Saturday, July 24, 2010

Define "Child"

When is your child no longer a child? When does he become a visitor more than a member? At what point is it okay to cease parenting the child and expect her to accept adult responsibility—all of it—the good and the bad—free of parental guilt?
These are all questions this summer has forced me to ask. Parenting toddlers challenged me. Parenting teens energized me. Parenting a young adult puzzles me--perhaps because I remember the fear of facing the big scary world alone, or maybe because I barely had confidence in myself to make it at that age. Not sure. I find myself wanting to protect and help my daughter but find that while she wants my help, she does not. And, while I want to help, I don’t have much to give.
It is as it should be, I think, a little tug-of-war before the big break but it is no less disturbing. I think I have done a pretty good job of offering autonomy to my kids. I learned early on that trying to control them wouldn’t work. For so long, though, we were a fivesome. Two parents, three kids. When she left for college it felt as part of us was missing. After three years, though, we have adjusted to living as a foursome. I am a mom in a family with two teen boys…and a daughter away at school. I am thrilled with her school. I believe in her mind and her choices. With few exceptions, she has given us little to worry about as an adult. I guess you could say I have slowly come to the realization that I am done with formal parenting for this one.
What has not been so easy to understand are the boundaries of parent/child roles when she is at home. Of course we are thrilled to host her. Of course we provide a place for her (albeit a corner in the office as her room was converted to a boy room years ago). Of course we share our meals with her. But what is okay to expect from the young adult-child-who-is-not-quite-graduated-but-far-enough-along-to-not-be-a-child? And where should the generosity end, especially when said host parents (that’s us) barely have the resources to give?
Let me clarify this. This is MY issue. She is not asking. This is a child who earned a full tuition scholarship. We have barely paid a dime toward her education. I’m speaking here of the subtle apron strings that aren’t so clear. Is it okay to take a vacation and not invite the adult child? If she happens to be with me when I spend a dollar on something frivolous, am I obligated to do the same for her? I find myself on the edge of wanting to be generous and feeling rude. If I had ample resources, perhaps I would not feel so badly but when money is dear, it’s hard not to feel a tiny bit resentful.
It must be confusing for her, too. As a senior art major, she isn’t rolling in the dough either and for her whole life, we have paid for our kids’ activities. Who would want to willingly give that up? I didn’t! She worries that she no longer “fits” in the family. And she is right. Her life is elsewhere now but it bends both our brains and makes us question what this means to our relationship. I am finding that it is a bit of dance, communicating my love to her while “allowing” her to be an adult guest who happens-to-be-my-child in my home.
As with every parenting challenge, we will walk this out in the best way we know how. Will we make some mistakes? Probably. Did our parents make mistakes that caused us to resent them? Absolutely. Were we able to learn from those mistakes? Did they maybe even make us stronger in some ways? Yes. I need to give my daughter now, my boys in a few years, the freedom to resent me if that is what it takes to help launch them into adult capability.

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