This issue of parenting adults and the challenges that ensue doing it began to occur to me as my children entered into their mid-20’s, as they graduated from university and began their careers and their adult relationships. Basically, they began their adult lives.
I consider parenting to be a primary focus of my life. In fact, it is probably the most important role that I’ve had in my life, more important in many ways than my career as a nurse educator. When my children were young, I was very fortunate to be able to stay home with them and I was active in the parent organizations affiliated with their schools and programs. There is a huge amount of literature about parenting children, and I took my role seriously, reading a lot of the literature, going to listen to speakers on various parenting topics, and talking with other parents about the various parenting choices that we had to make as we raised our kids.
I always thought that parenting would be pretty much over by the time my children were 20 years old or so, and I wouldn’t have to worry too much about them after that! Although it’s true that active parenting drops off tremendously after our children reach their 20’s, the worrying doesn’t seem to stop! As I reached this stage, I started to find that the choices that my children made in their adult lives were not necessarily the ones that I or my husband would have made. And yet, we always believed, and still do, that it was important that they make their own decisions as adults. We tried to guide them when asked, but our role changed from the active one that we had when they were young. As they were growing up we were responsible for making the best decisions we could with regard to their education, their recreational activities, and their safety day to day.We also tried to instil in them values that we felt were of major importance – values such as integrity and kindness, and I believe that we were successful in doing that. But once they reached adulthood, and went off to university and beyond, our role as parents changed from being active day to day to more of a supportive one.
So – what do I mean by expectations? Most parents, in my experience, have expectations of their children. Some have more expectations than others, but I believe that we all have some expectations of our kids. I have met very few people who don’t expect anything from their children. What kind of expectations? There is a wide range of them. The one that struck me first as a parent were expectations in terms of their careers or work. My husband and I didn’t have specific expectations as some parents do – for example, we didn’t insist that they go into professional careers, as we did. There are many parents, especially those who are professionals themselves, for whom this is very important. Or some parents have not been able to be professionals themselves, but they are insistent that their children fulfill this dream. Or it may be that there is a family business that the parents expect will be carried on by their children. In fact, my husband and I were quite open about what our children did for their careers. Our main concern was that they would be able to pick a career that would enable them to live comfortably financially, and that they would enjoy. We didn’t want to force our children into a career or type of work that they didn’t want to do, and then blame us years later for being miserable. We tried to guide them where possible, but we supported them in choosing work that they would like to do, even if it was not as lucrative as other types of work might be.
I have met a number of people who have not done this, and who have been adamant that their children pick the careers that they want them to do. Sometimes this works out well, especially if their children have an interest in that career, and have the ability or talent to do it. However, we have seen where this has not worked out well at all. I know of several cases where children have not wanted to do what their parents have chosen for them, but they have had to go along with their parents choices, in order to get their support both emotionally and financially, but in the end they are not happy and eventually they change what they’re doing to what they really want to do. One instance that stands out in my mind is someone who wanted to be an artist, but his father was insistent that he become a doctor like he was. The son did not do well in sciences, and not long after he entered a science program in university, he quit (or failed, I’m not sure which), and decided to pursue his dream to be an artist. He actually went on to become a very good artist and has had a great career as such.
Careers are only one type of expectation that parents often have of their children. There are many others, such as cultural or religious expectations, e.g. parents expect that their children will follow the same religion or culture that they were born into, and marry someone from the same background. Sometimes parents find that their children have different lifestyle choices than they have e.g. they don’t want to get married or have children. Or they may have a different sexual orientation, e.g. being gay or lesbian – which is not a choice but is not usually the expectation that their parents had of them.
So – the big question that I have struggled with for the past ten years or so is this: are parents responsible for their children’s lifestyle choices? I don’t believe so, and I also don’t believe that there is any way to ensure that our children do what we expect them to do.
One of the things that really got me thinking about this was about 8 years ago when someone said to me that the fact that a doctor’s children became doctors themselves was evidence that the parents had done a terrific job. This upset me, and I responded in a question “Does that mean that if their children had not become doctors or professionals that the parents did not do a good job?” Some might believe this, but I certainly don’t.
I believe that being a good parent includes understanding your children, and listening to what they say about what they want to do in their lives. Our oldest son is very artistic and was passionate about movies and writing from a young age. We had him audition for a wonderful art program in high school, which he got into, and he loved it. At the time, some friends and other parents that we knew made comments that they would never allow their children to go into an arts program since they would never be able to make a living at it. But we could see how much our son loved the arts, and we are very glad that we were able to give him the opportunity to go into this program. He has a career as a copywriter, and the other students in his class have gone on to pursue all kinds of careers, some in the arts and some not. But in any case, he loved his high school years and learned a great deal from them.
These are just some of the thoughts that I’ve had about this whole issue of parenting adults. I will be adding much more to this blog in future, but for now, I’d be interested in hearing some feedback.