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The Endless Road of Parenting

While we all know that parenting never ends, many of us anticipated the amount of energy we expended to level off.  Yet the reality is a see-saw: as physical demands lessen—laundry, cooking, supervising schoolwork—there’s a corresponding increase in the emotional toll— careers, romances, general happiness.

And money? Financial advisors tell us that the two “biggest raises” we will ever receive are when we finish paying for college and the mortgage.  That might have been true before the recession boomeranged kids home and resulted in even independent children needing financial help, but no longer.

This seemingly endless parenting was lamented by journalist Wendy Dennis in “Parenting Challenges Lie Beyond Adolescence.” With refreshing bluntness, Ms. Dennis admits that she is not happy about the ongoing neediness from adult children; she has other plans:

Mothers are supposed to long to be needed, and indeed, many do. While it’s impolitic to say so in the current climate, what with the Ministry of Motherhood issuing Taliban-esque decrees on attachment parenting, many mothers have other priorities–especially in the third act of their lives.

As a long-time proponent of detachment parenting, I’d flunk out as a young mother today…Not only do kids need to separate. At a certain point, you want them to bugger off.

While not all parents react as strongly as Ms. Dennis, many do get used to the quiet of the empty nest and feel their lives are rudely disrupted when children come back.  So what to do?  Ms Dennis suggests taking a lesson from the kids:

Our only defense is to retreat to our rooms, crank up the music, and hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. At least we know the strategy works.

That might for awhile.  But we know the children are out there and as much as we blast the music, we can still “hear” them, especially if one is in pain. It turns out that “You’re only as happy as your least happy child” is unfortunately all too true, according to a new study.  Even if other children are successful and settled that one unhappy child can cause depression and increased worry for parents. Why do our children continue to extract an emotional toll?  Karen Fingerman, a University of Texas at Austin professor who lead the study, suggested:

“It could be the case that parents empathize with their children’s distress, they are embarrassed that their relationships with these grown children suffer, or that grown children who have problems may place excessive demands on the parents.”

So we can hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign but most likely we will still feel  the pain of our adult child.   Of course there are ways to lessen the emotional burden. For suggestions watch Kris Jenner, mother of the difficult Kardashian siblings: spend money, get a facelift.

As usual, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to emotionally needy adult children.   However some of those suggestions for little kids with little problems might also prove useful for parenting big kids with big problems: Don’t give into tantrums, limit the length of a discussion,  take a timeout, count to three and see if they stop whining, vent to a friend, and  most important, make time for yourself, you’ve earned it. Also remember hugs still soothe, no matter the age of the child!

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