…Big kids, Big problems. We’ve all heard—or muttered—that saying. In a painfully honest essay, writer Susan Engel expanded on the theme in “When They’re Grown, the Real Pain Begins.” A developmental psychologist and mother of three sons, aged 19 to 28, Ms. Engel navigated her way through their hectic childhoods believing that once she sent them off to college, she could relax and more fully enjoy motherhood. But she learned, as many of us know, that motherhood can be more trying with adult children rolling through life’s peaks and valleys, not wanting nor needing our help.
Then when bad things happen to good people, Ms. Engel writes, “They need you like crazy, but you discover that the kind of help you’ve spent 25 years learning how to give is no longer helpful.” Last year, one of her sons was devastated by physical, emotional and career setbacks. Ms. Engel herself had a run of misfortune. She felt adrift until she talked to other parents and realized they too had “similar tales of anguish.”
And what of her son? He managed to pull his life back together and as he was doing so called his mom mid-crisis. As she jumped into solve-it mode, he stopped her:
“Mom,” he said, “when I tell you what’s wrong, I don’t want you to tell me how to fix it, and I don’t want you to tell me it’s not as bad as I think. I just want your sympathy.” I was stunned. Sympathy? That’s all he wanted? I could do that.
That, and a little meditation gets her through these days!
The piece generated more than 600 comments, with a surprising number with snide remarks. However, many did include nuggets of wisdom for parents of adult children and we share them here:
- I think it can be hard for parents to forget that struggles in your 20s and even 30s are totally normal and don’t necessarily need to be “solved” or “triaged” by an outside party.
- It’s painful to me to see how many parents feel it’s their duty to meddle in the lives of their adult offspring.
- Our children’s setbacks are what makes them strong & able adults, not a care-free, problem-free (or problem-solved-by-mom) life. Sympathize, but help when it’s wanted & needed, not for the sake of helping.
- Yes, it is painful to see someone you love struggle and suffer, but you never know how that effort is forging a loving, wise, capable being who can truly be a blessing to those around him or her.
- …During my college years and into my 20s, I only called with bad news, never good, and didn’t have the consideration to call and report that the problem, whatever it was, had been solved so she [my mother] always worried waaaaay longer than necessary.
- It’s the hardest phase of parenting for me. And it’s made all the harder because you feel so isolated. People almost never talk about the struggles of their adult children because to do so is to ‘admit’ you’ve failed as a parent, & folks can be VERY judgmental in ways they never are if you have a struggling 8 year old.
- “Don’t hope for anything.” [with adult children]Perhaps the best parenting advice I’ve ever read. If only I knew how to follow it…