Don’t come in the way of your young adult child’s need to experience Life.
My friend and his young adult daughter had a spat. She wanted to go for a late night party. And he did not want her to go. She called him names and abused him using expletives. Their fight became public knowledge with him sharing the entire episode on Facebook. While of my friend’s friends advised him to take a chill pill, take it easy and let his daughter have her share of fun, a few commented otherwise. They felt children had no right to “ill treat” their parents. Someone even said that children must not cross the line that parents draw for them.
I find this whole episode avoidable. It is an unevolved perspective that everyone connected with this incident seems to be bringing to the table. Why should any parent impose restrictions on an adult child? That the child used expletives, as claimed by the parent, is a clear sign that they both need to have a conversation not just on how to express themselves but also on values. Why should the parent rush to post this episode on Facebook? And finally how can it be insisted that adult children must toe the line of their parents? Are adult children individuals in their own right?
I am not discounting that any parent has a concern for their child’s safety – whether the child is old enough or not! Even so, adult children demand dignity, empowerment, trust and freedom. And in my personal opinion, from experience, I can say that when entrusted with responsibility, they always take pretty good care of themselves. On her return home from her first late night out, when she was in her first year in college, Vaani and I spoke to our daughter Aanchal on why hanging out late can be both fun and risky. So, we shared some tips to make the experience easier for her and for us. After that night, she has always handled her late nights, her safety and her timings remarkably well.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter whether someone is an adult or a minor, a parent or an adult child, trust is integral to make people behave responsibly. When you tell someone you trust them you are inviting them to act with both empowerment and prudence. This is the only way forward to make relationships thrive.
Of course, when someone you trust lets you down or if they are circumstantially challenged to be unable to live up to your trust, then you must have honest conversations. You must invite them, while being compassionate, to introspect and course correct. And if they have a genuine reason for whatever happened to them, demonstrate more trust in them by being patient with their situation. At the end of the day, people are shaped by the experiences they go through and not only by the advice they receive.
So, coming back to this instance of parenting adult children, don’t come in the way of their need to experience Life on their terms. Just be available for them, to hug them and take them home, if ever they stumble or fall.
A switch in attitude is crucial to “handling adulting s**t” as you enter your 20s!
The other day, at a café, I overheard two young people in their early 20s talk about how complex adulting is. They shared with each other the challenges of having to manage paying their bills, balance their cash-on-hand situation, their pay slips and tax returns; and also plan their investments in gadgets, vacations and wardrobes. It wasn’t that I was eavesdropping. But they were talking loudly – enough to distract me from checking Facebook on my phone! One of them added that she wasn’t ready for marriage yet because she wasn’t quite sure she could handle all this “adulting s**t”! “I can’t now start raising babies when I myself have not grown up from being a baby,” she remarked.
I found the whole perspective amusing. I met Vaani when I was 19, I proposed to her when I was 20 and we married when I was 21. We had Aashirwad when I was 23 and she was 24 – she is a year older than I am! I don’t want to sound like a boring old man now and say how small our monthly income then was and how we managed and blah! But instead I want to say that adulting is so much fun.
I guess it clearly depends on how you look at it. Having been under the watchful care of parents for almost 20 years (I always feel Indian parents too should embrace the American way of sending away their kids into the big world when they turn 17), our children tend to take for granted a sense of security. This, besides the fact that almost everything – housing, food, out-of-pocket expenses and education – are taken care of. There is always this attitude that most urban Indian children, coming from middle-class and upper middle-class backgrounds, have: they are groomed, raised and tuned to ask, is everything ready for me? When they step into independent adult Life, they are perhaps not even attitudinally ready. They ought to be thinking, feeling and saying, am I ready for everything, in fact, anything? This orientation, this switch, is crucial to be adult-ready!
I believe as parents we have to engineer this switch in attitude. No serious preparation is required. Just honest conversations – not only on how money is earned and bills are paid, but also on relationships, the upheavals of Life, on compassion, love, loving, relationships and the Purpose of Life itself. We did that a lot, and still do that, with our children Aashirwad and Aanchal. When Aash went away to University of Chicago he was barely 18. He wasn’t ready then to absorb perhaps everything that we were sharing with him, but his “adventures through adulting”, I guess, helped him connect the dots. For Aanchal, just her physically being with us as we navigate a tumultuous, cathartic phase in our Life, (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), helped her grow into being adult-ready. She had to often jump in and take charge, which she always did, apart from watching, from close quarters, how real world challenges are faced and dealt with.
The whole process of parenting and grooming adult children is not at all as complex as it appears to be. And I repeat, adult Life is a lot of fun! The simple change in attitude that we must all encourage in our adult children and what they must embrace is this: stop asking is everything ready for me and instead ask, am I ready for everything, anything?
Life is inscrutable – we all know that. So, the best way to meet Life daily is to be ready, and willing, to accept everything that comes your way! This is not specific to adulting at all. This is what Life is all about. But since this lesson is never openly shared in the course of everyday conversations in our homes, our children aren’t oriented to look at Life this way. Just that switch in perspective can make their adulting experience so much richer, so much more enjoyable!
Worrying about your children is pointless.
Vaani and I host a quarterly Event Series called Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations along with the InKo Centre here in Chennai. At last weekend’s edition, we were in conversation with parents of special children. We talked about how parents coped with their new realities, and how they demonstrated grit and acceptance, to help their children pave inspirational paths. One of the parents, M.S.Ramesh, who is the father of entrepreneurs Sriram and Sunder Ram (both of whom were struck by cerebral palsy in their childhood) of Twin Twigs, had this to say: “When the doctors gave me this diagnosis about my children, my first reaction was ‘what next’….I didn’t ask ‘why’ or ‘why us’…I just moved on practically, to consider the next course of action.”
I find phenomenal value in embracing Ramesh’s approach and philosophy to parenting. Although we all know that worrying itself is futile, we still worry. Worse, we worry more about our children, than about ourselves, only because we feel protective towards and possessive about them.
As parents, all of us want our children to live comfortable and happily. We don’t wish that pain, in any form, touch them. Now, the truth is, what we wish for as parents is never going to happen. Our children are going to encounter pain, they are going to suffer if they don’t learn to be accepting of the Life that they get, they are going to be unhappy until they learn how to live in this world and yet be above it. Important, our children are possibly going to end up making the same mistakes that we made and what we don’t want them to make. They are more likely to reject our sage counsel than accept them. They are sure to stumble, fall down, grope in the dark, fight, resist, kick-about and then come around to discovering that their parents (aka us) were, after all, right. A young lady, in her late 20s now, we met last week said how much she could relate to what her parents had told her during her adolescent years and through young adulthood. “I feel they were sincere and profound with their perspectives. Every word rings true now,” she confessed.
So between two points of view – of the parent in Ramesh and the child in the young lady – I guess we have a pragmatic approach that’s worth considering. Keeping my focus on parenting and on parents’ tendency to get keyed up about their children, I would just say this: take a chill pill.
No amount of worrying about your children is going to make their Life journey simpler or easier. If you have children who are not taking your advice, please tell them what you have to say, and then let them go do what they want. If you have children who are dealing with a crisis that they can’t resolve or you can’t help them solve, pray for them if you believe in the power of prayer; if you don’t believe in prayer, just let them be and trust the process of Life. After all, you too have waged so many battles in and with Life to be where you are today. So simply trust that your children too will get past their crisis phases.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t live your children’s lives. No matter how much you wish, you can’t make their lives any more comfortable. No matter how much you want to, you can’t prevent them from going through their share of pain, unhappiness, suffering and catharsis. So, stop worrying about your children. As Khalil Gibran (1883~1931) has said, “…They are not your children…They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”