How do you parent after graduation?

Jenifer GamberThis is the second of two posts written by guest blogger Jenifer GamberJenifer is the mother of two young adults and author of Call on Me: A Prayer Book for Young People and My Faith, My Life: A Teen’s Guide to the Episcopal Church. She also leads retreats and workshops for Christian educators working with youth.

Parenting Graduates

In June 2009 my son graduated high school. This past May he graduated college. Each of these events presented opportunities for me and my spouse to reflect on how we needed change our parenting. What does it mean to parent a son living 3,000 miles away in college who can, and did, explore new opportunities and make new decisions on his own?

What does it mean to parent a son who has his a job and his own apartment? Pays all his expenses.

What does healthy parenting look like now?  The answers depend on goals for ourselves and for our son. I once heard that not having goals for yourself is under-functioning. Having goals for someone else is over-functioning.

So, step one—let go of our goals for him. It’s important to take time with this step. Chances are, you do have goals for your children. Of course we do. So, be honest. A somewhat condemning article about 20-somethings entitled, “ What Is It about 20-Somethings” in The New York Times (9/18/2010) that led with the question, “Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?” listed five common goals:

  • Completing school
  • Leaving home
  • Becoming financially independent
  • Marrying
  • Having a child

The article does recognize that some of these are anachronistic—though the article still describes 20-somethings as currently slouching toward adulthood. Take a look at these first and really think if any of them apply to you. I know of one adult who made the big announcement, “I am choosing not to have children.” (She is reserving the right to change her mind.)

Step two—identify the goals that remain. Name them. Ask yourself, “What values underlie these goals?” Instead of the five goals above, what if the goals were to be someone who leads an integrated life—that their values reflect the Baptismal Promises and their actions reflect those values? A friend recently wrote a family mission statement based on the Baptismal Promises. A sound practice. (You can find them on page 305 of the Book of Common Prayer.)

Step three—decide what to do about those goals. I’d suggest that it’s OK to have some goals. We all have hopes. It’s what we do with them that matters. We can pray them. We can tread lightly as advisors to our sons and daughters. Listen to them. You might change your prayers and your advice.

Step four—be open to change and continue to let go, let go, and let go, remembering to continue to love and care.

It hasn’t been easy for us. We succeeded with some of our commitments. We have no idea what grades our son earned. We never asked. He graduated. I didn’t always favor his girlfriends. He knew it and I learned I needed to let go. I worked to understand, support, and stop to be quiet and listen.

He’s starting his new job soon. He found an apartment. I will still have to review my goals for him—stop over-functioning—and let go.  I can still pray for him as adult child and for myself as a parent.

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