I Learned To Parent Adult Children, and My Ego Shattered.

For eighteen years, I was the one. I was the woman who two growing boys adored and then eventually, most likely, stared at times, thinking, “This is one creepy adult.” Yes, they all think that at some point in their growth adventure.

One thing doesn’t waver. Their love. In the moments I stood with my morning hair askew every which way and a cup of coffee in my hand, barking orders to get us out of the house for the day, they still loved me. In the times as teenagers I morphed into mirages of my own projection-riddled mother, they still loved me. When I ran and fled situations I could not handle, they still loved me.

That’s what love looks like. It looks like the child who loves you no matter what. This love you feel when they’re little, can change as they grow older. It will manifest itself in different ways.

Then one day, they become adults. It happens just like that. They arrive into your arms, swaddled and beautiful. You snap your fingers, and they’re an adult having an opinion about the world.

Wait. What? What just happened here?

Who is this person, unique and with their own personality, now counter conversing me with all of this knowledge? What the hell do I do with this? More chips fell off the mother pedestal, and it began to tip.

But that’s not all. This is when the pedestal crumbles, and life changes. They fall in love. Yep. Now, you have four adults to figure out how to fit in with. Oh, you thought “parenting” ends when your kiddo becomes 18? Bless your heart! I feel your pain. I thought the same damn thing. Boy, was I wrong.

“Weeping Woman” by Picasso

It all becomes complicated. Your kiddo will have their own way of seeing situations, and you will have yours. You’ll think about the mistakes you made, and start to do that silly shame/blame thing. Don’t do that. It’s counter-productive and useless. It creates battles and sometimes full on wars. You have to approach this situation from a space of accountability secured with boundaries.

I am not going to feed you parenting tips. I don’t know your family dynamic. I can only share my experiences, and what I learned through them. My sons are strong willed and opinionated men. They chose strong willed and opinionated women. My role as leader of the pack ended.

I was wandering the desert alone.

“The Cell” movie

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. I wasn’t shunned or made to walk the plank. Imagine you have to meet your closest friend’s new boyfriend/girlfriend, and you now have to figure out how to balance friendship while also respecting the space of your friend’s relationship.

What if you don’t like your friend’s love? What if they don’t like you? What if?

All of these questions and more will run through your mind. You will make one of the biggest mistakes a parent can ever make with their adult child. You’ll let those thoughts and opinions actually slip from your lips. If you do this, you have just dropped an atom bomb into your relationship with your adult child.

Our kids will dip and dive. They will make choices that will shock us. They’ll do amazing things we want to gush over, as if they’re still five. They’ll make decisions we think they could have made more wisely. The truth is this.
They aren’t five anymore, and frankly, unless their safety and well-being is at high risk, it’s none of our business.

OUCH. You’re thinking this. “Whatever you say lady. I brought that kid into this world and he/she will be my kid until the day I die!”

That is true. You’ll always be the parent, but if you want to keep them in your life, you may want to consider some mental changes.

I became a grandparent, and another layer was added to the now mountainous terrain of my family dynamics, which was once just an island consisting of my sons and me. On which ledge was I supposed to set up my camp?

I began to learn as I explored the side of the mountain and have long, fruitful conversations with my wondrous therapist. I finally came to rest on a ledge towards the mountain top looking down. I built my own little observatory. I planted gardens inside of it so that when my family members choose to walk through it, there will be peace for them, if they choose to see it.

Becoming an observatory in my family involved cleaning out space inside myself to build it. I first completely cleaned out the piles of opinions. That took a few truckloads. I knocked down the ego walls and cleared the rubble. I swept out the cobwebs of guilt and regret and replaced it with solid accountability pillars.

I have put up some Observatory rules for myself. As the observatory curator, I will not:

  • infuse my opinion upon their culture but instead learn, listen and understand
  • jump into their political discussions with my own input. They really don’t care much what we think. That’s okay. They have their own minds.
  • have opinions on parenting or give unsolicited advice even when asked. Trust me. I tried it. No matter what you say, you’ll most likely be told you’re wrong. “I know you’ll figure this out.” is my go to phrase now, and guess what? They do.

While I am always a work in progress, once I established my personal rules, I built a mental zen space where I could sit with myself, observing the happenings of my sons and family, while learning to live in non-interference or opinion. I became a space holder. I also live my own life with my own goals, dreams and career.

I let my ego go. My sons will always love me. They will also love others, their children, their friends. Our children’s love does not belong to us. It is something we are gifted by them. I hold no more expectations from my adult sons beyond the same I hold for anyone else in regard to not allowing anyone to overstep my own personal boundaries.

Instead, I live my own life. Imagine that! Some grandparents enjoy living their life for their families. Others enjoy the freedom which arrives with our children becoming adults and no longer need support. Neither are wrong nor right, only different! I am enjoying the freedom.

Parenting adult children comes with acceptance and allowance. Entering this space with ego will undoubtedly leave you extremely shattered. Attempting to maintain any relationship through control is a recipe for your child to walk away from you.

Parents, we hope our children love us in spite of our failures, and we are thankful when they do! Craft your own way in life and let your adult kids chart theirs. You need not paddle your boat beside them, hollering instructions, even if that boat tips. One of the hardest things you’ll do is force yourself to sit in silence watching as they continue to scramble back into their boat. Stay silent. That is how they learn. After all, I tipped many a boat alone through my life to be here now, having grown as a person through a myriad of lessons.

Be the laughter for your children and descendants. Be the parent they will remember loving them and reminding them how great they are. It is never too late for these bonds to strengthen. A healing parent, who releases ego, can be an inspiration for our adult children.

All in all, once we are parents of adult children, we begin our own exploration of life again, life on our own, returning to our personal passions, separate from our children, who are doing the same for themselves.

They don’t forget who we were when they were little. They hold onto the deepest parts of their memories just like we do. Sometimes that hurts when we know we had moments of failing them, but most times, it creates a massive spark of love and pride in your heart when you observe them cooking some of the things you once cooked or utilizing some of the parenting tools they once complained about.

A while ago, my eldest son borrowed my truck. After he returned it, I was out driving and flipping through my CD player when I landed upon a CD he left in it. It was filled with songs he had heard me playing around the house when he was young. When it landed on “Cat’s In the Cradle” by Harry Chaplin, nostalgia took me over. They really don’t forget. I know why this song is special to him, and my heart smarted. I also smiled that he’s amazingly eccentric in his musical choices. We’re never too far away.

To all the motherless children and adults, know that you are never forgotten.

Born Crazy: A Video Poem

You’re crazy.”

How often have you heard this phrase thrown around, either flippantly, in jest or to victim blame someone who has overcome or is recovering from abuse?

I heard this often as a post-cult teenager and well into my adult years. While I was actually dealing with the behavioral aftermath of being an extremely abused child, instead of receiving support, caring and nurturing I was told that I was crazy. When a child is told enough times that they’re mind is insane, we begin to believe it.

This poetry piece is from my spoken word album, Dusted Shelves, which is available on Amazon in paperback and c.d. Written in 2013, it is a representation of a life by which I was conditioned to believe that I was crazy.

Some abuse survivor work is considered to be dark and oddly psychotic. This piece would fall under that theme.

**Trigger Warning for those who are sensitive to these themes**

Born Crazy

The Caning

I am in a bedroom trying to go to sleep.  I cannot go to sleep because in a room down the hall, children are wailing and screaming.   They are being beaten.  I can hear them.  I leap from my bed and run down the hallway towards the room.  I fling open the door.

There, with her hand raised high, is my mother, a long, thick cane in her hand.  There must be fifty children in the room, some having already been beaten, others, waiting their turn, shaking in a huddle, unable to escape what is to come.

She has a child by the arm, and she is striking the child’s legs over and over as the child screams.  I see the child’s face, mouth open, sobbing and screaming.  The children who have already been beaten are in a group together. Some are laying down in the fetal position, so obviously in shock.  Others are rocking back and forth, weeping and holding their wounds. The skin on their legs are splayed open.  I can see meat and flesh, bright black and purple bruises forming.  I scream at my mother as I grab the child from her arm.

STOP! JUST STOP IT!”  I am screaming. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? WHY?

Her eyes are menacing.  She is looking at me with anger.  I feel no fear of her.  I will kill her if I have to.  I will not let her strike another child.   I am herding the children into one group, and as they see that I am there to save them, they begin to gather behind me.  We are all on one side of the room, and I am assessing getting them all out of the door, down the hall, into my room where I can lock the door until I figure out the next step to saving them.   My mother is on the opposite side of the room right by the door, the cane in her right hand. She is methodically tapping it on the palm of her left hand.  She has a wicked smirk across her face as if I am so silly to think that I can fight against her.  But I am ready.  I will fight her with all of my power, and in my mind, I will win.

She begins to advance towards me.  I stand strong in front of the children.  My fists are clenched.  I am planning.  I will go for her throat.  I will grab the cane from her hand and strike her on her head and neck, everywhere I can until she is beaten bloody and raw like the legs of these children.

But as she gets closer towards me, she becomes bigger and bigger, and I become as small as the children.  Suddenly, I am filled with terror, realizing, that I will not be able to fight her.  I am too little.  In my mind, I am an adult.  I am thinking as an adult.  In my view I when I entered the room, I was the same size as her, but now, I am no longer a grown up.  I am just an adult inside of the body of a little girl, and I know that I am next.  She is going to beat me harder than she has beaten any of the other children.   My throat is closing as I try and suck in my breath.

Her face is the most terrifying of all.  Her eyes are flat, black and soulless.  Her mouth is twisted into a crooked grin representing that she is enjoying inflicting this abuse, and that she will revel in beating me.   She is so close now, and I am no taller than her knees.  I am just a little girl with the rest of the children, and my body is shaking, shivering with anxiety and terror.

and the dream ends.

(featured image from Jill Greenberg’s “Crying Children”)