The Third Third

Walking on Eggshells and Biting My Tongue

My family is in transition. Again. Or still. Like most transitions, this one is messy and not very comfortable. I am ready, indeed impatient, to get wherever it is we are going in our relationships. It is clear, however, that I am not in charge, except with regard to meals, supplies, maintenance, and logistics when we’re all together. We no longer have children; we have daughters and a son ranging in age from 25 to 35 -- independent, well-educated, caring, interesting young adults who live across the country and have traveled the world. I like them a lot. I love them. I’m proud of them. I miss the intensity of being as much a part of their lives as I was until they left home at 18. But I don’t want to live with them anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m ready to retire from parenting, and I suspect two or three of them have fired me already. Yet, we’re all being fairly selective, picking and choosing which roles I might retain and which I must relinquish as we redefine how Family works, once we’re all grown up. Two new books tell me I’m not alone. One (by Jane Isay) is called *Walking on Eggshells; Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents*. The second, by Ruth Nemzoff, takes a more aggressive approach, at least in terms of its title: *Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children*. Both speak to the changing demographics of both generations – to the extended adolescence and delayed childbearing of theirs and to the healthier, more active lifestyle of our third thirds. Both also speak to our yearning, as “good parents,” to maintain good relationships with these young people in whom we have invested so much. And they have a few words to say about our overindulgences, our over-investment in our children, and our difficulty adjusting to our progeny’s choices that are not only different from ours, but at times seem an outright rejection of them. A voice in the back of my head shouts, “Get a Life! Get over it! Let it go!” The problem is, I thought I did that, once. I was really pretty comfortable in the Empty Nest. I liked having my own time and my own space and the freedom to lock up the house and leave, to take a class, or a trip, or a writing assignment. I thought I excelled, actually, at “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” parenting. But that was then, when the last one left for college. It’s now that they’ve all left school for the “Real World” that I’m having more trouble, that I am, in fact, walking on eggshells and biting my tongue whenever we’re together and I’m not at all happy about it or satisfied. And to the extent that these were my most important relationships for such a long time, it grieves me that they seem so difficult now. I wonder, as a parent, what went wrong and, as a mother, (naturally), what I did to screw up something that was, once, so wonderful. OK, as a mother, too, I sure would like to be able to \"fix\" it. I think it comes down to this, though: How do I nurture my relationship with our adult children without the sacrifice of self it once took? What\'s the next stage in our development as Family? Family Reconstituted, to be sure. I’m reading the books. In the meantime, I’m going to throw out a question for your counsel and insight. *What have you found to be fertile ground for developing new ways of relating to your adult children? If you’re no longer the bank-roller, the disciplinarian, the source of approval, and the Safe Place, what are you, and how does that work?* Please feel free to ask your own questions and contribute your own advice in the Comment space below.
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