Parents, Get a Life!
By Mary Keyes Rogers | June 1, 2019
I spoke with a woman whose 30-year-old children still drop off their dirty laundry to her each and every week. She doesn’t mind because she figures this is the only way she will get to see them. Are you kidding me?
Just as teenagers go through a healthy and natural period of surly rebellion as they emotionally detach from their parents and become increasingly independent, so should parents! If not for the good of their children, for their own sanity when the kids move on and parents are allowed to become real people again.
In my opinion, too many parents have so completely invested themselves in their children’s lives that when the game is over and their children have become adults, they simply refuse to accept their newly diminished role. Not only do they continue with laundry service, but they also make every effort to smooth any obstacles in their children’s path before the poor kids have even had a chance to deal with life’s hurdlesin their own way.
At some point, the coach needs to leave the field and let the players play. The same can be said for parenting. There comes a time to say, “My work is done”.
This week, the planets of parenting align — we stand halfway between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, just as graduation season is in full swing. Mom gets flowers, Dad a new grilling apron, and Junior receives a diploma.
Everyone is happy. Tears are joyous. But for many of the overly involved parents of my generation, the tears go on, and on, and on. Those tears of joy become tears of loneliness, purposelessness, loss, and despair.
Some parents never fully recover. It’s called Empty Nest Syndrome, or ENS. I have watched perfectly functional adults become emotionally crippled by feelings of loss and rejection when their children do the unthinkable. They grow up.
I suggest that parents take note: Every graduation ceremony is marked with a commencement speech. Commencement means beginning and every beginning marks an ending. Sure, it’s bittersweet, but I am left dumbfounded by the parents who feel personally rejected when Junior stands on his own two feet and strides into his own future.
What truly shocks me is when parents of adult children seem to “bonsai” their kids — actually stunting the kid’s ability to become independent by over-parenting to protect their role as the needed parent. What is presented as loving care is nothing short of selfishness.
And we wonder why some young people can’t accept responsibility?
There is nothing more natural or touching than Mom and Dad sharing a good sob after depositing Timmy or Tina in their new dorm or shabby apartment. Though for some, this is only the prelude to a life turned upside down and completely unrecognizable from the prior 18 years. They fall apart, feeling directionless without daily contact with their child, or even their child’s laundry.
I believe that my responsibility as a parent is to give my kids the gift of not needing me. My job has been to equip my kids with the experiences and tools to go out into the world and capably find happiness. “I’ve got this, Mom” is pure music to my ears: My work is done, and I can now enjoy the company of my children without a sense of responsibility or anxious worry. When my kids spend time with me, it’s because they enjoy my company — not because I service their needs, or they feel sorry for me in my loneliness and despair without them.
I’ve witnessed many parents of my generation who, along the path of raising them, made a decision that their children’s lives were more important than their own. They made their kid(s) the epicenter of their own life, to the exclusion of their own friendships, marriage, careers, and personal interests.
It is one thing to be a dedicated parent, to provide fertile ground for an enriching childhood. It is quite another to put your role as a parent in the position of providing 100% of your fulfillment in life.
It is vitally important in parenting to model a life well-lived. Show your children what it looks like to have close and meaningful friendships, to relish time with your spouse, to seek out adventure, to become actively involved in your work or causes you believe in. Show them what grown-up passion looks like.
Parenting is a phase of life. Just as kids need to grow up, so do their parents. The relationship with your adult kids must transition into something very different to be healthy and rewarding for all concerned. When we desperately try to continue the Mommy or Daddy phase, we cheat our kids from seeing what they can become.
Allowing them the freedom to mess up, to gloriously fail at something and discover their own ability to recover is the greatest gift of all.
Your children are not responsible for your happiness, you are.
Get a life.
Mary Keyes Rogers, 56, lives in Traverse City where she works as a business consultant, freelance writer, and is an independent podcaster. She has two adult children. firstname.lastname@example.org