Finding That Balance

I was talking recently with friends about our grown children and the struggle we are having to find the right balance between being there for them whenever THEY need us and letting them know when WE have needs.  My friends who have grown children that live close by are often kept very busy babysitting or housesitting and they seem to rarely speak up when a request to do so conflicts with plans they might have already made.  Or my friends might have needs of their own, perhaps something that requires a little fix-er-upper help around the house that could easily be taken care of by an adult child but they don’t want to “bother” their kids so they make do.  I guess I’m having a hard time understanding this mother-child dance.

Dee's LectureI’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent, as we all have.  And I certainly don’t want to be the kind of aging parent who is always clingy or ever-demanding.  But there are certain ground rules I’ve tried to follow as my kids have grown up to prepare for this day.

1.  When my children were old enough, I tried to let them see me as a “person” with hopes and dreams, and yes….feelings BESIDES being their parent. I don’t think we should bury ourselves when we become parents.  Our kids, especially our adult kids, need to see that we had a life before them, and we continue to have a life after they leave the nest.  They need to see what  motivates us, what has shaped us to become the person we are.  Hopefully it will be a wonderful gift that we can give our children.  It IS part of their heritage.

2.  We need to let our children experience the joy of “giving” as well as “receiving.” There is a time and an age to cater to a child’s every need and desire.  But as part of developing an independent and considerate adult, we gradually take a less active role in our children’s lives.  We let them do more and more for themselves.  This doesn’t mean that we just stand back once they are grown and fold our arms and say, “Sorry, you’re on your own.”  Of course, we will want to help when we can or surprise them in unexpected ways with thoughtful gifts or favors.  But what kind of favors do we do our children if we only teach them to “take?”  In so many cases, we seem to do a great job of desensitizing our children to the fact that there might be times when we have a need ourselves.

3.  We need to find the balance between “parent-child” and “adult-adult”. As our children grow up and start raising their own families, how do we treat them?   It’s easy to find ourselves slipping back into the parent -child roles.  But I really do try to be mindful of the fact that both of my children are adults now and are making adult decisions and leading their own lives.  I’m thrilled when they include me in things but I don’t demand it.  And they don’t demand (or assume) that the Commander and I will do certain things.  We are moving toward a relationship of mutual respect.

4.  We need to prepare them for the day when the “Superman/woman” cape gets transferred. I really don’t want my kids to always see me as the 45-year-old authority figure that will always be available to “take care of things.”  Frankly, I’m now 60.  There will come a time when I might need their help  to move a couch or decipher a legal form, etc.  I’ll keep perking along as long as I can and will try to help out as I can.  I’ll certainly be thrilled to have grandchildren to babysit…..but not to have it assumed that I’ll drop everything to do it whenever it suits them.  I’ve just seen too many of my friends run ragged in that capacity.  And let me just add a caveat that I’m confident that my children and spouses would not do that because they’ve grown up to be thoughtful, considerate kids AND they know that I’d speak up if I wasn’t able to do something.

George and I with LauraI guess what it boils down to in this delicate dance of “finding the right balance” is communicating.  If we can talk to each other openly and honestly in love and respect, we can look forward to a relationship with our grown children and their families that continues to grow in depth and richness and it doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.

  • Terrific post. It certainly rings true for this aunt/stepmother.

  • Alright, alright. When we come to visit, I’ll be sure to do my own laundry. But can I still schedule you in to babysit your new granddaughter…and change a few diapers?

    Like your Civil War era waltzing skills, I think you do a fantastic job with this parent-child / adult-adult dance.

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