(Part Six of Seven)
As we send our grown children off to college or into the world, one of two things happens:
1. Either you continue to ride your adult children, doling out advice, exerting control, and parenting just as before, delaying their emotional maturation while becoming a Parenemy.
2. OR you can become their Frienarent, which is a trusted friend whom they come to for advice, love, care, direction, and support.
Option one: Parenemy (Parent Enemy) – When you parent and treat your adult child as you always have, it can cause conflict, rebellion, ignoring, avoiding, and separation. We must ourselves be willing to bend, change and grow the way we interact with them. Our kids are desperate for independence, (even when they tell us they want to live at home). When we dictate to them in the old way, we are not holding them as mature and capable, which is exactly what we want them to be. By exerting control, we are ultimately pushing them away and eroding their self-esteem. They could begin to feel incompetent or believe their newfound perspective has no merit. They could become resentful and angry. And if we think we’re freaking out about the whole separation thing, imagine what’s happening inside of them.
We love them so much and want to protect them from any adversity, such that our anxiety, shows up as ‘still parenting’. And yet, life will take its toll on them anyway, no matter how much adult parenting we do. Even if we clamp down and hover, they will still make decisions they’ll have to learn from, still get themselves into awkward situations, and still mangle things that could have been easy. So how much better for us to be standing by when a situation arises, to be their person for advice, comfort and a shoulder.
A friend’s daughter went away to college. If she wanted to leave campus, to go home with her roommate or such, she had to call home and get permission. If her dad said no, she could not go. I asked my friend his thoughts behind this type of intense continued parenting of a legal adult, old enough to live on her own.
He said, “What if something happens to her, and besides, as long as we pay the bill we are in control.” After graduation, his daughter broke for independence all right, she no longer speaks to him.
Our best chance at influencing them now is by maintaining a real relationship, because technically they are not required to have any relationship with us at all. (Unless you are holding money or tuition over their head, which is not a good idea, and a topic for another day. And don’t even get me started on requiring them to call you every Sunday.) If we are operating in the same manner of parenting as when they were a child, we will likely begin to notice they become more distant and less available. When real trouble does arise we will not be the one they turn to in the beginning, possibly heading things off, we will be the one they turn to only as a last resort when disaster has fully set in.
Option Two: Frienarent (Friend Parent)– In this scenario you become their adult friend. You allow for their own decisions, mistakes, and triumphs, and just like we do with our own friends, support them and help when they need it, and not before.
The goal is to foster a mature and mutual respect. This is accomplished by listening, not getting upset before you’ve heard the whole story, by not judging, jumping to conclusions or making all kinds of assumptions. We need to sit on our hands, clamp down our teeth, and listen fully. Understand that your child’s world will be expanded and they may surprise you with a new thought, behavior, or way of being. Don’t harp on the old stories of the past and how they’ve always operated before, rather allow for, and look for the new. Highlight any small growth you experience in them. They are hungry for praise and acknowledgement of any sort as they navigate this big scary world.
Speaking of hungry, invite them over or to go out for food. They will most likely accept because it involves food, free food, or a home cooked meal. (which they will have a new appreciation for) This gives you time together to hear what is happening with their life in a non-threatening, level-playing-field way. Come to the meal with no agenda other than to catch up and grow your new relationship.
And here is a truth that I know is the nature of every human being: When we want advice we go to the oldest person that we know who will truly listen to us. For some young people the only person who truly listens to them is a peer, so they get inexperienced peer advice. Be their person. Be the one who listens without judgment, without head shaking, eye rolling or interrupting. Genuinely hear them. As their Frienarent they are more likely to bring you their concerns, and you will end up having more influence and impact than if you forced your continued parenting on them.
If you’ve done it right and accomplished a close adult relationship, you will hear so much about their life that it will likely turn into TMI – Too Much Information. You will hear much more about their personal life than you ever wanted to know. Ha! Rejoice.
Becoming a Freinarent also creates space and freedom for you as well. You can live each day with less worry, because you’ll know that if they truly have a problem they will come to you, possibly even first. This frees you up to pursue your own dreams, desires and goals. So lets talk about that. Coming in the next Blog : Empty Nest: What’s in Your Next Season?