While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On being a good parent to adult children: It’s a huge job! When my three children were in their late 20s and moving into places of their own, I was shocked to discover that in order to meet my goal of having adult, pleasant relationships with each other, I had to learn an entirely new phase of parenting. I had to learn that I couldn’t know where they were at all times and be with them every time they were sick or injured. I faked it until I made it, and eventually it became OK with me, in fact it was kind of a relief.
I did three things: I gave myself the gift of going back into therapy; I reread, twice, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish; and I asked them to teach me how to be a good parent to them as adults. They began with specific instructions: “You don’t need to put that Spider-Man candle on my birthday cake anymore,” “When you’re wondering what to give me as a birthday gift, just think of what you’d give your girlfriend when you take her to lunch on her birthday — one card and one good book,” “No more than three gifts per kid on Christmas.” I’ve learned to text. I’ve learned to not take the occasional non-reply personally. I say I love you.
We agreed to give each other the freedom to ask each other anything and to tell the other we don’t want to talk about it. I also learned to tell them what I need. They know I have a timer that goes off when suddenly I feel like it’s been too long since we’ve talked or visited. I tell them every time this happens. They honor my deepest happiness in visiting with them all together — I delight in observing their adult sibling interactions — and we also make a point of getting together as just the two of us.
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We’ve agreed to tell each other ahead of time if either of us has an agenda when arranging a meeting: “There’s something I want to talk about.” The invitee then has the chance to ask about the agenda item, thereby no agenda items are ever sprung unannounced at our get-togethers. We do not gossip about each other. We agreed that sarcasm was not funny.
Some years along the way have been far, far less than ideal. We’ve weathered some of the worst things imaginable. I’ve coined the phrase Life is Approximate.
I have been astonished to discover that, as much as I longed for each adorable stage of their development to last, that astonishment never stopped. They continue to seem ever more fascinating and beautiful to me. I believe I am achieving my goal in parenting my three 30-somethings: Every time we part, I want them to have the subconscious thought that they’d like to see me again.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.