Parenting Shouldn't Be Forever

So we get to the blessed, anticipated stage of having raised & launched our children, looking forward to doing some things we’ve always looked forward to – or maybe just doing nothing except whatever the mood inspires – and then what to our wondering eyes behold, but an adult child on the doorstep to move back in. Or maybe it’s just the crises calls – the car broke down or the rent/mortgage is due & or they need a babysitter for an extended period – or any of the normal problems that besiege all of us at times; only it seems resources are seldom available to take care of them, so it then somehow becomes our job to fix the problem. The ever-eternal hope that this bunch of groceries, this payment of bail, rent, car payment or ________ (fill in the blank) will boost the adult child over the hump and into self-sufficiency, can keep the parent trapped in an endless cycle of hoping, helping--& despairing, when nothing improves. Most parents would love to break out of this cycle, but the fear of what might happen if they don’t continue keeps them stuck in it.

We have children with the expectation that somewhere between the ages of 18 & 24 or so, they will be prepared, ready and EAGER to take care of themselves. With infants & small children, our job is primarily to protect them, but as they mature, become adolescents & move toward adulthood, our job shifts to preparing them to be independent and assume responsibility for their choices. IF we have by chance failed in that preparation process, then we may have a moral duty to put in a little more time teaching them, but NOT to do it for them (otherwise known as enabling). We may still provide guidance, and certainly encouragement, at times, but the message should be clear: You are an adult & I believe you can do what you need to make the kind of life you want. Valuable learning often results from experiencing the natural consequences of our choices; it seldom derives from having things done for us, especially if we’re prevented from feeling the pain of our poor choices. We may do well to ask ourselves, before jumping to the rescue: WHOSE problem is this and HOW was it created? Taking a moment to get in touch with our own emotions around the situation can allow us to determine if we’re wanting to ‘help’ out of fear, or if we can love our child enough to stand back and allow them to learn & grow. There may be tremendous guilt in saying ‘no’ to adult children asking for help; it’s a powerful hook that can keep us from breaking free of the enabling cycle. However, I don’t know of any tablet of stone or parenting book which states we are to provide for our children and protect them from themselves forever! By continuing to take care of them, we in effect tell them that we don’t think they’re capable of taking care of themselves. When we say ‘no,’ lovingly but firmly, choosing not to perpetuate the cycle of dependency, we are simply setting reasonable, healthy boundaries. It can take considerable courage to shake the guilt, step out of the fear of what might happen or what people will think, to give our grown-up kids a gift: the opportunity to develop self-sufficiency and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it.

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