You don't get "done" parenting when your child turns 18 or 21...
Occasionally when I tell my friends something about my relationship with my son,age 28, who is a recovering alcoholic-drug addict, they might respond saying, "Well, he's an adult and..." As though his physical age removes my parental responsibility. So I've asked myself, "What is my responsibility regarding my son?" He doesn't think or behave like an adult in many ways. He is self-absorbed and often thoughtless. He is missing many life skills. I have had a role in shaping his character, I've owned that in another post on this site. My parenting influence was in many ways destructive, although at the time I was unaware of it.
What can I do now? I can recognize my role in the cycle of child abuse perpetrated in my family. My parents abused me, my mother was abused as a child. I can stop being afraid to look at myself- I can own what I did. I can resolve to face the pain of regret without guilt. Over the years I have made many positive changes, I am no longer mentally unstable or abusive, I do my best to be open to my son and to guide him only as he requests my advice. As we go forward, I will continue to learn healthier, more effective ways to be present in his life. My condition as a stage four breast cancer patient has provided me the opportunity to clarify what is most important in my life. My relationship with my son is high on that list.
When children struggle, I think it affects the whole family. Each situation is different, I do not believe there are many easy answers. But, I believe we are parents for life, spiritual companions who can learn and grow from each other. We don't stop being parents, but over time our roles change, phases come and go. When adult children do not thrive- when they are repeatedly unkind, thoughtless, demanding and/or refuse to participate in the family group, or when they are rejecting, or when they make bad mistakes, it isn't always time to shut them out. It is time to model positive problem-solving skills. Children in these situations are often mirrors for the family. We have had a role in shaping their characters, and if they are missing skills, such as sensitivity to others, personal direction, responsibility, gratitude, etc. we do have to look at ourselves. Perhaps these skills could have been in place years earlier, but it is not too late to try to intervene- especially, if the adult child is living with you.
For me, it is about remaining open to growth, to doing the work to make my own changes, and healing. This loving energy will flow toward my son, and will offer him the encouragement that change can be made at any time. There are many things in life that we can't control. But, if we are open to what we can do, even the worst situations may have a chance of improving. Our children have to do the work themselves, we can't do it for them. But we can model how to cope with adversity, make and correct mistakes, create changes and maintain balance. My responsibility as a parent of an adult child, then, is to be sure to take good care of myself (so that I can be there for others); to honor the spiritual role given me as his parent, do my own work and make my own changes, do my best to find balance, remain open to him, assist in ways that encourage growth of independence and foster life skills, notice and cheer his progress, and support his growing sense of personal identity. I've probably left alot out, but these are my thoughts tonight.