My third child just left for college. Now I have three children that are technically, and for all practical purposes, adults. And in my experience, parenting adult children does not get any easier. I find myself looking for as much guidance as when I had newborn babies and didn’t know what to do with them. I lay awake at night and think about their lives, their happiness and their choices. This is way worse than been kept awake by toddlers who wanted to watch Toy Story in the middle night of the night. One book I read was called Walking on Eggshells, and I have to say that is a very apt description of parenting adults. The main advice from that book was: “Shut you mouth and keep the door open.” It is easier said than done, especially the shutting your mouth part. As much as I try, I can’t seem to be able to restrain myself from wanting to know that they are safe and happy at all times. So I call and text often, asking: “where are you?” “Did you make it home alright?” and “Are you ok?” (My son wrote a song about that one, warning me not to ask if he was ok.) Technology has been a great help. I have all four of them on the Find My Friend App (with their permission, of course) and now can tell whether they have made it home all right. When they travel, Kayak is my friend. I can track their flights and even help them find their gates better than the airline personnel. Last December, both my older son and daughter were traveling separately to other countries. There were delayed flights and lost luggage and I was using my iPad, my phone and my computer to track everything. My brother made fun of me and my “command center”. I try not to say things that they probably already know and have thought about. But often doubt creeps in: What if they don’t know they shouldn’t leave the dryer running when they leave the house, or that they need to click that button to pay their tuition with financial aid before the deadline.
What helps keep me in line is that I am myself the adult child of my mother. I know that she is trying her hardest to adjust to being the mother of two adult children. She has been trying for over 30 years! Which makes me think that maybe it is the way it is. I know that when my mother calls me to recommend a solution to a problem, a remedy for an illness or a warning to prevent a catastrophe, she is doing it out of love and concern and not because she thinks I am incompetent. I hope my children know that too.
The other piece of adult parenting advice I heard was at the recent parent orientation I attended at the University of Texas. Dr. David Laude, the Dean of Student Affairs, after sharing his own personal story, told us to “be there when it matters.” I know for sure that my mother was there when it mattered most to me, which was after the birth of every one of my four children. I lived out of the country and each time I was about to deliver a baby, she would come and stay at least a month with us and do what no one else could.
I have always respected my children’s intelligence and wisdom, even when they were small children. So I don’t worry about them because I think they can’t take care of themselves; I worry because there is so much uncertainty in this world. I hope that I can be there for them when it matters. There is no question that the door will always be open for them. I cannot, however, make any promises about keeping my mouth shut.