Looking back to when my oldest son was little, I can remember thinking that things would get easier when he wasn’t a child any more. Parenting had to get easier once your children had grown-up, right? Wrong – parenting adult children is hard!Parenting adult children is hard! Click To Tweet
My adult son, who is living with us while he goes to school, sought me out today to tell me that he’d finally heard back from the student loan people, and that he would be receiving about $7000 less in loans than he’d anticipated.
It’s not often that he seeks me out to chat, so here was an opportunity to really connect with him.
Just to give some history – when my son was 14 he made the decision to live with his dad, who lived in another province. Even though we talked weekly on the phone, and I visited as much as my job would allow, I never felt as close to him and as involved in his life as I wanted to be. When he decided to move back home to pursue school, I viewed it as the perfect opportunity to deepen our relationship.
OPPORTUNITY MISSED – PARENTING ADULT CHILDREN IS HARD
When he told me the news about his loan, my immediate response was to think, “Oh my god, he needs to get a job to pay for his school.”
What I said was: “I guess you’ll have to get a job.”
Immediately his eyes got that shuttered look he gets whenever I offer unsolicited advice. And let’s be honest, he never actually asks me for advice.
What my response suggested: I have a negative opinion about him choosing to not work while he goes to school. Whether this is how I felt or not it’s what my words implied.
The funny thing is, just a few weeks ago, I was defending his decision to not work during his schooling, so that he could focus on his education and still have some fun. He can worry about busting his butt to pay off his loans later.
I will admit that the amount of debt he’s incurring worries me, but it’s his debt. He’s an adult. It’s his life. It’s none of my concern – if you thought parenting was hard with little ones, just wait until they are adults for the challenge to really start (yes, teenagers still top the difficultly chart).
I should butt out.
The problem is that I want him to succeed in his life, and I’m afraid of debt. I don’t want him to get trapped into a certain kind of life because he has debt. I’ve lived below the poverty line while trying to deal with debt. I’ve been in relationships where our whole existence was dictated by the debt my partner kept incurring.
So, yes, I have a huge fear of debt! I have a tendency to avoid debt at all costs – pun not intended.
The fact is, though, I shouldn’t have let my fear jump to the surface and prejudice my response to him. He’s an adult, and as such, I should’ve left the ball in his court.
What I should’ve said was: “Do you have a plan, if you can’t get the loan adjusted?”
What this response suggests:
If I had responded by asking him his plan, I would’ve been communicating to him that I believe in his capability as a competent adult and that I’m supportive of his decisions.
What I did next:
As soon as I realized that I had spoken out of turn, I tried to mitigate the damage by suggesting other ways he could save money, such as taking his car off the road to save on insurance.
Immediately sensing that this was also not the best thing to say – my son loves his car – I tried to cover this gaff by saying that I didn’t think it was necessarily the best case scenario, but that I was just tossing out suggestions for how he could make up the difference.
You know, trying to be helpful and all – I’m gagging as I type this.
JUST STOP TALKING ALREADY
I will let you in on one of my personality quirks. When I realize I’ve said or done something wrong, I seem to lose the ability to control my mouth. I’m always kind of a talkative person – my husband will probably roll his eyes when he sees that I said ‘kind of’ – but when I’m trying to back-peddle after inadvertently saying something inappropriate, I really can’t stop talking.
Today was no different.
Now that I was on the road to demonstrating that I was your typical unfeeling, dictator of a parent, I just couldn’t seem to stop myself from offering up advice.
I heard myself say, “Every penny you don’t have to borrow is one less you have to pay back.” Ugh!I heard myself say, “Every penny you don’t have to borrow is one less you have to pay back.” Ugh! Click To Tweet
Seriously, like he doesn’t know that. Good thing I was there to point it out.
I once again tried to cover my gaff by finishing off with a real gem: “I know you’ll figure it out.”
Talk about throwing in my supportive pitch way too late in the game.
WHY DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
Looking back, I can’t really figure out how it all went wrong. I mean, I get what went wrong, but why didn’t I just say something else?
The thing is, I totally get what he must’ve been feeling. It’s a scenario that happens to my pretty regularly. I get a vision of how I want to approach something (such as how my son had decided not to work while going to school); however, when I enthusiastically present my idea/plan to others – usually family and friends – I am met with doubt.
They respond not with encouragement, but with a list of reasons why I shouldn’t do it MY way (like me suggesting that he could get a job instead of taking on more debt). Frankly, it’s demoralizing and sucks all the joy out of the adventure/plan.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that people can’t give advice, but there’s a way to do it constructively. I believe – even if I don’t always manage to do it – that the first step is to voice support for the spirit of the idea, if not with the nitty gritty details.
If nothing else, it’s important to voice your confidence in the person making the right decision for them – even if it isn’t what you would do.
WHAT’S MY NEXT MOVE?
Now, that I’ve figured out what I did wrong – which basically happened about two seconds after the conversation finished – all I have to do is figure out how to repair the damage. Easy, right?
I know I have to find a way to demonstrate that I do believe in him, even if I do get worried sometimes – he is still my ‘baby’ after all.
Let me just say, parenting adult children is tough. I guess that’s because you aren’t really supposed to be parenting anymore. You are just the parent. They’ve got it under control – at least you can only hope.
Please share your ideas about being a parent when your children are no longer children. I’d love to hear your experiences (both the successful and the not so successful) and your advice (constructive of course.)
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