Friday, June 13, 2014

Talking About Grown Kids

Several months ago I asked my friends and family on Facebook what they thought I should talk about via my blog. My sister in law posted “grown kids!” A request made weeks before her youngest child, who had survived his older sister by twenty years, died of a heroin overdose. Yesterday, along with a picture of her son and daughters graves, she E mailed “This is what my life with kids is reduced to...tending grave sites. I can't stand it.” 
I’m going to write about grown kids, for my sister in law. Who will be tending the graves of her only children until her death. Who will face every mother’s day, every holiday, and her children’s birthdays with nothing but memories of them, and gravesites. I will write about grown kids because “there but for the grace of God go I”.   

Grown Kids 

People with little kids don’t know how those of us with grown kids are watching them. Watching them try so hard. Believing they have answers their own parents and their friends parents didn’t. Believing their kids won’t be drug addicted because mom is going to be home and not working, or working and not home. Because they are going to home school. Because they, unlike us, understand that you can’t spank or you have to spank or you need to let kids have a voice or kids need to be seen and not heard. Parents of children not yet grown are always going to do it better than we did.  

No they’re not.  
There are reasons why the person who is in and out of jail has a sibling who’s a healthy functioning adult. Because children are people to. They are individuals. They are affected by their peers, their teachers, strangers, neighbors, television, books, and most of all by their perceptions of the world around them.  

There is only so much a parent contributes to the life of a grown child.  

The parent of young children who is determined to not parent the way their parents did, has no idea how their children will respond to that. They decide to live in the same house in the same neighborhood for the duration of their child’s schooling because they moved around a lot growing up. Unbeknownst to them their child would have been better off in a different city in a different kind of school.  

I’m largely convinced that one of my daughters would have been better off had I not moved out of the low income school district we lived in when she was very young. She was at the top of the heap in that hood. With the nicest home, the nicest clothes, and parents who supervised her. It made her special. She needed to be special. We moved to a much “better” neighborhood when she was in fourth grade. One where less than 10% of the school received free lunch as opposed to the 80% at her prior school. In that neighborhood she felt “less than”. Everyone else’s houses were nicer, clothes were nicer, they’re mothers didn’t work, and they took trips to exotic places on school break. She spent the rest of her school years trying to live up to her peers and in her opinion, failing miserably. Go fucking figure.  

The things I thought I was doing right when my kids were little turned out to be either totally wrong or not that important to them in the long run. Neither of them followed my lead in regards to exercise, no cigarettes and healthy diets. Something I believed was incredibly important to their overall development and would carry them into adulthood. I might as well have just fed them hot dogs for dinner every night and chain smoked.

My husband and his ex-wife DID feed one of their son’s hot dogs with mac and cheese for dinner every night. It’s all the kid wanted and they allowed it, making a separate meal for the rest of the family. I’d have thought they were nuts and never ever allowed it. Today that kid is an uber fit sports competitor and healthy eater. Go fucking figure.  

There is only so much a parent contributes to the life of a grown child. 

I’m not absolving abusive or neglectful parents. I spent many career years trying to repair the damage parents can do. I’m not writing about those grown children. The ones whose parents were so bad they deeply scarred them in ways that other people can’t fathom. I’m writing about all the others.  

Over the years I’ve developed a theory. The theory: there are two types of parents. The really bad ones and all the rest. I have never known a parent, professionally or personally, that I would say is “the one”. The one that all parents should model themselves after. The reason I’ve never met them? It’s simple. The perfect parent for one child is not the perfect parent for another.  

I was the “put your oxygen mask on yourself first” mother.  Among many things it meant that when I realized my marriage was bad for “me” I left. One of my daughters barely noticed, other than how it affected things important to her. Like not being able to afford cable television. I can say with 95% confidence that her parents’ divorce did not affect her development in any direction. The other was absolutely devastated. For nearly a year after the divorce she carved broken hearts into walls and furniture. If she wasn’t carving she was tearing family pictures up. She didn’t smile for a long time.  

Had I known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have left. Would staying have made her adult life any easier or better? I don’t know. Now days she can’t even imagine her father and I together. Seeing us for the people we are instead of just her parents.  

Those of us with grown kids spend a lot of time questioning our parenting then and now. I would suggest we stop that. It’s too late to change anything. Our “kids” are no longer kids. They are grownups. They have the same amount of responsibility for themselves that we do. They are not simply products of our parenting. They are products of a ginormous universe. A universe that includes DNA. A universe that with any luck, they will live in without us someday. They will make their way as best they can just like everyone else in the world does. Just like we do.  

Your adult child’s life will become what they make of it, not what you make of it. So give yourself a break.





1 comment:

  1. I believe that successful adults start out as children who are supported by adults. Not told what to do or how to act but supported in their journey in identifying a healthy sense of self and having an idea what is wrong and what is right. I don't think that using drugs is wrong, I think it is a bad choice and everyone makes them. I believe intentionally hurting people is mean but also a bad choice. I also believe that children are innately good and learn more from watching, especially in the early years when their brains are doing the most growing, than from being "taught." I think that the best things we can do for children is to be the people we want them to be.
    Success is also a perception that is not the same for everyone. I think that if I am happy in my own skin and in the relationships that I choose to partake in I am a successful adult. I do not go on exotic vacations. I read books and spend quality time with my family.
    I am truly convinced that there are no perfect parents only parents who try hard and think of their children as people too rather than objects. I know that I will watch Keaton as an adult and be able to pin point several things that I wish I had done differently.