When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us: Letting Go Of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting On With Our Lives
As parents, coming to terms with our adult children's limitations also means facing our own...In midlife, a central aspect of parents' identity is how our children have turned out; that is, what kind of adults they have become. The lives of grown children constitute an important lens through which we judge ourselves and our accomplishments; it is through reconsidering their adult successes and failures that we seek, retroactively, to validate the kinds of parents we were and the responsible caring we provided. (Ryff, Young, Essex & Schmutte, 1994).
...What distinguishes baby-boom parents from those of earlier generations is how much importance we place on our kids' inner psychological qualities as well as their educational and occupational success, moral and ethical values, and satisfaction in their relationships. A recent study that examined how we evaluate our adult children's achievements and adjustment - and how those assessments affect how we feel about ourselves - indicated that wanting our kids to be personally fulfilled is a goal unique to our generation. Having gone to sometimes extraordinary lengths to ensure it, it's no surprise that our kids grow up expecting us to provide it and give up the responsibility for finding it themselves, in the places that truly adult people discover it; in the satisfactions of work, love, connection, commitment, self-sufficiency and achievement. We cannot make our grown kids happy: As long as we expect that we can, they will, too. And we will both be disappointed.
...It may be very difficult to move away from a job that wasn't done perfectly, especially parenting, but parenting skills were never designed to work for grown kids. We need to define the limits of our relationships with them and our involvement in their problems, since those are the only limits we can set now. We need to find ways to stay in meaningful contact with them while we work through our own midlife tasks of coming to terms with our gains and losses, reconsolidating our identity, and reclaiming our lives now that we have reached the limits of our parental roleÂ .What Dr. David Gutmann calls the "postparental imperative" demands that we make sense of who and what matters when we return to the self we put aside to raise our kids. Because we've done that -- whether we think we flunked or passed parenting, it's over. We won't get another chance at it, which is the good as well as the bad news. Our job now is to come to terms with the choices we've made in our own lives, abandon some dreams and commit to fulfilling others, allow the silenced voices inside us to be heard, and make the most of the time that's left. We can do that - we must do that - regardless of whether our kids ever achieve what we still believe is their golden, unlimited potential. But that will only be possible if we start concentrating on our own lives while we're waiting for them to get lives of their own.
1 Ryff, Carol D., Young, Hyun Lee, Essex, Marilyn J., and Schmutte, Pamela S, "My Children and Me: Midlife Evaluations of Grown Children and of Self," Psychology and Aging, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1994.