Has your adult or teen daughter or son ever made a decision or expressed an opinion that you don’t understand, agree with, or worse, that you feel distressed about? If so, how did you respond? Were you able to detach and allow your child to be who they are and think how they choose, even if that is vastly different from what you had imagined or hoped for?
Are our grown children’s beliefs and actions a reflection on us and our parenting? The obvious answer to this question would be “no” because they are autonomous individuals who have minds of their own. But is it always easy to believe that we are not in some way responsible for the choices they make, considering that we were their primary role models for at least the first 18 years of their lives?
If we are lucky, our children gleaned the most valuable lessons we attempted to teach them and have chosen to apply our experience and wisdom to their lives. In most cases, we did our best to plant the seeds of kindness, generosity, respect, and acceptance, and provided them with some sort of spiritual foundation to give them hope and a map for how to treat others. Generally, our offspring will follow our well-intentioned lead. But what’s a parent to do when a teenaged or adult child has views that don’t align with ours or makes decisions we perceive to be negative or harmful?
With clarity, we can each be honest about what actually is our responsibility. We, no doubt, made some parenting mistakes along the way, since parenting is a learn-as-you-go endeavor. Our children probably learned more by watching us than by listening to us, and we most likely had some maturing of our own to do as we raised them. If our relationships with our children are healthy, we can openly admit and discuss where we wish we had done better by them.
On the other hand, we must also remember that at a certain age they began to mentally and emotionally break away from us, as they should have. At this stage of development, they invited ideas and beliefs from many other sources such as teachers, coaches, peers, other parents, the media, and elsewhere which influenced their thought processes. And again, if we were lucky, they allowed us “in” for open discussions about the ideas and opinions they were formulating, and we met them where they were with open-mindedness. We didn’t try to change their thinking; hopefully we had the good sense to listen to their ideas. Very often, however, our kids were processing what they saw and heard in silence, and we weren’t privy to their most internal reflections. They may not always have voiced their thoughts because they believed (or knew for a fact) that we wouldn’t agree.
So, back to the question about their beliefs and actions reflecting on our parenting. By the time our children have flown the nest or are nearing that event, we probably have minimal impact on their decision-making. It’s crucial that we don’t try to persuade, control, or manipulate them lest they charge head-first in the opposite direction to assert their independence. If we honestly did our best to raise and teach our children to be good human beings, then we release ourselves from outcomes. We remember that people have many facets to their personalities, and what we don’t agree with is likely just one small part of who they are. We would do well to focus on the rest, all the good that lies within our children.
The most valuable tack we can take is to be models of our best character, dignity, and honor, and to live authentically. We respectfully allow our loved ones to be their genuine selves and to walk their personal journeys. After all, each of us has grown and changed with every passing year. If we wish to live as self-governing individuals, then we should also extend that dignity to others. We detach from what causes us discomfort because we don’t always know what is best for someone else, even if it is one of our own children.
We must simply be ourselves – by ourselves, for ourselves – with no ulterior motives and no egocentric expectations.