My older son got married a month ago and we moved him and his wife to Denver last weekend. He cleaned out his closet one last time, and it’s… really empty. There’s something so final about that. When it was half-full of ASU shirts and high school yearbooks, and when there were still some shorts and ties in his dresser, there was always the promise of all sorts of interactions that kept him a part of our family rhythm throughout his college years. I anticipated crying when we left, but he and my daughter-in-law were so happy to be unpacking boxes and feathering their first nest, I couldn’t do anything but smile and silently cheer, “Yay you! You made it to the next stage!” And, “Yay us! We helped you get there!”
When I dig down into those cheers, an important truth reveals itself: We helped him get there by stepping back during his young adulthood – not by micromanaging or telling him what to do. It’s hard to know, sometimes, when to step in or step back. Many parents step back too soon, before kids are developmentally ready to make important decisions for themselves. Others hover over their young adult children, holding the safety net so close the kids almost trip over it. Parenting adult children is another opportunity for learning, like parenting at every stage since they were born.
Here’s what I’ve learned about stepping back so our kids can step forward:
“What are some choices you are considering? What are you leaning toward? Would you be open to some input?” If the answer is “no,” respect that. It’s hard, but it’s probably what you would want someone to do for you.
Do the answers they give indicate an awareness of the issues? Do they seem pretty confident of their direction? Are they looking for advice/input? (Refer back to #1.)
At who they are; who they have been; who they are becoming; the learning they have taken from past mistakes and successes.
That they want what’s best for themselves, too. Face it: Do any of us, with as much life experience and knowledge as we have, always make the right decision? Or do we do our best, learn from the decisions we make and move on to new possibilities with stronger skills? (This is known as resilience.)
Ask what they need from you. If they say “nothing,” support them by keeping your mouth shut and letting them make their decision. Be ready with a hug, whether things go well or not.
My husband and I haven’t achieved mastery of this parenting stage yet. We are practicing, though, and when we step in too far, our kids let us know and we step back again. Thankfully, they don’t expect us to be perfect. They love us and they promise to visit. So the closet may be empty, but our hearts are full.