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.

How to Know When You Are Truly Outgrowing Your Past

Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” Danielle LaPorte

Many people talk the talk, but do they walk the walk?  Many times in my adult life I was a downright hypocrite.   I still have my moments, although now, I root myself in awareness of my behaviors so that my actions align with my words.  I try my best to do what I believe to be right.   Tonight, I was pondering on how a person knows when they are truly outgrowing their past.

I came up with one simple word.

Behavior

Our behaviors, the decisions we make, how we view the world, how we treat others and how we treat ourselves are all indicators of our past conditioning.   I am not a licensed therapist.  I’m a trauma survivor who has attended therapy and spent years reading a whole lot of information trying to figure myself out and understand what had been done to me as a child.

Behaviorally, as an adult, I was a walking ball of confusion.  I had no danger boundaries.  I allowed abusers in my life in both friendship and romantic relationships.  I faltered at being a mother.  I was either overly protective or not setting proper boundaries and sometimes even shut down.   There was a time before I had children that I enjoyed getting into fights.  I was essentially, a mass of anger energy.   Beneath all of that anger and false bravado that I spun to the world in an attempt to appear “normal”, was a deep pain that only seemed to seep out when I wrote poetry.   The rest of the time, it manifested itself in negative behaviors.  I made life decisions that weren’t always the best ones.

In my head I quietly lived in extreme fear of the world, but I didn’t understand why.  I was having numerous panic attacks starting in my late twenties to mid-thirties.   They crippled me.  I would have to leave the store.  There were times I believed I was dying, as my breath faltered and my palms sweat.  Once, I left a whole grocery cart of groceries in the middle of an aisle and high tailed it out of the store.  I didn’t know that I was having panic attacks.   I just knew I felt like the walls were closing in on me, and I was filled with an overwhelming panic to get out and to safety, even if it was my car.

My child abuse also manifested itself in irritation and lashing out behaviors.  For example, if my sons wanted to do something that involved an immense amount of people and/or noise, I would become agitated; begin having fear at the thought of the noisy and child filled environment, even though at the time, I had no clue that was why I was irritated. Noise levels affected my hearing.  Too many humans affected my moods.  I wavered, and I am sure for my sons I just appeared to be a mean mother.   Meanwhile, I continued either spoiling them when I could, in the hope of remedying my failures, or I gave far too much freedom to both of them, which unknown to me, was a recipe for creating a disastrous parent/child relationship.  What did I know of that?  I only had a childhood on a cult and a narcissistic mother to pattern my parenting by.

As my sons grew older, it became very difficult to say no, unless I was feeling anger and/or at a snapping point.  I had no boundaries allowing me to critically think through some of my parental situations.  I loved my sons and was often over-protective of them when they were little.  I worried constantly that someone would sexually abuse them or kidnap them.   I ruminated on fear which often drove my own mind into a state of frenzy that I wasn’t equipped to handle.  That is just one example of how trauma not only affects the person who suffered it, but also their future generations.

Fast forward years later, after counseling, which I now don’t foresee myself ever giving up, just for the sheer support of it, and I realize that things which used to make me exceedingly angry or even hurt, I now have the ability to observe from an adult perspective.  This is how I know that I’m partway into outgrowing my abuse.  My behavior no longer manifests my moods.  I am not always perfect.  Trust me, I can snap and be NOT nice at all when I am pushed in that direction.  I am a work in progress.  However, my pushing pattern has immensely changed.  Where the old self used to flash very quickly, the new self simply moves with action.  Actions truly do speak loudly.

We make mistakes in life.  There are times I snapped and said fucked up things to or around my kids; things I can never take back.  The guilt which builds up in a parent can be smothering.  It can cause parents to become enabling.  It can also be manipulated, if our children get wind of it.   When that guilt no longer exists, I can stand in my place, owning my life experiences, saying, yes, my childhood damaged me.  Yes, that also affected my sons, the third generation children of a cult survivor.

There will never be accountability for me from my own mother.  I can’t sit around waiting for someone to say “I’m sorry”, or come rescue me, in order to change my life or my future.   I am ultimately responsible for me and my decisions.  I can make boundaries and firmly stand by them.  I get to decide my journey.   I get to say no to anyone who doesn’t respect me.  I get to drop people out of my life who have no empathy for those who have been through trauma.  I can do it any way I choose if it feels safe and right.  I get to outgrow my trauma.

It doesn’t mean the trauma doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t mean the past doesn’t love to keep its grimy fingers dug into our flesh.  For me, the very first step to outgrowing my trauma was to accept that it happened and then to accept I can never change the past.   The next step was to then, with vulnerability and no shame, look at my own behaviors and assess what I could change about myself.   Then I had to be willing to do the work.  Part of that work includes learning to be alright with saying no, and putting your well-being at the forefront of your life.   It’s not easy work, but like climbing a mountain, when at the top you see that beautiful view, it’s worth every step.

I feel alright with where I am right now.  I listen to people everywhere complaining about life, and I just think about how many people feel truly lucky just to be alive.  I am one of those people.  I am lucky as fuck to be alive.   It doesn’t mean I don’t cry sometimes or don’t feel the totality of the apathy that’s rampant in the world.  It just means that I am in acceptance of the reality that I can only change myself.   Only I can outgrow my abuse by eliminating behaviors which were once ruled by it.   I don’t wait for someone else to take accountability.  I don’t wait for tomorrow.  Awareness is a state of being; a way of life.  Mindfulness becomes second nature.  Self-love begins to feel good instead of selfish.   We learn what we can and cannot do, and that becomes our boundary line.  We then learn to hold that line like a warrior.

A Moment In the Mind of a Mother With DID

I stand still in my slippered feet. The girls are at the table coloring. My youngest son is visiting from college and is recalling a childhood moment with me.

“You took me to watch The Grinch, remember?” He asks. His eyebrows are furrowed.

“I did?” I am flipping through the years like micro film, trying to bring up the memory.

“Oh my gosh, mom! How can you not remember that?” He exclaims. I drown in his frustration.

I am on the spot standing in shame. How careless I must seem to not remember an experience that is so obviously a fond memory for him. What kind of mother would not remember that moment? What kind of mother doesn’t remember special memories with her children?

A mother with DID. I want to say this as he continues on, his brother joining him, but they don’t pause to let words in, and they’re certainly not seemingly interested.

“You DO know who the Grinch is, right?” My eldest asks.

“Of course I do.” I reply.

And they go on to tell me of the movie, and I remember Jim Carey’s antics and sparkly green fur. I just don’t remember seeing it at a theater.

But I can’t say it right now, with granddaughters happily coloring away in their coloring books and my sons in their own energy, laughing and remembering.

I can’t say how I will claw away at the particles of blank spaces trying to find this moment. I can’t let out the lump in my throat that outside of those who understand my cult aftermath, I will stand judged and misunderstood more than not. There will be no room for explanation or conversations that open doorways to understanding.

I can only quietly walk away and wish I could switch minds with them for a day. Then maybe we could understand each other. I could see myself from their perspective. I could understand them more if I could see me like they do.

It’s not their responsibility, but it’s mine to remember. I walk away wincing the ache of failure. How can I ever explain to them the maze that is my brain? How can I draw out blank spaces, pain and the exhausting  strain of remembering?

I accept that only those who have suffered similarly to me can feel with me. Only those who have experienced the fragmented pieces that are the aftermath of a complex childhood filled with physical, sexual and mental torture, can truly understand what we become, who arrives to help us through, and why we stand staring, akwardly on the spot, holding blank spaces in our palms.