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What Nobody Ever Tells You About Being A Parent To Grown-Up Kids

Photo: Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash
adult children
Family, Self

“When they’re little they sit on your lap; when they’re big they sit on your heart.”

Parenting.

There’s so much advice, so many well-meaning writers and authorities, and plenty of first-hand accounts of what "works" or what’s "good" for the kids

I can’t find a single article that talks about what it’s really like to BE a parent, especially the parent of adult children.

When they’re little, you feel important, and necessary, even when they are driving you out of your mind.

When they’re teens, if things are going well, you know you have to back off a bit and keep requirements to a minimum, or you’ll get rebellion.

When they’re adults, you want to have "adult" relationships with them.

But all the good advice out there is about THEM. How you should treat THEM, what you should or shouldn’t say to THEM. What you can or can’t expect from THEM.

What about YOU? 

You can’t help having fantasies about your kids — and if you didn’t, there would be something wrong with that. It’s part of being a living and loving parent, to see things in your children that you want more of or hope for them to achieve.

So many books and studies and articles talk about whether it’s "good" to be on top of them or let them be, offer them opportunities, or let them play on their own. Build their self-esteem by telling them how wonderful they are, or let them know that real success is about the effort they put in.

After all, you are their model, their mentor, their teacher, their coach, and you want the best for them. Even when they’re in the "threenager" stage and making you nuts. Or when they stay out late as teenagers, and you worry and can’t sleep. You want the very best for them.

Somewhere in there, your own needs take a back seat. When you’re so aware that they need YOU, you don’t notice how much you need THEM. 

Maybe you begin to notice when they’ve grown up and have lives of their own. You’re still thinking about what’s good for them, but you start feeling that empty place they used to fill.

The temptation is to try to get them to fill you up.

A prime example of this is the old tradition that a "good" daughter stays with her mother, while her siblings go off and have lives of their own. The mother then doesn’t have to feel her hunger, but it costs her child’s independent life.

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I remember visiting my grown daughter, standing in her kitchen just trying to soak up the feeling of her presence. It made her extremely uncomfortable — "Mom, don’t just stand there staring at me!"

She was right — it’s not her job to fill me up. I was ashamed, and yet… and yet… the hunger is there. She doesn’t NEED me anymore, and where does that leave me?

When she was a baby, I could put my nose on her tummy, and inhale her scent. When she was a toddler, I could cuddle with her on my lap, and applaud her proud moments. When she was a teenager, I could comfort, hug, just be in contact with her pretty much every day.

It was all about loving her, but it fed me, too. 

Don’t mistake me — my daughter is a loving, generous woman, who treats me with affection and respect. I am proud of her accomplishments, and those of my granddaughters. 

The difficulty is that I feel a need for her.

And that is a strange about-face. It’s not that I’m ill or infirm. In fact, I’m living a good life. But there’s an empty place inside.

My own mother knew this empty place really well. She tried to fill it by guilting me about my love for her, which was never enough. I’m certainly not planning to follow in her footsteps.

I know I’m not the only mother of grown children who feels this bind.

A friend of mine often talks about what she wants from her daughters — a kind of return of the love we’ve invested in them? — and to some extent we can console one another.

I think that’s the crux of it: the nature of being a mother is to care more for the well-being of your child than for yourself, and yet… Especially now that we live for multiple generations, we need to find a way to care for ourselves.

While unrequited love is bitter-sweet, sharing it with friends can actually be a good "meal."

 

Cheryl Gerson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board Certified Diplomate, in private practice in New York City. Feel free to ask a question, or speak with her about finding the right treatment for you. 

 

 

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