288. Parenting Adults

In my social circle, it’s not cool to make a big thing about age. So some of my friends are in their eighties, and some are in their twenties. True, most of my best friends are about my age (forty-seven, at the time of this writing), but I try to think that’s because of the post-war baby boom. When I feel parental about my younger friends or filial about my older friends, I try not to let those feelings have negative effects on the friendship. In fact, they often have positive effects.
But there are four people with whom there’s an extra challenge: my two daughters and my parents. All five of us are adults, but there’s a dynamic at work when I relate to my daughters or parents that isn’t there with anyone else. If my parents comment on the way I live my life, it means more than when their contemporaries make the same comments. And my opinions on my daughters’ lives (and their mother’s opinions) mean more to them than other baby- boomers’ opinions.
Ideally, parents have spent some significant years getting their sons and daughters ready for life, and sons and daughters have spent some of those same years relying on their parents. In most parental/filial relationships, there’s been some time when those roles have caused conflicts: people have disagreed about who’s ready for what, who’s relying on whom, and whose life is whose. If that even starts to happen with any of my friends who are in their twenties or eighties, it’s relatively easy to resolve the matters. We either come to understandings, “agree to disagree,” or ease off on the friendship.
But it’s a little more complicated when there’s actual parenting involved. Sometimes, when I say something to one of my daughters, I’ve temporarily forgotten (at least consciously) that I’m the father, and my daughter’s response or reaction quickly reminds me. And when words come to me from my parents, I try to think of my parents as friends who just happen to be older than I am, and evaluate their words as I would any other friends’ words. But it doesn’t usually work. If my parents think I’m doing something the right or wrong way, there’s a powerful tendency to take their words as gospel. I hope my daughters don’t have the same tendency with my opinions, but they may.
I’ve only recently started parenting adults (my daughters are 25 and 26). I want to do it well, but I’m not sure what doing it well means. I’ve written a lot about parenting and teaching children. I think I’ve done both pretty well. Maybe in about twenty years I’ll write more authoritatively about the ins, outs, ups, and downs of parenting adults.

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