You are as happy as your least happy child.
Erma Bombeck
Also attributed to Sarah Payne Stuart

When my sons were young I had this naïve belief that once they turned 18 they would be adults and I would be free of worry and fretting. My job was to keep them healthy and safe – alive in fact, until they turned 18. I did not fret the bumps along the way when they were small because I knew at the end of the day they were home and most of their problems were within my capacity to solve.

Adolescence is a game changer for most parents because we are not there to look over our children’s shoulders.  But I would say most parents are not prepared for the parenting role to continue long after their children turn age 18- even when things are going pretty well.

Small children, small problems; big children, bigger problems. It is a fact of life. A small child is put to bed- perhaps under protest- but you know where they are and that they are OK. Not so much with older children and not at all with adult children.

Although children legally become adults at age 18, from a brain development (cognitive) perspective they are only half way through adolescence. The adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until about age 25 so the process of adolescence is a long one. Even with this fact taken into account, however, we stand witness to the challenges and opportunities our offspring experience. And that can occur well past age 25 given the completely different opportunities- or lack thereof- that today’s young adults face.

Having adult children can be one of those Surprised by Joy kinds of experiences. You come to realize with no small amount of awe, what extraordinary individuals they are and you can have the most wonderful times together. In fact it is terrific to extricate oneself from the typical parent child role sometimes and enjoy an adult to adult conversation with this young person who happens to be your child.

While many young adults are doing well, the way forward for some is not smooth and parents live through these experiences along with their adult children unsure of the role they should play as parents. The issues are varied for adult children: significant challenges (employment, health issues including mental health, interpersonal matters and so on) associated with much struggling. Some are exercising questionable judgement- blithely approaching a fork in the road of life and heading in the direction of heartache, misery, and costly errors. It’s like watching someone walk off a cliff. Many are simply trying to find out who they are and their place in the world.  Some call out for help; others are silent; and some push us away. What to do?

(See part 2)


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