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Parenting Your Adult Children

Get guidance on getting along with your kids after they're grown up – from staying connected, offering advice and dealing with in-laws.

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Dealing with significant others

As your child enters adulthood, he or she will more than likely enter serious romantic relationships with someone else. He or she might even decide that they want to spend forever with that person. While this can be a joyous occasion, it can also present parents with a tough situation. Marriage brings new additions to the family: in-laws.

“All of a sudden, you’re instant family – or supposed to be instant family – with people  who really are strangers to you,” says Polish, who has two adult sons and three grandchildren.

Philo says she and her husband were happy to have new additions to their family when their two adult children got married. 

“We made a real conscious effort to welcome them into our family, so that now we have four children,” not two children and two in-laws, she says.

Part of helping the spouses feel welcomed into the family included not requiring them to call Philo and her husband “Mom” or “Dad,” instantly, but rather, encouraging them to do whatever made them feel comfortable. As far as dealing with the spouses’ families, she says, being open is the most important thing.

“You just have to kind of realize that … we have different family cultures, and that doesn’t make one bad and one good or one wrong and one right. It just means that we need to be willing to adjust and respect and even change sometimes, which can always be kind of scary,” she says.

While this can be stressful, even dating relationships can be tough on parents if they dislike the person their son or daughter brings home. Derbabian once had an experience where her parents highly disapproved of her boyfriend, who was nine years older than her and had a child.

“They were very leery of that relationship,” she says. “They were like, ‘Why does a 27-year-old man want to date an 18-year-old girl?’

Even when parents do like the significant other, though, having to share children with the other family during holidays can be challenging.

Courtney Love, a 20-year-old student at Wayne State University, found a way to solve this problem with her boyfriend at the time. Both of them wanted to spend Thanksgiving with their own families, so they ate dinner at her house first, then went over to his family’s house afterward.

“I stayed at my house most of Thanksgiving until right before dinner at his aunt’s house. It was more about making a compromise than making one of us very unhappy,” she says.

Another solution, used by Philo and her family, is to be flexible in the date when holding family holiday get-togethers.

“We’ve never made a big deal of it being on Christmas or on Thanksgiving or whatever,” she says. “When we get together during the Christmas season as a family, that’s our Christmas.

“You just try and be flexible, and you try to make the gathering together the important part of the holiday rather than the date.”

Polish says it’s important for parents of married couples to let them work out their own holiday and visitation schedules themselves.

Although parents may not always like the outcome, Polish says the hands-off approach is the best approach.

“There’s not too much you can do about it,” she says. “Sometimes, to use a popular, current phrase, you have to suck it up.”

Keeping the bond while far apart

As adults, children may decide to move far from Mom and Dad, for reasons work-related, personal or otherwise. The tough economy lately isn’t helping, either. According to Internal Revenue Service records from 2009, the number of people leaving Michigan increased by 25 percent from 2001-2007. That trend of losing residents, especially young college graduates, doesn’t seem like it’s ending. The result is that parents must figure out how to maintain the relationship with their children while being miles apart.

“That’s just the way it is now, though. You’re just so thrilled when your kids get a job that even if it is out of state, you’re like, ‘Well, that’s just the situation,’” says Wloch, a Brownstown resident.

While Brissette-Mata lives in Flint, her sons are spread around the state in Utica, Ann Arbor and Lansing.

“It’s a little hard not having them around all the time,” she says. “It was hard for a while, and there are times when I really, really miss them, but then they only have to be home for a couple of hours that I remember what it’s like to have a quiet house.”

While in other cultures around the world, adult children often live with or near their parents for some time, “the physical separation in our culture comes pretty early,” Polish says. “Our culture puts a high premium on independence.”

Brissette-Mata agrees. “I think it’s a parent’s goal, or at least it should be, to want to prepare your kids to have a successful life on their own,” she says.

Email and phone calls are the methods of choice for parents who want to keep in touch with their offspring from afar.

For Love, speaking to her parents over the phone during the week is important, especially because her parents were initially not thrilled about the idea of her living on WSU’s campus near downtown Detroit.

“My dad didn’t have it,” she says. “He didn’t want me to live down here. He thought it was dangerous.”

Although she did end up living on campus, an even bigger transition came when she accepted a Residential Advisor position for the summer, meaning that she would not be coming home during the summer.

“That was a big shocker because they thought I was going to be home until the middle of April when I said, ‘Oh, no, I applied for this job, and I got it, so I’m not coming home. That was rough because they both didn’t want me to do that, at first,” she says.

For some parents, moving out to join their children might be a solution to being able to see more of them. Philo’s son wants to open an organic farm, and he and his wife have urged Philo and her husband to move to the farm to join them. She says she’s considering it in order to be able to see more of her children and grandchildren.

“If we would need to move and do that, we’re ready to do it,” she says.

Perennial parenting

No matter how old an adult is, they’ll always be their parents’ kids. Parenting doesn’t end when a child turns 18 or moves out. Instead, it transitions into a new relationship that trusts that the child has learned while growing up and now knows enough to make the right choices.

Philo, who taught for 25 years, says that she used to look at new teachers who were coming in and realize that they were around her daughter’s age.

“How did I treat my co-workers at that age? I need to at least be treating my children with that same level of respect,” she says.

“It’s neat to see the decisions and their thought process and what they do, and you see this person that you’ve created,” Wloch says. “It’s complete. That lifelong thing … they are the person they are.”

However, reaching adulthood does not mean the termination of a loving, good relationship with the people who raised their baby from diapers to diplomas. No one is static; everyone continues to learn and develop over time, parents and children alike.

“I wasn’t perfectly formed at age 23 or 25 or 27, and you grow and change a lot,” Philo says. “This is just part of the story. It’s not the end of it.”

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