Category Archives: Letting Go

Are You Only As Happy as Your…

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Last Friday we had dinner with old friends, Larry and Sarah. Old in that we met them before we had children. Also old in that we are now parents of grown-ups.  We have two, they have two; adult “kids” in their late 20’s and early 30’s.

What was remarkable about our evening was that we did not discuss our kids. No talk about their jobs or lack thereof, or their choice of partners/spouses or lack thereof. Or their latest triumphs or set-backs.

There was – being 100% honest here – a brief intermission where we did verbally acknowledge (a) the existence of our adult children and (b) their general welfare.

But we did not dwell on them.

Only a few years ago we might have filled our dinner conversation with the latest news about our kids – so how is it that now we no longer need – or want – to do so?

Instead we had a refreshingly kid-talk-free, empty-nester-type conversation about food, music, books, travel, politics, current events and then back to food again. (My friend, Sarah is a fabulous cook.)

We are still parents, and will perennially be so, but the needs of our kids are no longer top of the mind, crowding out our own. While I speak to, text, email both our kids – sometimes IMHO too often with one of them, sometimes IMHO not often enough with the other  –  I no longer know what they eat for dinner, when they went to bed or what they will be doing tomorrow.

Their details belong to their own lives now. And that is how it should be. Mostly.

Admitting here that sometimes the challenges of one of our adult kids tends to encroach on this philosophy.

And when these mental health challenges are at a high point (or a low point, you get the idea; many ups and downs) these challenges could – IF WE LET THEM – take over our adult lives too. Which could easily cast shadows on the pleasantness of a nice evening out with friends.

Luckily (and truly not everyone gets this) our friends do let us talk about the unpleasant times we go through. And they can offer advice (if we are in the mood to hear it) or just be sympathetic sounding boards (sometimes even better.)

But as empty nesters we are learning – slowly but surely – to set aside our parenting selves and focus on our adult selves as often as we can.

Are you, as a parent –  “only as happy as your unhappiest child?”

I think I once was. Now I try hard not to be.

There was a wise mom in the parenting group I facilitated years ago who railed against this expression.  One time – and this made quite an impression on me – this wise mom pounded her fist on the table we were gathered around to emphasize that our happiness as parents must be de-coupled from that of our kids. Not everyone agreed with her.

Our adult kids retain their power to alarm, upset and worry us. What we do with that worry is a matter of choice and frankly, very hard work. It is a battle to stay afloat on those days when your child appears to be sinking. Battle on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Family, friendship, Letting Go, Parenting, Relationships, Talking, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

“Let Them Learn From Failure”: Does it Apply When Parenting Our Adult Kids?

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Wait, so you can’t insist that your adult “child” do what he/she doesn’t want to do?

All joking aside, this question has been an ongoing life lesson for me – and also a much discussed topic among my friends who also have adult “kids” (italicized because while they are no longer little children, we are still their perennial parents.)

What can we do if we think our adult “kid” is about to fail?

It is our strongest instinct as parents to rescue our children.  But we shouldn’t always do so, says author and teacher, Jessica Lahey in her recent, thoughtful book “The Gift of Failure”. Parents of growing children do them no favors by scooping them up on the playground of life to save them from every slip and fall. When our children are young, Lahey explains, they learn from failure so we must let them experience it, rather than always rushing in to protect them from its’ consequences.

(a concept I well knew in theory, but then again years ago when my high school son left his biology textbook in his locker at school that evening before a big exam…)

But what happens when our growing children are all grown up?

If our young child falls off of a playground slide, his scraped knee heals. If our teenager doesn’t get accepted into the college of his choice, likely he will do fine at another school.

But if we think our adult son is about to enter a disastrous marriage, our adult daughter is in a relationship harmful to her mental health or our son’s partying ways are spinning out of control, the stakes are much higher, aren’t they?

Lately my friends and I have been sharing our worries about our adult “kids.”

  • My friend L.’s 30-year-old daughter struggles in a tumultuous  relationship with an unkind man. Upset and crying, the daughter calls L. and says that despite how he acts, she really loves him and can’t part ways. Can’t she see, L. wonders, that she is hurting herself by staying with him?

 

  • The 26-year-old son of my friend H. recently began his first post-grad school job at a big financial firm. He’s always been a model kid, dutiful, well-behaved but suddenly (?) has started to go out to bars with friends every night, partying till the wee hours and arriving late at work. He just received a warning notice from his boss. Can’t he see, H. thinks, that he is messing up at a critical time?

 

  • C.’s  29-year-old son brought his girlfriend home to meet C. and her husband.  The girlfriend’s strongly controlling manner upsets C., as does her son’s changed behavior. She thinks her son is about to announce his engagement. Should she tell her son she thinks that marriage to this woman would be a mistake?

Do parents of adult “kids” always know best?

Parents believe that we have clear (yet hardly objective) vision with our kids’ best interests in mind. That our kids are the ones with the big blind spots that prevent them from recognizing bad choices.  Surely, if we point out to our adult “kids” what we know to be true – they will promptly turn to us and gratefully say, thanks, Mom and Dad  – you are so right, I was so wrong. I will do exactly what you say and change my life!

Not happening.

If I ever tried that, my adult kids would dismiss me as intrusive, give me the silent treatment or get angry and the carefully nurtured bonds of Parent/Adult “Kid” communication would greatly fray.

Does the “let them learn from their failures” concept apply even when our adult “kid” is poised to make a major life mistake with possibly painful consequences?

My carefully thought out answer? And honestly, I am not waffling here. But both Yes and No.

Yes:  While they are adults, we are their perennial parents, and with great delicacy and respect, we still can tell our adult kids how we feel.

AND

No, we shouldn’t tell them what to do.

Telling them how we feel  – versus – telling them what to do = a BIG difference.

I’m not writing an advice column here (but hey, wouldn’t that be a great job to have? Kind of like my lawyer job where I gave advice to clients for many years, but their questions were far less fun. Not that my clients weren’t fun. They were. But legal issues, not so much. I digress.)

My friend with the daughter in the struggling relationship could tell her the next time she calls:

“It makes me sad when you tell me Boyfriend says such nasty things to you.”

For the son whose job may be on the line:

“I worry about your health when you talk about going out and drinking every night during the work week.”

The controlling serious Girlfriend?

“Son, it made me very uncomfortable listening to how Girlfriend talks to you during your last visit home.”

Assuming we can limit our remarks to how we feel – a major assumption that – might our parental comments prod our adult kids to think things through and start on different paths?

Or not.

As Jessica Lahey said, failure teaches a lesson. It breeds resiliency. Second chances. Growth.

Marriages don’t always work out. Young adults lose jobs. Mental health can worsen and then improve. Even when the stakes are so high, do we owe our adult “kids”, not just the littler ones, the right to make their own mistakes and learn from them?

It’s complicated.

 

 

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Filed under 1st Job, Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Communications, daughters, Empty Nest, Family, friendship, Letting Go, Parenting, Raising Kids, Relationships, Sons, Women

Parenting at the Deep End of the Pool

 

Last week a friend asked me  – who’s your audience, Nancy? Who do you write for?

I promptly responded, rather flippantly  – “Me! I’m my best audience.” And then realized that while I write because my brain and heart tell me to do so, it is connecting with readers that is often the highlight of my day.

So when a reader sent me a private message via my Blog’s new-ish Facebook page, I was touched that my words resonated with her. And after I responded, I thought why not share a bit – since she and I are certainly not alone in our concerns.

Many parents worry when their older kids struggle  – for whatever reason – on their way into independent adulthood (or not.)  And parenting at the deep end of the pool can feel lonely.

This mom, let’s call her, Sarah, said she felt both “terrified” and “relieved’ after reading about my experiences as a mom of a young adult son with mental health challenges in essays I’ve written for the Washington Post and Kveller.

Sarah explained:

“Terrified because you articulated what I know but try to forget – there are no solutions or answers, even for those of us who run our lives by checking off items on a “to do” list. Yet I was relieved that someone could put into words so eloquently my world…I have no perspective, no understanding, no peace…How did you find your perspective and peace? How did you rebuild your life?…Whatever I am doing, I always hear a voice that nags and penetrates –  (that) the most important person in your life (your child), the one who matters the most is filled with pain and despair. How do you quiet that voice?’

Wow. Sarah captures it, don’t you think? She describes that nagging inner voice so well.

“How do you quiet that voice?”

Part of my response to Sarah:

“Dear Sarah –

Glad you reached out to me; not glad, of course, that you, too, have a child that also struggles with mental illness but glad to connect. There are many of us and we should be sharing our strategies and support with each other.

Your question prompted me to reflect, how did I get to this place? How do I quiet that same nagging voice of concern that our child is in frequent inner pain?

1st – I go on defense. I know, and I mean, I know, that my husband and I were (still are) wonderful parents to our challenged child. We have many warm memories of family visits to museums, to parks, to plays, to concerts, hiking trips, historical sites. More trips to the library that I can count, cooking classes, drama, tae kwon do, camps. We listened, cared, advocated; we found therapists, groups, programs, coaching; we researched medications, theories, techniques. You name it, we tried it.  Perhaps it’s a parental defense mechanism, but I can’t fault my husband or myself for lack of effort – or lack of love.

2nd –  As I came to accept that we were not the cause of our child’s issues, I realized that the only thing under our control is that we can care. But parents cannot cure our child’s pain. This recognition lifted a burden from my heart and off my shoulders.

3rd –  In our child’s situation, and yours may differ, our child sometimes does, but more often does not want, to fully engage in the difficult process of getting stronger. And we cannot do this on our child’s behalf. We tried, oh how we tried, it didn’t work. As my own therapist once told me – your kid has to want to change more than you want your kid to change. A mantra to repeat as needed.

4th – When my thoughts go to our child being in a dark place,  I remember times when our child is not in that place. That there are periods of resilience, and strength, frequent valleys followed by peaks of joy and that sometimes life does settle down into a more stable rhythm. Because if I spent all my time worried about my child, feeling the pain as if it were my own, then two of us, not one of us, would be deeply unhappy – and rationally (and when my husband complains that sometimes I am “too practical”, this is where it comes in handy.) that makes no sense.

5th  – If I ever said that I was at peace, then let me take that back!  I’m not. My husband isn’t either. There is no peace to be had when you are a parent of a child who continues to struggle into adulthood. But there is a perspective that emerges over time from the knowledge that you have done all you can.

When I find myself in a calm and beautiful pace, like wandering through an art museum, or taking a long walk with a close friend, or sitting on the beach late in the afternoon as the sun is ebbing away, and I reflect that our child is not able just now to have similar experiences, I stop to think – my job as a parent is to enjoy it for the both of us.

Hoping this helps, Sarah. Stay in touch, Nancy W.”

*And perhaps my thoughts on this difficult subject will mean something to you too? If not, did help me to write this out;  sometimes I am my own best audience!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Blogging, Books, Communications, Husbands, Letting Go, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Midlife, Parenting, Raising Kids, Social Media, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

Up to Here with Helicopters! (Confessions of a Former Parachute Parent)

no helicopter parentingI have had it up to here with “Helicopter” Parents  – with the name, with the description, with the concept, with the articles praising them, defending them, explaining them.

(Nancy – tell us how you really feel!)

For those of you not living within the reach of any media, “helicopter” parenting is a term coined in the early 2000’s in connection with the college application process to describe parents who constantly “hover” over their kids, overly-controlling and excessively-involved in all aspects of their lives.

My two kids were in high school in the early 2000’s – but I was much too busy to hover! (Wasn’t I, kids? please submit your rebuttal comments in writing at the bottom of this post.)

I had a full-time job the entire time my kids were growing up, a house to take care of, volunteer groups to show up for, friends to see – and, last but not least, a husband who wanted my attention every now and then.

But – True Confession: I was, often, but not always, just a step above the hovering helicopters. I liked to call myself  a “parachute” parent.

Parachute parents don’t hover or linger but we did swoop in from time to time to solve a problem we thought our kids couldn’t manage on their own and then we lifted ourselves back up awaiting the next parachuting opportunity. And what did I learn from my parachuting days when my kids were in their teens and early 20’s?

That I shouldn’t have done it. Each time I parachuted in to fix something – what was the message I was sending to my kid? – I was telling them that they weren’t able to solve their own problems. But I was undermining them. I was depriving them of the chance to figure out a solution.

Which, of course, is the exact opposite message we want to send as parents, isn’t it? And for years I was as guilty of parachuting in and out as often as the most helicopterish of parents. I would defend myself (as I am doing here) with this very Talmudic (o.k. to look that word up) exercise to explain why parachuting was somehow more acceptable than helicoptering. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Pro Tip: neither parachutes nor helicopters should we be.

Even jokingly. We owe it to our kids to let them fly the nest unaccompanied, to let them learn to handle the tough stuff on their own. They are way more resilient than we may like to think.

Yet this helicopter thing just won’t go away.

Today I read (yet another) article about “helicopter” parenting. In a semi-joking, semi-serious way, the author defended the concept. About how helicoptering intentions were honorable and it was only out of love that they made an appointment to meet with the head of the math department to complain when Emily or Josh was not put in a sufficiently advanced pre-calculus class. Or why it was necessary to “edit” (a/k/a write more than a few sentences) their college application essays.  Or to FedEx rolls of quarters to them while they were away at college so they could do their laundry and not have to walk that very long distance to the bank near campus to get their own quarters.

Or when the helicopter parents visit on College Family Weekend and actually do laundry for Josh and Emily who were too busy “studying”. (After all, What’s a Mom for?)

And when these same hovered-over, parachuted-upon kids graduate from college and leave for their first jobs, new cities, own apartments, the most helicopterish among us mount a new line of defense. They miss their kids so much that they delude themselves into thinking that the best way to stay close to their kids is to find new high-tech ways to hover. To “stalk” them on Facebook, check their twitter feeds, text them constantly, follow them on Instagram.

Really, fellow-parents, doesn’t this extreme “keep in touch” behavior fall into the “Get a Life, Mom” category? Our kids know how to reach us if they need us. Trust me on that. Shouldn’t we lessen up on needing them at about the same time that they lessen up on needing us?

My husband reminds me that he was a “1st generation to college” kid. He went on his own to a distant college in a state his immigrant parents had never heard of. While his classmates from Scarsdale showed up on the first day of school with their parents in their packed station wagons, he flew by himself, carrying one old suitcase across the old campus and miracle of miracles, managed to settle in without parental assistance. He then spent the next four years of college on his own talking to his parents once a week, if that. His Mom and Dad saw his university for the first – and only time – on the day of his graduation, 40 years ago.

Obviously we cannot return to the old days with their more limited methods of communications. But just because current methods of technology – email, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — snapshut, whatever is coming next –  now make it possible for us to parachute in or hover above, let’s rise above those urges, shall we? We aren’t doing our young adult kids any favors. Let them show us how capable they are of independent existence.

That whirring sound you hear? Could it be the sound of the helicopter parents lifting up into the clouds to disappear forever?

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Filed under Adult Kids, College, College, Communications, Email, Letting Go, Moms, Parenting, Women

The Over-Communicator’s Daughter Goes to College

william college

When my daughter left for college, I was confident we would stay in close touch.  We had a good relationship, if you didn’t count the snide comments, silent eye-rolling and rather firm bedroom-door-shutting I had come to know as her senior year in high school persona.  But we had worked through the college process together and were still talking to each other, a major accomplishment.

As a would-be-college parent, I had discovered the classic book “Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years” by Karen L. Coburn and Madge Lawrence Kreeger.  In those pre-Kindle days, I kept in on my bedside table, reading a chapter each night.  The authors reassured me, that yes, it was  developmentally appropriate for teens to loosen the  parent/child bond as they go off to college. And, in turn, parents needed to “let go” so our kids could “do the work” (psychological-speak) of developing on their own. I got all that.

But couldn’t my daughter “let go” while still staying in touch?

After we dropped her off in late August, I quickly got into the habit of sending my daughter chatty emails or shorter ones with tidbits from the news. You know – “here’s an article about a new book by that author you like – hope you are doing well, love mom”. How offensive could that be? So maybe I overdid it a tad.

After all one of my radio clients in my communications lawyering days had praised me as someone who “over-communicated.” He liked that about me, keeping him well-informed. Perhaps outside the office over-communicating doesn’t translate as well? I admit, I am not Hemmingway. I do not specialize in terse, pithy language. But I swear, the emails I wrote to my daughter during the fall of her freshman year (in those pre-texting days) were as brief as I could make them. They were just rather frequent.

And she didn’t respond to any of them.

So when my husband and I would talk with her by phone – she on her scratchy-reception cell phone from her rural campus in upstate New York – and us on our landline in the DC suburbs –  on our regular Sunday night call, I would ask her about her lack of return communication.

“Mom, stop pestering me! I’m doing fine. You keep emailing me. It’s too much.”, she would say.

“O.K., I understand (but apparently I really didn’t), but can’t you please respond to just a few of my emails?”

Big sigh overheard from upstate New York.

“Mom, c’mon, please, you don’t get it.” She repeated. “I’m fine.”

After these unsatisfying phone calls, I would return to my now very well-thumbed through copy of “Letting Go”. Was it her? Was it me? She wanted me to email her like never – and I wanted her to respond like once.

Surely there could be a happy medium in this joint process of letting go?

I asked my friend, Karen, also a lawyer, used to working with clients, also on the chatty-side, how she had handled it when her son, a year older than my daughter, had first gone off to college. She said she started off the same way I did. Emails to say hello, emails to tell her son what she was doing, sending articles of interest. And her son had not responded either. (and ironically or maybe not so ironically, Karen’s son was going to be a communications major in college.). But Karen came up with what I thought was a terrific compromise.

She couldn’t stop herself from sending emails. So she wouldn’t.

Her son didn’t want to write back. So he wouldn’t.

Instead, whenever Karen sent her son an email, her son promised to respond with an email that contained a single period. Karen would write – “Josh, how are you doing? Your Dad and I are fine.  Sam seems to be enjoying  sophomore year in high school. We hope you are having fun and studying hard. Love, Mom.”

And Josh would respond:

.

That’s it. One single period in the middle of the reply email that would prove that Josh was alive and well on Planet College.  He just had to respond with one keystroke.

.

Surely I could convince my daughter to adopt this easy (for the kid) and comforting (for the parent) method of email reply?

But my daughter, an independent type from birth, would not budge.

“No, Mom, that is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. I am not going to do what Josh did! You just have to stop emailing me so much”. (a brief pause). Then she added, “If you promise to stop emailing me so much, maybe I will stay in touch more often.”

That was somewhere between blackmail and compromise. Not what I wanted. More of what she wanted. She was apparently doing much better at this letting go thing than I was. I had to learn to give up my over-communicator ways in order to let go. And my daughter didn’t have to read a book to figure that out.

After that rocky 1st semester fall, things got better. I emailed less. She emailed (slightly) more.

It’s not only children who grow up. Parents do too.

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Filed under College, Communications, Letting Go, Parenting