At each stage of parenting, there are different lessons to be learned. Oddly enough, I learned my first lesson about parenting adult children a few years before my son was even born.
This seems odd, but it’s true.
I learned this all-important lesson while I was in college, stepping out on my own for the first time. I was across the country from my parents, getting my first apartment, and figuring out how to handle my courseload, bills, and work schedule on my own.
What I learned came both from my own experience and my parents’ reactions to my choices. And while that wasn’t an easy time in my life, I’m thankful I learned that lesson so early.
Parenting as a Process
The lesson I learned is both very simple and very profound.
Trust the process.
Parenting isn’t something that we do in chunks. We don’t parent babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kids, teens, or adults…we parent our children.
Obviously, we are going to use different methods and tactics at each stage, but parenting is one long process. Although it has a lot of twists and turns along the way, it’s a single journey with a clear destination.
When I was a young adult, just heading out on my own, I realized that my parents didn’t understand parenting this way. This realization floored me, and it’s something I vowed I wouldn’t repeat with my son.
But first, I want to give you a look into my story.
My story is pretty similar to that of many my age. My parents grew up in very traditional households, but they both rejected the beliefs they were raised with. They became adults during a pretty tumultuous time, when it became popular to believe that traditions, rules, and expectations were something to be tossed away.
They had the freedom of adulthood, but they turned away from the anchors that would help them navigate it. In doing so, they made a lot of decisions that affected how they raised their children.
When I was growing up, there was a huge movement that encouraged parents to be involved with everything except their kids. Women were told that in order to be independent, they should work outside the home. Men were told that in order to be successful, they had to focus on getting ahead.
And thus, the latch-key kid was born.
Honestly, at the time, I didn’t mind being a latch-key kid. However, I didn’t know anything else. It was my normal.
I had no clue that my parents were supposed to be part of my life, other than showing up for my concerts and softball games. I didn’t know that I was supposed to be raised by them, rather than by my friends and the media.
And while I love my parents dearly, I really had no idea that they were supposed to actively parent me.
When I left home to go to college, I made some choices that my parents disagreed with. I chose a different political view, different religious beliefs, and a different lifestyle than the one they preferred.
None of my choices were harmful…they were just different than what my parents expected of me at that stage.
Because my parents had raised me to believe that they would support whatever I chose, I was unprepared for their reaction. Rather than seeing me as an adult and accepting my choices, they tried to micromanage each of my decisions. Multiple times.
I finally had to tell my parents some hard truths, gently but firmly. The truth was, they had had their chance to parent and guide me. I love them and respect their advice to this day, but as an adult, I need to be able to make the choices that are best for my family.
And as parents of an adult, they have to be willing to trust that they did a good enough job in raising me to know that I’m capable of making those decisions.
But because of their hands-off approach, they lost the chance to guide me through the challenges I would later face. Today, I really regret that.
Parenting with Adulthood in Mind
When my son was born a few years after this conversation, my husband and I decided that we’re not raising a baby, or a child, or a teen.
We’re raising an adult. A functional, wise, compassionate, godly adult.
Parenting with adulthood in mind means that with each decision you make, each time you teach or guide your child, you are taking them by the hand and guiding them a little further down the road toward adulthood.
You’re not “just getting through” some stage. You’re guiding them through each section of life until they are able to navigate it for themselves.
When we allowed our son to work for an allowance, it wasn’t because he asked for one…it was because we wanted to teach him the value of work ethic and money.
When we made family decisions, we included our son as much as possible in the process. This wasn’t because he had an equal say, it was to teach him the skills of prioritization and decision-making.
When we prayed for and with him, we did so intentionally, and we led him toward having his own relationship with Christ.
Parenting an Adult Child
Today, I am the parent of an adult child. He’s not perfect, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. He is a pretty amazing guy, though, and he’s someone that I have no problem trusting in.
I trust that he’ll act with a balance of wisdom and compassion. I know that he will choose to put God first in his decisions, even before his own comfort or fears. He is someone that will weigh each side of an issue before making a decision about it, and even when I disagree with him, I trust that he has made that decision wisely.
However, he will also come to us with any question that he needs guidance with. Because we were intentional in parenting him early on, he knows that he can trust us to still be intentional today.
And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If your child is not yet an adult, I encourage you to parent intentionally with adulthood in mind. It really does make a difference!
And if your child is an adult, I would challenge you to keep the lines of communication open and to pray for your child daily, but also to trust that they have the wisdom and ability to make the decisions that come their way. Be their honest sounding board and their support, but also be willing to let them take the lead.