As our children mature and age, our style of parenting should also change to help support their new development. As the mother of a one year old and a 19-year-old, I can reflect upon the different parenting styles I have utilized with my adult vs. toddler sons. The difference is important so that our older children still feel supported while they are able to act in autonomous ways that facilitate the skills they need to develop as they approach the full independence of adulthood.
Caring for a baby has many obvious requirements: feeding, changing diapers, constant supervision, being present for almost every need (all day and night), and protecting them from the unknowns around them. Caring for an older child, in their teens to young adult ages, has some obvious but different requirements: feeding, purchasing clothing they like, trusting them with some independence, being present for most of their needs, and protecting them by providing advice that often find useless
because as parents we know nothing. Parenting adjusts as our children age, but it doesn’t stop.
A major aspect of parenting my older son is the guidance he still requires. Not the “hold your hand as we cross the street” guidance, its more of the “please help me figure out what I want to do with my life” guidance. This can be a very tricky balancing act, as we want our children to learn to make choices independent of our approval or disapproval, but we also want to be supportive and provide feedback as they begin to make these decisions. I have found that helping him to understand that he doesn’t have to figure out everything at once, is a useful strategy. While I work to influence him with this notion of patience, I am also teaching him a bit about his mind, and how his thoughts can overwhelm his creative process. He just wants to have an immediate answer, so that he can make a confident decision (just like most of us) and this is not always reality, at least not all the time.
Our older children still want to know that we are proud of them, and that we support their dreams and goals. They may not come right out and say so, but they do. It is similar to the toddler who is playing with a toy and stops to come over and show it to you. They seek our approval and attention, just in different ways. They want our love and affection, also in different ways. But we are talking about approval, attention, love, and affection, in the same ways: from us, to be shared with our children. There are some parents out there who might think that this part of parenting is completed, as their children are now old enough to provide these things for themselves. I disagree. As they get older, they may need these aspect of our love even more, just in different ways now that they aren’t babies anymore. As I mentioned, our parenting does not stop because they are older, it just changes.
In order to manage the balancing act of parenting vs. providing autonomy for our older children, these things may be useful to consider:
- Listen to your older children. Carefully listen to understand their need and concern. Are they asking for advice? Do they need some type of help? Is their issue urgent? Have you been in their current situation before? If we just jump in to save them in their time of need, sometimes we miss really hearing their concern, and miss the opportunity to sincerely connect with them.
- After listening, decide if you even need to offer advice or just provide suggestions. I have had many conversations with my older son, where I have simply offered some options instead of giving my personal opinion. Sometimes it is important to remain neutral and allow them to figure out the best case scenario for their life. Unless there is a sense of or actual concern about their safety, where you will need to be persuasive and even forceful about your response.
- Remind them that you are proud of them and love them. Even though it may not seem like they have a lot of pressure or stress, they do. They get overwhelmed just like we do, just at a younger age, most often with less on their plate. But stress is stress, right? Remind them that they will be ok, and to be patient with their own decision making process. By doing this, you can help reinforce positive thinking and help to remove some of their anxiety. It’s still ok to tell them that you love them to the moon and back.
- Remember what it was like to be a teen or young adult. It was hard, sometimes very confusing. Young adults are facing so many obstacles, and as we have gotten older, we tend to forget that it was really hard trying to figure out where to start in life. Sure, when you are a fresh, young adult, the opportunities may seem endless, but we have all-consuming desires and goals, and often we cannot narrow them down. This is where many young adults may struggle. Then they realize they still want some help, and parents or adults they trust get the phone call.
Parenting our older children is much more about guidance than discipline. We may still be able to impress upon them certain disciplines, like positive thinking and patience, but they have all the tools we gave them during their younger years, and we have to be confident that they will figure things out. After all, we did, right? Our older kids may still disappoint us, be a source of some of our worry, or make a choice that we wouldn’t have, but this is all part of life. This is another major aspect of guiding our children that we must voice: in this life you will make mistakes. If our older children think that they will never make the wrong decision or disappoint themselves, they must be corrected on this immediately.
Most importantly, our older children need to know that they are not alone, even though they feel like it and want their independence. They need to know that we have not taken the parenting crown off of our heads, and will not. We have to be their #1 fans!
We are now teaching our older children how to parent their children, someday.