Being best friends with your young adult children

The relationship between parents and children, especially with teenaged and young adult children, must be like that between good friends. There must always be honest conversations, mutual respect and the freedom for both parents and children to make informed choices.
A young friend who is in a relationship is pregnant. She has been carrying on with her boyfriend without her parents’ knowledge because she is certain of her father’s disapproval. Now, with the pregnancy coming up, she’s at a loss on how to handle the situation. She’s all confused and depressed. She’s not sure she wants to marry her boyfriend. “At least, I am not ready for marriage just now,” she says. And she’s fearful of her father’s reaction should he come to know of her pregnancy. She’s thinking of aborting the pregnancy but is apprehensive of both the process and her ability to deal with it. She’s the only child of her parents and feels guilty that she has perhaps let them down.
My wife and I advised her to take one step at a time. Since she’s clear she doesn’t want to get married immediately, she has to think only about having the baby or aborting the pregnancy. If she chooses to have the baby, she will have to keep her parents informed. And if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy, she can choose to be transparent with her parents and seek their support or she can go through the procedure with her boyfriend by her side. Whatever she chooses to do, our young friend has to own the outcome of her choices. She can’t escape it. That’s what we told her. We also helped her understand that there was nothing immoral about being in a relationship or having premarital sex or even getting pregnant. All these experiences are part of growing up in Life! What is important is that she treats everything she’s going through as a learning experience and simply moves on, without imagining social stigma and being ridden with guilt over letting her parents down. In fact, we advised her to have a heart-to-heart chat with her parents. She’s old enough (she’s 26) to be able to tell them what she wants to do with her Life. Even if she chooses to continue be in a relationship, without a commitment to marrying her boyfriend, we felt, she must keep her parents informed. The key is to be able to convince her parents of her ability to live with consequences of the choices she makes – whatever they may be. Well, if her parents remain unsupportive and unconvinced, she can still go live her Life the way she wants.
I think all of us parents who have young adult children have to understand that we cannot expect our children to necessarily toe our line. Not anymore. They are independent people in their own right, and they must be allowed to evolve into confident folks who lead their lives on their own terms. And all young adults who are beginning to explore Life through relationships have to realize that it is perfectly alright if they choose not to take their parents’ advice on any subject – be it relationships, marriage, career or investments or anything. However, they must have the courage to stand and live by those choices. And if their decisions backfire, if they fail at something they try to do or if they get into an emotionally messy situation, they must have the option to share their experiences with their parents. This is not so much to do a post-mortem but to help distil and imbibe the learnings better. This calls for an open, nurturing environment, a great friendship and mutual respect – not fear and reticence – in the relationship between parents and their young adult children.
Life is a continuous learning experience. Every choice you make leads you to an outcome. Both the experience and the result teach you something. It is through these learnings, often coming from failing and falling down, just as they do from succeeding and flying high, that you grow and evolve in Life. I don’t think any parent, however caring and experienced, can ever simulate a learning for a young adult child by substituting a Life experience with (sound) advice. Further, what happened to you – a relationship break-up or divorce or a business failure – need not necessarily happen to your young adult children. Each person has a Life path that is unique. So, don’t try to come in the way of your young adult children. Teach them however to be strong and to face their realities and own their outcomes. And tell them they are welcome home even if they should come back battle-weary, bruised and battered. Never tell them “I told you so” when they fail at something, instead tell them to get up, dust themselves, take it easy and move on. Being your young adult child’s best friend is a privilege. Don’t lose it by trying to be an over-protective, over-zealous parent!

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Celebrate the diversity in people

Learn to accept people for who they are. Don’t try to get them to fit into your idea of who you want them to be. Expecting people to be any different from what they are is a sure way of making yourself miserable. This particularly applies in a family context where people despite all the closeness still have some very different ways of thinking and living. Maturity demands that in such situations you simply let people be.
Yesterday a friend of mine said he was having serious challenges in “controlling” his 18-year-old son. The boy apparently had little interest in academics. And his parents’ paranoia was only making him more rebellious. I told my friend that the problem lay in him trying to “control” his son. I have found that as children grow up to be young adults, parents too must grow up. We have to recognize that our ‘kids’, when they are young adults, don’t need us to support or protect them. What they expect from us is that we respect their integrity, their intellect and their privacy. Being available to them is what they will value more than being there all the time all over, and around, them!
I have another friend who has a pretty interesting way of dealing with diversity in his immediate circle. Within his family, he has told everyone that they are free to do whatever they want as long as they don’t interfere with whatever he is doing. Everyone meets every quarter and reviews this arrangement in a mature manner and if there are new agreements to be arrived at, they do draw them up. Result: there’s complete peace and harmony even as people do their own stuff. For instance, my friend is either out trekking or racing in car rallies, while his wife undertakes pilgrimages even as she runs a business, and his children are busy building their own careers having chosen their companions without having to toe a ‘family’ line. The family does converge on common vacation times annually or simply gets together some weekends to goof off. But they do it more as friends than as people having to live under the influence or shadow of each other.
People, including children, don’t need to, and can’t, be controlled. They can only be conversed with. You can share a point of view. Either there can be agreement or disagreement. If you disagree, fine, agree to do so. Recognize that it is perfectly fine to disagree.  Just don’t grieve over the disagreement.
Let’s celebrate the diversity in people around us. This celebration is what will make living a pleasant experience!