Parenthood is a profound journey, marked by a multitude of emotions and challenges. It’s a path where love, responsibility, and self-discovery frequently converge. In a recent discussion with a client, the intricacies of being a parent were highlighted and we decided this role extends well beyond nurturing and care. This mother’s inner struggle with guilt and responsibility prompted me to ponder how we can better navigate this parental role. It’s often hard for us to stop taking responsibility for adult children, our beloveds.
She wrote to me, “My son and I are a lot alike, and that hurts.” Her words were filled with raw vulnerability. The weight of perceived failure lies heavily on her shoulders. This response is one that many parents can relate to—the feeling that their adult children’s lives and choices are a direct reflection of their parenting.
But as we delved deeper into her emotions, a crucial distinction emerged. It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of drama, arguments, and disconnection that can often dominate parent-child relationships, especially during times of hurt and anger. My client recognized that responding to her son’s feelings was far more productive than engaging in the chaos of deciding who should say or do what or who was right or wrong. We agreed on the importance of emotional connection over hurtful disputes.
Is The Parent Responsible?
Yet, the burden of responsibility still loomed large. My client felt accountable for everything in her son’s life. It was as if she had taken on the weight of the world. But here’s the truth she needed to hear: she had already played a significant and positive role in her son’s life. She had ensured he was alive, well-dressed, and had access to privileges that only financial stability could provide. He had opportunities in sports, graduated from university, and possessed skills and gifts to contribute to the world.
Moreover, she had shielded him from the physical, denigrating, and neglectful abuse that had scarred her own childhood. She had crafted a safe and nurturing environment for her child, offering him a vastly different upbringing from her own. How is it that my client readily took on responsibility for her adult child, that is blame, for his struggles but not his success?
In the role of parent and mother, she had been, and still was, a good enough mother. It’s essential to recognize that as parents, we inevitably pass on some of our coping strategies and patterns developed during our own childhoods. It can be helpful, even healing to acknowledge our errors and flaws when raising our children, especially if those errors were in the realm of any kind of emotional, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, or neglect.
However, it is not our responsibility to be responsible for our adult children’s lives. Here are some vital points I invited my client to consider.
Hold Adult Children Responsible
- Acknowledgment of Adulthood: Our children grow into adults with the ability to make their own choices. As parents, we are not responsible for the choices they make as adults.
- Coping Strategies: While we may have imparted certain coping mechanisms, it is our children’s responsibility to decide whether to continue with unhealthy patterns or develop healthier ones.
- Fulfilling Longings: Our children must find their own ways to fulfill their desires and aspirations. We cannot live their lives for them.
- Individual Paths: Each person has the right to live their life according to their own desires and dreams. Our role as parents is to provide guidance if welcomed, but not to dictate the path.
To shed more light on this, consider the words of Kahlil Gibran in his timeless piece, On Children,
“Your children are not your children. They come through you but not from you… You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts… You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.”
Gibran’s wisdom underscores the importance of allowing our adult children to be their own individuals, with their own thoughts and destinies. It’s a reminder that as parents, we should encourage their uniqueness rather than striving to mold them in our own image.
Note: please remember context influences wise decisions. Your adult child may have disabilities, be in recovery or have some kind of impaired ability. Under these kinds of circumstances, it is appropriate, and often necessary, for parents to accept a more decision-making role.
Expand Beyond the Role of Parent
So, where does this leave us in our quest to redefine the role of parenthood? It calls for a broader perspective, an expansion of identity beyond the narrow confines of being a mother, father or caregiver. Here are some facets of life where one can channel their skills, passion, and love:
- Partner/Spouse: Strengthen your bond with your partner and nurture that primary relationship.
- Parent to an Adult Child: Embrace your role as a role model in your adult child’s life, especially when they are calm and centered.
- Mother-in-Law or Father-in-law: Build a positive relationship with your adult child’s spouse, offering support and understanding.
- Daughter, Sister, Aunt, or Niece: Strengthen your connection with extended family, fostering bonds that go beyond immediate relationships.
- Homemaker: If you manage the home, take pride in creating a warm and comfortable environment for your family.
- Friend: Cultivate friendships that provide emotional support and companionship.
- Volunteer: Give back to the community or a cause that resonates with you, sharing your skills and compassion.
- Creator: Explore your creative talents and hobbies, allowing your creativity to flourish.
- Problem Solver: Offer your problem-solving skills to help those in need, whether within your family or the community.
- Neighbor: Foster a sense of community by being a friendly and supportive neighbor.
- Community Member: Engage in local initiatives and become an active participant in your community.
In conclusion, the journey of being a parent is multifaceted, and the emotions it brings are often overwhelming. It’s essential to remember that as parents, we are not solely responsible for our adult children’s choices and life paths. We can embrace the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran and encourage our adult children to express their uniqueness.
As we expand our identities we can find fulfillment and purpose in various roles and relationships. By doing so, we not only enrich our own lives but also offer support, love, and inspiration to those around us, creating a harmonious balance between our roles as parents and who we are in the world at large.
If you are struggling with your relationship to an adult child consider reading How to Do The Parent and Adult Children Dance.