Our little babies turn to us with adoring eyes and broad smiles. We rock them to sleep while singing a quiet lullaby. We delight as they find their shadows, take their first toddling steps and learn to call us mama.
Around the age of two, our children start to separate from us. Our little bundle of joy learns the word “no” and uses it with increasing frequency. She wants to choose her own clothes. He turns up his nose at the broccoli on his plate. Our children learn to assert their independence. While their growing independence is our ultimate goal, it doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.
Dr. James Dobson, Ph.D has this to say about a child’s growing independence: “Begin releasing your children during the preschool years, granting independence that is consistent with their age and maturity. When a child can tie his shoes, let him- yes, require him – to do it. When he can choose his own clothes within reason, let him make his own selection. When he can walk safely to school, allow him the privilege. Each year, more responsibility and freedom (they are companions) are given to the child so that the final release in early adulthood is merely the final relaxation of authority.” If only it were that easy.
3 things you can do to build a lasting relationship with your children before they leave home
1. Practice love and acceptance
Children need the love and acceptance of their parents at every age. Children see themselves through the eyes of their parents. The reflection of what they see there should allow them to feel safe, secure and loved for who they are.
2. Establish family traditions
While our children are still young, we can establish family traditions that the whole family can look forward to enjoying together. Establish traditions such as a Christmas count down calendar, cooking crepes for breakfast Thanksgiving morning, or a family vacation each summer. Share family histories with your children and talk about your family values. Traditions help provide a source of identity for your unique family.
3. Remember that your goal is your child’s growing independence
The French essayist Montaigne commented that a parent’s love for her child is very different than a child’s love for her parent. Help your children learn to spread their wings and fly. Build their confidence as they engage in new activities and help them to begin to separate from you.
When your baby finally does outgrow you
One day our last child will leave home and we join the ranks of the empty nesters. Our children may still need us to provide them with money, advice or a place to do their laundry; but then one bright day, our adult children marry and have families of their own. Our children get busier and busier (just as we did at their age) while we may find ourselves with more free time. Now what?
6 things you can do to maintain a solid relationship with your adult children
1. Respect their marriage and growing family
The most important relationship your child has now is their relationship with their spouse and children. Don’t try to be the center of your children’s lives. They have a new center now. Live on the edge of their lives and take things as they come to you.
2. Remember that independence is not the same as a lack of interest
Most adult children love their parents and want to maintain the good relationship you already established with them as children. At the same time, they also want to feel like independent adults. It’s a difficult balance, but it is doable.
3. Listen to them and respect their opinions
It’s no longer appropriate to give your adult children advice or to tell them what to do if they don’t ask. When they do ask for advice, make sure they know they don’t have to take it. Listen more than you talk and bite your tongue: Be a light, not a judge.
4. Remember that the only person you can change is you
This is a time of life for both generations to learn to accept each other. Don’t try to change your adult children; rather, spend time enjoying them. Be careful not to set up unrealistic expectations of what you think your relationship with your adult children should look like. Unmet expectations create problems for everyone.
5. Find new interests and passions of your own
As we age and eventually retire from jobs and being full-time moms, our identity shifts. We need to keep growing and evolving, finding new interests and passions.
6. Create a loving legacy
Being grandparents gives us the chance to do things better than we did with our own children. We have more time now and more patience. Grandparents and grandchildren can spend time together. Loving grandparents can leave a lasting legacy for the next generation.
It’s difficult to see your baby grow up, but it’s an unavoidable part of life. Embracing the change will make it easier to appreciate the person your child is growing up to be.