Letting Go Gracefully

“You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.” – P. J. O’Rourke

It’s been a long time since they needed you to cut up their meat or drive them to swimming lessons, but there is no doubt that kids this age still need some thoughtful parenting as they move from late teens to early adulthood. Your tax return may still list them as dependents, but the quest for independence is likely driving much of your family energy at this point. Rest assured that the solid parenting skills you’ve honed this far will continue to serve you well, but know that some tweaking is in order when your child is on the verge of becoming a fellow adult.

  • Stay Flexible. Somewhere in your child’s senior year of high school, dozens of well-meaning adults will begin asking some version of, “So…what are you going to do next?” This can feel like enormous pressure – for both of you. While some kids do develop a clear picture of where they are headed educationally or vocationally early on, others need more time to sort it out. Continue to encourage and support goal-setting, but don’t worry when the goals change – sometimes very unexpectedly. They’ll find their way…in time.
  • Zoom Out – Zoom In. Your parenting is beginning to take a wide lens perspective as your child takes on more responsibility and you are less involved in daily details. Most parents enjoy longer and longer stretches of successful “distance parenting” as their children acquire more sophisticated life skills, but don’t be alarmed when you occasionally need to “zoom in” and play a more active role if your child hits a trouble spot.
  • Expect to Know Less. Your child is spending more time away from home, and at some point will likely not be living full-time under your roof. Many of the details of your child’s life – where he goes, who she’s with – will not be shared with you. Trust the good judgment that you’ve cultivated in your child, and know that what feels like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement is a natural step forward in your new adult relationship.
  • Advise with Caution. Few of us appreciate unsolicited advice from other adults. Even though you might be dying to impart some important parenting wisdom to your young adult, wait for an opening or ask if your child wants to hear what you have to say. He may say “no” in that moment, but over time, you’ll be surprised how often your perspective will be requested.
  • Trust what You’ve Taught. An overdrawn bank account or a dropped ball in a class (or two) may make you question whether the skills you’ve tried to teach over the years are actually sticking. Even though your child may look and act like an adult a good part of the time, the part of her brain that regulates decision making and problem solving still has a few years before it is fully developed. Consider your parenting as a cumulative effort, and know that mistakes made will continue to turn into lessons learned – for each of you.

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  • Celebrate this New Season. As your children venture into adulthood, you, too, will discover some new-found freedom and independence. Projects that have long been on the back burner can now come to the front, and you’ll be able to focus more on your own activities and interests. At a time when some parents might anticipate a bit of an identity crisis, many experience a growing sense of happiness and couples report increasing marriage quality. As one parent put it, “The happiest moment in life is when your first child is born; the second happiest is when the last one leaves.”

Learn more great parenting strategies here.

1. Ages and Stages (15-18).

2. New York Times Blog.

3. HealthyChildren.org.

4. Family Education Online.