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Letting Go of Your Grown Kids
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, July 2006

This is one topic I am passionate about, and not long ago, I wrote Iím OK Youíre My Parents to address many common adult child-parent issues. Here are highlights of the conversation Matt Lauer and I had on the Today Show on June 6th.

>>View TODAY SHOW: Letting Go of Your Adult Children.

Challenge for Most Parents
Itís hard to believe when theyíre young that your kids will ever grow up. But it happens. Youíve taken care of them, watched them grow, laughed and cried with them and now itís time to let them go. Not an easy task. Moms and dads of college kids and career bound 20-somethings sending their children off in the world, find that they, too, have some growing to do. New relationships are forming with their adult children and quite possibly with their spouse and even themselves.

Refrain from Helicoptering
Youíve heard the term and know what happens. Parents who canít seem to let go, hover over their kids in college and in the work world, or encourage them to live at home without expecting their children to be responsible. These parents overstep their bounds by visiting too frequently, attempt to solve roommate and dating snags on a cell phone or via instant messaging and even select their college studentís courses. They do their childrenís laundry, prepare their meals, and cater to them as if they were young children. Sometimes the line between being helpful and intrusive is a fine one but it is there and must be addressed.

Involved or Overinvolved?
Donít wait until your son or daughter becomes too dependent, angry or resentful. If they are already expressing negative comments about your parenting, use it as a wake up call and realize the inevitable. A parentís job is to prepare their child for an autonomous and independent life. One in which they are allowed to make their own decisions, choose their own relationships and use both successes and mistakes as learning experiences. They need to learn their own way of dealing with the world and if their parent is always doing things for them they will not learn to listen to their own voices and find their own way. They need to work through situations, develop negotiating and decision making skills, become their own advocates and in the process develop a healthy sense of self and a feeling of "I Am Capable. I Can Trust Myself. I Can Solve Problems, I Can Do It."

Launch Your Kids
Itís not easy launching your kids out into the "real" world but you can do it. Yes, you will be sad and wondering about your own future without your child who NEEDS you but your relationship will transform into a more adult, mutually respectful one where your role will shift to that of a mentor, source of support and encouragement and will benefit both of you. Let your kids blast off into living their own life while you stay grounded and balanced in yours.

Reach for these Sanity SaversTM instead of your cell phone the next time you get the urge to give parental advice (which you should not be dolling out until asked.)

1. Wait for Them to Call You - Most parents know . . . when they need money, theyíll call. Same holds true when your kids want advice, a shoulder to cry on or to share in a celebration. The first thing you can do in letting go is to reduce your calls. Resisting constantly being in touch helps your young child be on their own. Ironically, refraining from frequent calling, sends the most important message your kids will hear; you TRUST them, have CONFIDENCE in their decisions and RESPECT their lives. Youíll not only save on cell phone minutes, but youíll help build their self esteem from afar. Donít be available 24-7 and donít think you are your childís alarm clock.

2. Listen - What everyone wants is an ear to listen. Someone to acknowledge thoughts and witness life events. To review the day, week or month and shoot the breeze. So listen up. Remember to stop talking, donít interrupt, be interested, affirm their comments and resist jumping in to judge, criticize or give advice.

3. Ask Questions - Once youíve mastered Listening 101 (this may take some getting used to), you can answer their questions with some of your own. If your daughter says, "Which job offer should I take?" rather than making a selection, respond with, "Which one will be better suited to your talents?" Let her think and help her think it through. This is how she will be able to process problem solving and make sound decisions of her own. Youíre a guide to help your children think about their options. Donít overtake this process with your own agenda. Encourage your son or daughter to use campus, community or employment resources.

4. Give Advice When Youíre Asked - When theyíre really wrestling with a situation and youíve listened and have asked some good thought provoking questions, you might want to offer some advice. Either wait until they ask you (and they eventually will if you have really listened) or ask their permission to give advice. It sounds strange to ask for "their" permission, but this will show that you value them and want to understand their struggle. A good way to offer advice is to reflect on a similar circumstance in your own life and how you handled it, good, bad or indifferent. They want to learn from you and your experiences, but only if you give them the room first to figure it out for themselves. They must develop their own critical thinking skills and a sense of mastery.

5. Get a Life - Yes, thatís right, YOUR OWN LIFE. Find a fulfilling life in which you develop your own interests and your own independence. And keep some of the money that you may be spending on your kids when they live with you at home without contributing to the household expenses for your own retirement. As each of your children leave the nest, youíll be given more and more time to develop your own interests, work and relationships. This is the time to renew romance with your partner, delve into a pushed aside project, take a course, or write that book that has been waiting to emerge. Find different outlets for the energy you have put into active parenting for so many years. Travel, join a gym, partake in a gourmet club. Get the picture? The time youíve always longed for is here and now. Enjoy every minute of it and maybe your kids will call YOU more often and say, "Hey, youíre having way too much fun down there. I think itís time for a visit."

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