I received a letter from someone who reminded me that regardless of any Chapter at any stage, some things never, ever change. Especially when you’re a parent.
Today’s post includes not only their letter, but also my response…
You recently asked your readers, “What’s been on your mind lately?” and I had an answer . . . because it’s something that’s weighed heavily on me all summer. So I’m going to share it with you because if I share it with you, maybe it will somehow lighten my load.
How do you deal with the fact that you can’t “fix” your adult children’s problems? Why can’t we just kiss it and make it go away like we used to?
I never know when my advice is going to be welcomed or when my well-intentioned help irritates the hell out of them and I seem to make it worse.
Linda, I mean well. I’m not an interfering kind of parent if that’s what you’re thinking. But there are days when it’s flat-out painful for us as parents when we know our adult kids are hurting.
So . . . What do you do when you can’t fix it?
A Pained Parent
Your pain and frustration and need to do Something to help your kid through a tough spot in his or her life come through loud and clear. There isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t felt exactly as you do right now.
And here’s your answer:
There isn’t much you CAN do except be supportive and offer your counsel only when asked.
What would you say to me or any friend going through something similar? My hunch is you’d listen, sympathize, ask if there’s anything you could do to help (there isn’t), and then let me know you’re there if and when I need you. Right?
With adult kids, it’s not much different. Speak to them like you’d speak to a good neighbor or close friend. The difference with kids . . . and it’s a big one . . . is the emotional attachment you have as their parent.
There’s the rub. The problems of a friend or neighbor most likely won’t keep you tossing and turning with anxiety all night long. But when your kid is the one with the problem? It’s another story.
If you’re looking for an Action Plan, here it is: Stand back and let your kid figure his or her way out of the mess they’re in.
It’s not easy. It’s probably one of the hardest things to do as a parent. In fact, it pretty much sucks.
It doesn’t address the worrying that won’t go away. It doesn’t address the sleepless nights we suffer because of that worry. It doesn’t address the ache in our hearts or the indigestion in our gut from all the worry invading every waking hour. It doesn’t offer a happily-ever-after thirty minute sit-com solution where everything turns out just fine in the end.
The days of fixing their hurt with a superman band aid and an ice cream cone are long gone. And that’s ok. Can you imagine anything worse than a whiny 30-something parked on your doorstep asking you to make everything better with a kiss and a cookie? I didn’t think so.
My hunch is you’ve raised a bright, capable, and responsible kid. You sent your child into the world with an education, common sense, and strong values. You taught him right from wrong. You gave him the confidence to do whatever it is he’s doing in the real world. You set an example for him as he watched you manage your own successes and failures.
When my kids found themselves in tough situations, I fought hard to swallow my words of advice unless they asked. I practically had to sit on my hands to keep from rescuing them from wherever they were. How many times did I say to my husband, “If they’d only do it MY way, things would all be different.”
I continue to struggle with it, but I’m getting better.
But here’s the one thing I always, always say to them, “If there’s anyone who can figure this out, it’s YOU. And if there’s anything you’d like to run by me as you’re figuring it out, I’m always ready to listen.”
Because if we did our parenting job successfully, our kids CAN figure things out. Maybe not right away. Maybe not exactly as we would. But in their own time, their own way, using the tools we gave them, they’ll get there.
So what do you do in the meantime?
Remind yourself this too shall pass. Remind yourself that worrying and wishing things were different won’t help. Remind yourself this is the capable kid you raised to handle rough situations.
Remind yourself that . . . eventually . . . . your kid will figure it out.
All the best,