As I reflect over time, I will let go of failures and I’ll be able to acknowledge the successes. So now when I observe my children bristling when I begin a sentence with “have you thought about….?” I will step back and say to myself, Better to wait until they ask. As I acknowledge this growth in myself, Mr. Roger’s words ring in my ears, “Children offer us another chance to grow. We get another crack at ourselves.”

Karin Watson is a co-chairperson of the Family Support Alliance and the Parent Education Coordinator for Island County. She lives on South Whidbey.

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