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Parent conversations: Parenting post–high school: What is a parent’s role?

My kids are 15, 10, and 7, so I haven’t quite gotten to this stage of parenting yet . . . but I can feel it coming. The important moments are stacking up. Time is slipping away to impart all the lessons that feel so necessary. Eighteen years sounds like so many when your kids are little and you are singing “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” ad nauseum to help them fall asleep. As you’re helping them learn how to drive, though, 18 begins to feel like a train barreling down on you. So today I’m giving thanks for those who have gone before me and can help guide me on this journey.

— Nicole Balza

SOMETIMES MY husband whispers helicopter noises at me: “Chop-chop-chop-chop-chop.”

It’s his smart-alecky—oh, I mean gentle—way to let me know that once again, I am hover-hover-hovering over the kids. They are 18, 27, and 29, and they are fully functioning adults. Still, I find myself interrupting, interjecting, and intervening at the most inappropriate times.

You too?

Here’s what I’m trying hard to remember: It’s their journey, not mine. That means . . .

  • They need to make their own decisions. We can’t choose the college major, rent the apartment, go on the job interview, or arrange the marriage—not that I haven’t tried.
  • They need to make their own mistakes. The human race has found a million ways to screw up, and our kids are going to screw up too. We can’t pave the way to protect them from every temptation or danger.
  • They need to solve their own problems. The Band-Aid days are over. Only they can fix the roommate situation, the boss situation, the boyfriend/girlfriend situation.
  • They need to have their own relationship with Jesus. We sang a lot of Jesus songs back in the day, didn’t we? But now we need to step back. They may pray less—or more—than we do. They may exercise their faith in ways we did not—like visiting prisoners or feeding people who are unhoused. They may attend church regularly but only to make us happy. Or they may look like they’re straying when actually they and Jesus are tight.

They need to do all of this on their own. Boundaries, Mom. It’s their journey, not mine.

Sometimes, however—and this is important—they do need us. If the college debt is unbearable, the winter depression is debilitating, the substance use escalates to abuse, or the unsafe relationship has them trapped, we may need to step in. Hopefully they have the emotional bandwidth to request our help. Hopefully we have the emotional maturity to tread carefully. And between the three of us—parent, adult child, and Jesus—we can figure out a way forward.

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her familySo, what does parenting adults mean for us in the day-to-day? It means transitioning from family CEO to family consultant. It means listening instead of offering prepackaged advice. It means speaking without a tone, without guilt-tripping, without eye rolling. It means seeing them as equals—sinful just like us, forgiven just like us, hobbling along just like us.

I’ve been reading about microchimerism. It’s this cool phenomenon where sometimes a few of a child’s cells remain inside the mother long after pregnancy and childbirth—sometimes for decades. Some scientists observed these fetal cells triggering harmful reactions in the mother’s body. Others observed the fetal cells traveling to the mother’s damaged cells and helping repair them.

I don’t fully understand the science, but I like the metaphor. My adult children and I, whether we live in the same house or thousands of miles apart, are forever linked. We are occupying the same planet, and we may be interacting on a deep molecular level.

But we are still different people. Different but similiar DNA. Different gifts. Different ideas. Different plans.

God give us the grace and wisdom to let our kids be different. Let them make their own journeys, live their own lives, and become the people God made them to be.

Laurie Gauger-Hested

WHEN YOU’RE IN the thick of parenting tiny children, the long days after the sleep-deprived nights can feel endless. But then those tiny children grow. And after you’ve blinked a few times, they’re on their way out the door, ready to become adults and tackle life. Suddenly, you’re in uncharted waters, wondering where the map is for parenting a child who is chronologically an adult yet who lacks the life experience to always make wise adult decisions.

If you’ve ever thought, We need a support group for this, you aren’t alone! Parenting a child after high school is not easy. (If any of my boys are reading this, you know your dad and I love you to pieces!)

How ironic that one of the crucial goals of parenting—for our children to become independent adults—can also be one of the most gut-wrenching. The training wheels are now off, literally and figuratively. And along with that independence comes a separation: from us, from our homes, and maybe from the Christian values that we taught.

Ann Jahns and her familySo now what? First, let’s give ourselves space to mourn the end of those childhood years. As exhausting and messy as they were, there was joy in them. Now here we are, looking at them in the rearview mirror, with a bittersweet mixture of fondness and regret. Never again will we hold that toddler’s chubby hand or cradle that sleepy little body on our laps.

Our children are now young adults with school and work and life taking them away from us. As I write this, our youngest son, our baby bird, has just flown the nest. For the first time, he is out of our daily reach.

How can we stay connected, emotionally and spiritually, with our young adults when they go 5,000 or even just 5 miles away? To start, we can see them as often as possible and connect through the blessings of technology. Keep the phone calls and texts and video chats flowing.

We also need to keep conversations about Christ at the forefront. These might feel awkward at times. Let’s do it anyway. Now it’s not so much teaching and preaching, but more listening and guiding. As parents, our number-one goal is that our kids spend eternity with Jesus. That’s worth a lot of discomfort. Let’s encourage our children to find a church home where they will find the support of God’s solid Word and the fellowship of God’s people—which will not only ground them but also lift them up. In addition, we can continue to model our own church attendance and time spent in prayer and Bible reading.

And if our children’s actions don’t reflect the biblical principles with which they were raised, we need to remind them that’s not okay and why. But ultimately, they will make their own choices. And sometimes they will be the wrong ones. Regardless, let’s love our children fiercely, pray for them constantly, and turn them over to their heavenly Father, who loves them more than we do.

Parents, we do need a support group for this. It’s okay to admit it! Reach out to your pastor, church family, and other parents. Lean on one another, fill yourself up with God’s fortifying Word, and pray with—and for—one another. And don’t forget to cherish this new chapter in parenting with its unique blessings. There is joy in this new journey!

Ann Jahns

Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 108, Number 9
Issue: September 2021

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