I am the proud mother of two adult children both having crossed the rubicon of 21 years and although I am amazed when I look at my children, both being taller than I am and living largely independently from me. I am more amazed when I look at the children of my cousins, brother and young friends aged 0 to 12 because of their energy and the antics they get up to and I can’t help but wonder how I passed through that phase. One minute my children were being ferried to kindergarten for the very first time, the next they are all grown up in university, making choices without my input and jocularly accusing me of being old and suffering from midlife crisis especially when I tell them to teach me the new dance steps.
Me that at a point in their lives was the wisest and strongest woman on earth. me that had all the answers to life’s questions, me that could do and undo with just a look or gesture, me that controlled what they watched, ate, where they went to and whom they played with. Me, now the old mother of two young adults.
I have loads of younger friends who look at me and my friends who have adult children with envy because we are finally free of buying pampers and baby food, school runs, paying school fees, settling fights between siblings, cooking and ferrying children to and fro school, searching for activities to keep them busy during the holidays and I must admit, they do have a point, we are free from the nitty gritty of parenting young and dependent children.
But are we really free?
Have we reached the Eldorado of parenting, can we turn our backs and shout “freedom at last” or have we just exchanged one set of handcuffs for another?
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world, you have no manual for it and you can’t predict categorically that your methods will work and your children will turn out well. It is a lifetime job that one retires from when one dies and as I have found out, it is full of challenges at every stage of our children’s lives.
There was a time and I must say I miss that time when my children relied heavily on me, when a cuddle, a kiss or a hug could soothe their pain and when the things that hurt them were things I could contend with. I have since found out, though I moaned and grumbled and waited impatiently for them to grow up that those were the easy days.
Today, the challenges of parenting are different and precarious. As our children grow and experience the vicissitudes of life and meet with people of different backgrounds and philosophies, they begin to form different opinions on subjects contrary to what they were brought up to know, make choices contrary to what they had hitherto professed, live a different lifestyle from that practiced under our roofs, depart from the religion they were brought up with or even express their love for God in a different way and choose to express their individuality in ways that bewilder us.
So what are we as parents to do?
Do we fold our arms and leave them to their lives? Do we jump in and take decisions for them? Do we enable their behavior when they are misbehaving? The first and hardest thing I have learnt to do is respect their person, boundaries and choices. This is especially difficult when it involves issues or topics I hold strong opinions on. For example, my daughter and I have reached an impasse where her religious opinions or views are not to be discussed and much as I would love to, I have had to respect her decision about her perspective on God even though one of my greatest desires has been that my children will see God as I see Him. I have come to understand that even though I believe my perception of God is right and healthy, it may not be so for her and that she needs to come to an understanding of God by herself.
Secondly, I have removed the cap of parent and donned that of a friend, advisor and mentor. I give advice when asked ( I try sha) and if my opinions are not sought before decisions are made, I try not to make an issue of it. I also seek their advice on stuff in my life and listen to their perspective on several issues.
Thirdly, I have learnt the hard way to try hard to listen to what is said and unsaid and that when they confide in me, I don’t divulge information without their consent. It so happened that one of my son’s friend accepted my invite on social media whilst he blocked his own mother, my relaying information gleaned from his page to her earned me a block and a retort from my son about the consequences of abusing privileges.
Fourthly, I am learning to let them suffer the consequences of their actions even though many a time I am itching to help them out. I have found out that sometimes in my haste to help my children, I make them feel inadequate and insecure in their paths thereby affecting their independence so I hesitate to jump in the fray except if the danger is imminent. Instead I stay on the sidelines and throw in a word of encouragement ever so often, however, I make sure that I don’t enable their behavior by encouraging them to be irresponsible, lazy or impudent after all they are adults as they so often remind me.
Fifthly, I don’t interfere outwardly on the choices they make in their relationships whether friends or a significant other even though I think or even know they may have made a bad choice. In most cases, our children will not choose the partner we would have chosen for them but I have found out that when we are obvious about our dislike it makes them all the more determined to stick to their choice even though they may know we are right so until they place themselves in a potentially hazardous situation, I will see and say nothing. If they have, I will see and say everything.
Sixth, I have come to the realization that l have a cherished but diminished space in their lives. Work, friends, their significant other and children will most likely come first. I had my place of honor when they were young and if I managed that phase well, I will be placed on an altar of respect for the rest of my life. As parents it will do us good to understand that everything and everyone has their place and we should know when to yield space to others and never let our children feel they have to choose between us and their other relationships otherwise they just may avoid us and our drama.
Seventh, encourage, cheer, advice, reassure, pray, pray, pray and pray again.
The joys of parenting adults are varied and so are the sorrows. I am however bent on having a good, wholesome relationship with my children.