Parenting Kids Over 18:The Stakes Are Higher

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When parenting was more tiring, but easier.

I really enjoyed reading an article about parenting kids from age 18 to their mid-20s from the NBC News Think website. I’m sure it’s because it hit home to me. It’s a whole different type of parenting from when they were toddlers. I’m treading water trying to figure out how to be there for my kids, offer support, but not take over. From the time they left for college, I felt like the stakes were so much higher and I had less control than ever. I’m trying to relax and let them live their lives and just listen without jumping in to solve problems or tell them what to do.

In Parenting kids over 18 is still parenting. You just get less control and the stakes are higher, by Meagan Francis, she echoed my worries and concerns.

I once looked forward to my kids’ legal adulthood as a kind of finish line, but I now I know how delusional that vision was.

When my five kids were small, I naively saw the age of 18 as the light at the end of the tunnel. During that sleepless stretch in which my life felt like an endless blur of night feedings, diapers, bandaging boo-boos and navigating piles of sippy-cups and sippy-cup lids that never seemed to match, I looked forward to my kids’ legal adulthood as a kind of finish line. Once they’d crossed it, I figured, I could relax and celebrate having gotten past the hardest parts of parenting.

Now, with two of my children well past voting age and their three other siblings hurtling ever-faster toward that benchmark, I can look back at my former self and say with the benefit of hindsight: Hahahaha!

Instead, I often feel like I’m learning “how it works” all over again. Parenting older kids is still very much parenting — only you get even less say, the results are more public, and the stakes are higher. The lines between appropriate helping, spoiling and enabling are often difficult to define and the concept of parenting “to the child” rather than following a one-size-fits-all plan starts to feel less conceptual and more necessary.

It’s true that my two eldest sons, ages 20 and 22, are less dependent on me now. When they were young, my entire existence seemed to revolve around stopping them from doing certain things while compelling them to do others. Today I no longer need to teach them basic life skills, like how to cross the street without being annihilated by a garbage truck or why showering every day is a good idea — though, let’s be clear, there are days I ponder reviewing that particular lesson — and I have neither the responsibility nor opportunity to monitor their schedule minute-by-minute.

But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Nor that my duties are behind me. Despite all the bold statements I made when they were 8 about tossing them unceremoniously out of the nest the moment they turned 18, I have since realized my smug error in thinking they would be fully formed adults ready to be thrown out into the world without repercussions.

That’s largely because, while the government may tell us that once you’re 18, you’re an adult, neuroscientists now know better. Emerging research on brain development shows that a young adult’s brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25.

Developmental psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls this period — the seven years between the day a kid legally becomes an adult, and the day they have the reasoning power and impulse control of an actual adult — “emerging adulthood.” And navigating it can be tricky for both children and their caregivers.

“Parents are often glad their kids are more mature and can do more things for themselves,” he notes, “but at the same time you often realize they’re making decisions that aren’t wise, or that they aren’t ready to make.”

This can be particularly difficult because those decisions often carry larger weight. Arnett compares it to the damage done if a toddler takes a spill while learning to walk versus when an adult falls. “Questions like whether to move in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, drop out of college, choose a major — those choices have big, long-term implications,” he says. “Naturally, you have ideas about this — and not unreasonably, they also feel like it’s their life to live.”

That’s why it’s important to listen as much as instruct, according to Lisa Heffernan, co-author of “Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults.”

“Since our ability as parents to mandate and control our kids’ decisions is lessened, it’s time to switch to listening and modeling adult behavior,” she says, suggesting acting like a “sounding board” for them. “Getting kids through this stage is all about showing them what adulthood feels like and sounds like and looks like — literally walking them through your decisions and explaining, ‘This is why I did it this way; here’s what happens now.’”

Taking cues from my kids, I am trying to be a better listener. When they call and complain about a co-worker or roommate, they are not necessarily asking for my advice. They want to vent and explain to someone who loves them what is on their minds. When they want advice or my opinion, they always ask for it.

I tend to be a worrier. When I don’t hear from them, they are most likely okay, but I worry. When they tell me their problems, I worry more. With an attitude like this, it’s amazing they tell me what’s going on in their lives at all!

What do you find easier, raising young children or young adults?

 

Not a helicopter, but a “bunny mom”

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My cutie pies.

A unique viewpoint in parenting was written by Dr. Danielle Teller, mother of four teens and published on NBC News. “In the age of the helicopter parent, why I gave my teens almost total control,” Teller describes how she and her husband decided to step back and let their kids find autonomy during the high school years, so they’d be independent by age 18.

This reminds me of my parents, who said their definition of parenting success was to let us fly from the nest. I recall them doing lots of activities together and my brother and I having an enormous amount of freedom. Most weekends my parents were fishing on our boat, visiting our cabin on the Stillaguamish River or exploring some other areas from Carmel, CA to Eastern Washington. My brother and I survived. We didn’t have parents telling us to fill out college applications or worrying about our homework. We both ended up in the top 10 of our classes and were accepted and graduated from the one college we applied to–the University of Washington.

By contrast, I hovered and cajoled my son and daughter over their busy, crammed packed schedules. My husband and I were fixtures around the pool watching them practice and compete. College applications I oversaw and made sure dates weren’t missed. The end result was—I believe—more anxiety and tougher times for my kids in college than what I experienced. Of course, it’s a different time and things are, well different!

Here are some excerpts from the article by Danielle Teller:

“It’s appropriate to nurture and protect teens from physical and psychological harm, but it’s not helpful to decide for them the course of their future.”

“My teenagers call me a bunny mom. Let me explain. We live in an affluent suburb with high-performing public schools, and many of our kids’ friends have tiger moms and helicopter dads who heavily police their children’s schoolwork, music practice, and extracurriculars in the hope that their offspring will go on to elite universities and professional success. My family, however, has adopted a different strategy.

“Several years ago, my husband and I sat our four kids down and explained that we weren’t going to parent them that way. We hoped that the rules we had enforced when they were preteens had instilled good habits, but once they got to high school, we were going to start to back off. We would no longer insist that they join a sports team, eat broccoli or play piano. We weren’t going to make their decisions for them or push them to succeed. We would provide guidance and support, and we would expect them to be good citizens at home and at school, but our goal was to gradually hand over the reins, so that by age 18, they would have complete control over their own lives.

“It wasn’t easy to hand over control. We could envision the mistakes and poor choices our children might make, and we had met the talented and ferociously hard-working peers they would eventually compete with for college admission and employment. But though we were nervous, we decided to take a light-touch approach for two reasons. First, it seemed most likely to produce happiness, and second, we weren’t convinced that intense parental involvement is key to long-term success. (Notice, too, that we are not conflating happiness with success.)

“It’s hard for parents to let go. Just as we protected our babies from sharp objects, we want to protect our teens from what we perceive as failure. Yet while it is appropriate to nurture and protect teens from physical and psychological harm as we did when they were younger, it is not helpful to decide for them the course of their future lives. As a so-called bunny mom, I have to bite my tongue when one of my children decides to stop taking math classes or quit the swim team. “You won’t achieve your full potential,” I want to say. But that shouldn’t be their goal in life any more than it is my main goal in life. Their goal should be to follow their own ambitions, wherever those may take them.”

I am impressed that these parents were able to let go during the high school years. It would take a lot of strength and conviction to not get caught up in what all the other parents were doing. They are successful professionals in their own right, and definitely not living vicariously through their kids.

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My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach. I don’t think we ever missed our kids getting awards. 

What is your opinion of hovering over kids, versus a laissez-faire attitude?