By Corinne Wnek
Back in the 1940s, entertainer Gene Kelly introduced a song, “I Could Write a Book”, from the musical “Pal Joey”, and professed all the wonderful qualities that his new love interest had. Well, I could write a book, too. Only mine would have nothing to do with a new love interest. It would have everything to do with an old love interest, my adult daughter.
Now this column is not about my daughter per se, because I would never hear the end of it, but rather, about adult children in general. I think most parents would agree with me when I say that hospitals do not issue an instruction manual to you on how to raise kids when you are discharged after giving birth, let alone how to relate to kids when they become adults. Although there’s enough advice out there on how to handle children from birth until they grow into the teenage years, the information well seems to dry up when our kids transition into adulthood.
Just how do you parent the adult child? Or more to the point, what are the unspoken rules of relating to that adult child that parents need to know? ‘Children’ in their twenties present a new set of issues for parents that we could not have anticipated when we were rocking that same child to sleep not so long ago. Why does parenting seem to taper off after a child hits 21? Is that for the benefit of the parent? Or do we just cave?
I realize kids grow up. But many ‘twenty somethings’ I know are still not sooo grown up that they don’t need some form of parenting anymore. Many of our kids are underemployed, or unemployed, sorting out relationship issues, walking that tightrope of being done with adolescence but not quite ready for independence either. They are also transitioning into the real world where not everyone is going to tell them how special they are every day, like we might do at home. Confidence issues creep up around now.
I was thrown for a loop when my 25- year-old told me that I needed to learn how to set boundaries with her now that she was adult. After that sting wore off and I could actually talk again a few days later, I realized that she was right. There are new rules with adult children but I just don’t know what they are. And I don’t know anyone else who does either. It’s like walking through a minefield.
A friend of mine recalled how she was startled to hear her 23-year-old daughter say “Mom, you need to learn about how to have an adult relationship with me.” And that was in response to a typical mom question, “How did you two meet?” That question crosses a line? We need a rule, I mean boundaries, about this?
So I am going to think about writing THE book and it will focus on late stage parenting. This is the new frontier, a literary quest to fill a black hole in understanding parent-adult child relationships. One thing is for certain and that is, revenge is sweet. Because someday, when our kids are parents, they will surely turn into us and no amount of organic eating will help them understand their adult kids either. Unless they buy my book.
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