The last task of raising a child is letting them go. Allowing them to flap their cute little wings and fly... giving them a gentle nudge out of the nest to get them airborne. Ah yes, little birdies, spread your wings and fly. OK, sometimes it's more like a hard shove off a cliff... but the harder transition from the parent-child relationship to an adult-to-adult one must be made.
This process doesn't happen overnight. The ritual sounds easy in theory, but it can be a bit sticky in practice. It's difficult not to remain mommy or daddy, and even harder for the chicks not to revert back to being children.
Conversation is one of the biggest stumbling blocks during this process. Neither side has had practice speaking to one another as adults. It's all too easy to return to the talking AT each other that dominated the teen years, not so long ago, instead of talking TO each other. The filter that prevents us from saying things we might regret to our peers leaks like a sieve when family is involved. Then suddenly it's right back to the old teenage shouting matches.
Physical distance can be helpful in this case. Not living in the same house removes several parts of the parent – child dynamic. The old "while you're living in my house, you'll live by my rules" answered by the "I'm an adult, you can't tell me what to do" argument is certainly not the recipe for an adult-to-adult relationship. Sure we miss our kids, but by not seeing them very often, our relationship has actually grown closer. It's more of a special occasion when we do get to see them.
It also means we talk on the phone a lot. As a father, I've found phone calls with our girls, The Piglet and Decibel, much easier than with The Boy. The Piglet and Decibel are more open and nonchalant about what's going on in their lives and we chat easily on almost any subject. The Boy and I can talk like crazy about politics, religion and sports, the topics most people avoid when trying to prevent arguments, but not so much about personal stuff. He can still get somewhat defensive about things--like I'm trying to grill him. Some of it is no doubt my fault, still sounding too much like the old "did you do your homework yet?" dad. Some may be that we haven't had enough time apart yet.
A sure way to knock the legs out from under a fledgling adult-to-adult relationship is sticking one's nose in where it doesn't belong – especially when it comes to belief systems. We instilled our moral code while raising them, our offspring know what we believe - continually knocking them over their heads with it while they are trying to figure out life does no one any good. There's an old saying that goes "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig." It's important not to annoy the pigs. It's a sure way to shut them off.
I want them to be comfortable enough to come to us for counsel, and they do. Relationships, bad bosses, fixing flat tires, culinary catastrophes – Veronica and I are the resident, non-judgmental experts. We listen, listen, listen and are mindful when we give out advice. We relish that role. Our life experience sure comes in handy, we have helpful hints and we're careful to let our kids know that – as much as we'd like to -- we can't fix their problems.
There is a delicate balancing act between hovering over every aspect of their lives and being there for them. Conversely, their asking for help or advice is quite different from them expecting us to support them financially. We made it very plain to our kids BEFORE they left the nest, that we would not be their source of income once they finished school. My father did the same for me and I'm sure glad he did.
Knowing this ahead of time gave our spawn time to plan, prepare and make arrangements... in other words, become adults. I think we were successful in conveying to them that they had to make it on their own while understanding that we will always be there for them if things ever get really bad – or when they just need to get something off their chest.
Up to this point, I can say that I am extremely pleased with the way the transition from our parent – child relationship has gone. Not only do we have three great children that are happy and successful, we have three new adult friends that we love like family.
YOUR TURN: How have you come through this difficult period? Can you relate? Any tips for the rest of us?