I have heard many parents say that transitioning to being the parent of an adult is the hardest parenting transition of all. It’s a stage that often catches parents off guard, leaving them grappling with a mix of emotions and uncertainties.
The stakes in our children’s lives are higher, and the control we had as their guardians melts away. We still care just as deeply for them but often feel pushed to the sidelines to watch the turmoil that sometimes accompanies kids when they take their first steps into adult life.
Even parents whose kids are doing well face a myriad of questions. When should we speak up? When should we stay quiet? How can we encourage and influence in healthy ways? How can we help without enabling?
And the transition becomes even more difficult if our adult children are not making good decisions, are rejecting our faith, are choosing a different lifestyle, are struggling with addictions or mental illness, are in trouble with the law, or are not moving forward in life, holding a job, or being responsible for themselves.
And in addition to these things, there are all the transitions for us—transitions as kids move out…and in…and out again, as we integrate new significant others into the family, and redefine ourselves and what family time means.
All this often leaves parents feeling disoriented and ill-equipped. To get our bearings as parents of adult children, it is important to realize that this transition involves three crucial shifts in our thinking.
Letting go of control
Parenthood is a series of gradual releases, but the transition to parenting an adult child is the ultimate release of control. It is hard to realize that our kids have the right and responsibility to make their own decisions, just as we had to decide for ourselves what direction our lives would take despite what our parents thought. This involves us trusting our children to make these decisions and trusting God to be working in their lives, while also speaking truth and grace into our children’s lives when we have opportunity.
One of the profound challenges we face as parents of adults is the need to redefine our own identity. For years, our role as parents has shaped our lives and given us meaning and purpose, and so in this stage we often find ourselves grappling with who we are and what our purpose is. This is a great opportunity for us to refocus on our identity in Christ and enthusiastically seek God’s guidance on what he has for us in this next stage of life.
Adjusting to the “Empty” in the Nest
When a child moves out, we often feel a painful sense of longing. The family dynamics shift and leave a hole in our homes in the place of the child. The loss of our child’s physical presence and routine interactions can evoke a deep sense of grief as we lose our daily connection with one of the people we love most in the world. It is important to process this grief, treasure the memories, while also refocusing on the future and the fullness we have in Christ.
In parenthood, few transitions are as complex and emotionally charged as that of becoming a parent of an adult child. Identifying and working through these three critical shifts can help us navigate this adjustment with joy and grace regardless of the challenges that this stage of life might hold for us, while we trust God and continue to grow in your relationship with him.
–Teresa Vining is a life and family coach in Kansas City. Teresa Vining is a Kansas City-area Christian life and family coach and will be leading the workshop, “Seven Sanity-Saving Principles for Parents of Young Adults,” hosted by College Church of the Nazarene, on October 7. Visit joyandgracefamilies.com for more information.