Parenting Young Adults

When our children were little and hurting or sad, we were the ones they ran to for comfort. With their snotty noses and crocodile tears, it was our laps, our hugs and our kisses that made the ouchies all better. We made their food choices, their bed time routines and we helped them with their homework. We new what was best for them because we were older, wiser and we could tie our shoes.

We were the captains of their ships. We choose their activities, negotiated their curfews and helped them make most of their major decisions. We were taxi drivers, counsellors, coaches and dieticians. From accidents in training pants to accidents at the skate park or ball field, from bruises on elbows to the first hints of broken hearts, we were engaged and involved. From infancy through high school, we rolled with it. We tumbled along on the parenting gig. Some of the time the ride was like floating along a lazy river, but most of the time it was like careening down Thunder Mountain.

But even with the twists and turns, something about raising littles felt normal. I expected my kids to feel overwhelmed and scared starting kindergarten. I wasn’t surprised by the 8 year old girl drama of being left out of the afterschool “club.” It made sense that middle school meant crazy hormones and boys and girls growing all in different places at completely different paces. Five foot ten inch girls standing beside 5ft boys in their grade 8 school photos. I get that messiness happens. It was awkward and an unkind time, but I felt equipped to be there to encourage, support and intervene if asked.

High school brought academic stress, athletic competitions and finding their fit in different ways. Our kids began to make more mature decisions and, definitely, still did stupid now and again…thanks in part to their undeveloped frontal lobes and lack of impulse control. So there were still trips to the emergency room for stitches and bursts of tears over relationship disappointments. Our doors revolved with floods of boys and girls, eating their way through our pantry and consuming many frozen pizzas.

High school ended with the weight and worry of making post secondary decisions. But then there is this shift and things got weird. Enter the unfamiliar…

WE move to the unchartered territory of parenting adults. Our kids keep becoming the independent people we are raising them to be, but we find ourselves no longer able to be the kind of parents we have been for the last 18 or 19 years. Our parenting enters this twilight zone. Where we have been so involved, in the middle, at the helm, we begin to sense a tide turning, a drifting apart and it can be unsettling at first.

Being a Mom to a daughter who doesn’t run to your arms when she is scared or lonely or unsure, but runs back to campus, heads into the dorm and finds her friends. Being a Dad to a son who doesn’t want anything to do with the family business and chooses to work for your competition. Being a parent to a son who has chosen a wife. What do they want from us? What is expected? What is “normal?” And why do I suddenly feel lonely and not needed? Are we just the forgotten caregivers who wiped their…uhm…noses and kept them alive all these years? Now they have moved on and left us behind?

Rather than become despondent or resentful for how they are stepping into their adulthood, it might be helpful to remember a few points.

4 Things to remember when parenting young adults

#1 This is supposed to happen

Those little tears in your heart, the ones that sting when your young adults choose to spend holidays with their friends, take a gap year to travel far from home, or attend post secondary institutions across the country,… this is supposed to happen.

These stings in your heart like small paper cuts hitting salted french fries are to be expected. Heart pangs that take your breath away when you raise them up and then watch them leave…are the double edged swords that come with our roles as moms and dads. We were never meant to keep them. They are a part of His story, and we don’t know all the chapters the Father has written for them. Truth is…the Father may tell them first before we even know His plans.

We raise our children to be independent and then hold fast to their shirt tails when they try to leave. Mothering and fathering in the flesh are ending…you will no longer be the shoulder they cry on and the one they run to when they are hurting. Welcome to the new season of parenting in the Spirit.

#2 Learn to listen more than you talk

If you raised your kids to be independent, do not be suprised when they begin to share viewpoints and perspectives that are not aligned with yours. Your children are not to be conformed to the likeness of you, but of Christ. When they begin to articulate different opinions resist the temptation to make the assumption that they are wrong, in danger of failing or being impulsive. Sometimes, our fears jump up in the way when our kids have innovative ways of thinking. We become so afraid of their failure, we get in the way of allowing our kids to learn, or allowing Jesus to teach them. They do not need your criticism or unsolicited advice.

They will take too many courses one semester and be really stressed, exhausted and irritable when they come home for Christmas break. Resist the temptation to say, “I told you, six courses was going to be too much!” Don’t be that parent. Let the exhaustion be the lesson. Listening is a lost art and a highly effective tool that builds trust and intimacy.

#3 Land Your Helicopters

They still need you. It just looks different. Allow them to do their own problem solving. Landing your helicopter on the college property intervening on their behalf is never a good idea. Emailing their teachers to let them know that they were too sick to complete the assignment is expected when they are in grade school, but frowned upon when they are old enough to buy beer.

Your sons and daughters will be more apt to appreciate your input when they ask for it. Limit the emails and texts asking if they are alright. Let them work out roommate issues, class assignments and communication with professors.

#4 Let them make mistakes

We learn from our mis-steps. Part of the challenge is having years of experience tell us that the decisions we see our young adults making may not be fruitful or successful. The same principle that applied when they were learning to ride a bike, applies as they begin adulthood. They will fall off a couple of times before they get the hang of what to do. We are not serving them well when we catch them every time they start to wobble.

Parenting in the Spirit

The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances

Elizabeth Elliot

When I notice that icky feeling of dread or disappointment and relate this to a distance I feel with one of my young adult children, I go to Jesus. I thank him for the incredible humans, my people are becoming. I ask Him to keep them safe, keep them close to His heart. I ask Him to show up in their lives, that my son’s and daughter and our daughter-in-law would have sensitive ears to hear the Father’s voice and sharpened vision to see where He is directing them to go. I pray that their decisions would be filled with wisdom and revelation that comes out of their relationship with the Father.

I ask Jesus for words of encouragement for my kids. When I hear something for them, I share it. Usually this is a quick text letting them know that I pray for them and they don’t have to respond. They are familiar with this enough that they may give me an emoji back, but know I am not hurt if they just read it. And I know I have dropped a truth bomb their way that will encourage and build them up.

I want them to know that He has given them everything they need for life and godliness. I want them to know who the Father says they are…that their identity is rooted and grounded in Him. I want them to know that He is their soft landing place. They can always come home (parenting young adult children living at home is a whole other blog), but when they know the love of God goes with them whereever they go, I begin to feel relieved.

And I try to find opportunities to tell my young adults how excited I am to see them doing life. Gratitude, hope and expectation come with trusting that God has a plan for their lives and that it is good because He is good.

When I am overcome with fear, I recognize this as from the dark side…and remind myself that the Father has not given me a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind. The enemy uses fear as a weapon and he can be quite effective to keep us distracted and anxious as your kids leave home telling us all sort of lies. Resist him with truth and he will flee from you. Our kids are safe with Him…the enemy will lie to you and tell you that only you can protect them. That is a lie.

But there are no short-cuts. Parenting in the spirit requires you to be living in the spirit. So go to Jesus and tell Him this transition is hard, it hurts and ask Him to give you what you need to let go.

Side note: My Personal Perspective

This is what adults do…they grow up, move out and build their lives. Not extensions of our lives or families, but truly, they are meant to create and build their own. That isn’t a popular opinion. I am ok if you do not agree with my perspective. I disagree with the slogan that when we marry our spouses, we marry into their families. Our family didn’t just gain another member when our son got married.

I didn’t gain a daughter. I have given birth to one daughter. I do have a daughter-in-law, a lovely young woman who loves my son. She does not need to call me Mom. She has a Mom. I am ok with whatever she feels comfortable calling me.

Together, they are creating a family. We get to watch, cheer them on and likely be invited into many of the major milestones and events. But this will be from their choice not obligation. Manipulation and motivation through guilt will tear down the relationship…this is the enemy’s tactic.

Our son and his wife chose one another and created a separate branch of Dahl’s. This was how it is supposed to happen. No longer am I the secret keeper, the confidante or the first to know. I have hit the finish line on that one…and the next leg of that race will be run by the lovely woman he chose as his bride. Isaiah’s first stop with all the private places of his heart will be his wife.

They are starting something new grafting into a tree, not an extension of the family of Ryan and Tracey Dahl, but of the new branch of Isaiah and Julia Dahl. They need to know they are free to start their own traditions, choose where to spend the holidays and decide for themselves what their family will look like.

I hope to have exceptional relationships with my kids’ spouses, but my children will start families of their own, independent of the one where they were raised. Their relationships with their spouses are primary. The two shall become one flesh. It will be their family first…not ours. I can feel the squirm as you are reading and digesting these thoughts and like I said, I am ok having a different perspective than you.

I imagine I will blog more about just this…there is so much more here for me to share.

-from my experience because, I too, married a son


the wife of one’s child

One thought on “Parenting Young Adults

  • “I want them to know that He is their soft landing place.” Tracey, this is such a good reminder! Though I am sometimes the pillow, their soft landing place is always their heavenly father … who loves them so much more than me. When we used to have to fill an earthquake kit for our kids at elementary school, I always ended the note that I placed in it with the words, “I love you, but God loves you more.” Those were such easy words to say at a stage when I was the hands and feet of God (to bandage the ouie, wipe the tears). It is harder to put into practise at this stage … I kinda like to grab them back from His hands. Sigh … you (once again) have spoken to my momma heart. Love to you, as you walk through this new wooded trail.

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