If you look for parenting advice, it’s not hard to find. You can find how to soothe a crying toddler when they are teething; how to deal with a rebellious 14-year-old going through a hormonal patch; find a way to help your shy 10-year-old to socialise. There’s so much information you could waste their childhood trying to read it all – but there’s one glaring omission. There’s very little parental advice and guidance about how to help your child when they’re an adult.
Any parent knows that childhood whizzes by at a dizzying rate. It seems like one minute you’re planning the nursery and the next you’re helping them pack when they leave for university. So even if your child is some years from striking out on their own, it’s time well spent to consider how you will handle the process.
There will inevitably be a point in your child’s future when something will happen to them that you wish hadn’t. You’ll wish for the ability to turn back the clock and prevent them being upset – but alas, time travel might be theoretically possible, but we’re not at the practical point yet. When they’re a child under your roof, it’s easy to envelop them in a hug and promise them everything will be okay. As an adult, it’s more difficult – especially as they age, they will come to the cynical realisation that sometimes, everything doesn’t work out okay.
Running through the scenarios you might encounter, you can begin to prepare yourself for how you can handle them. Nothing will ever come close to the disturbing reality should it hit, but having a basic idea can help you keep a cool head for the benefit of your child. After all, they will run their own house and likely have their own family one day – but nothing is ever going to stop them from being your baby.
Scenario: They Get Their Heart Broken
It happens. Some might even say it’s a necessary part of being a human being; someone hurts us and we have to pick up the pieces.
When your child goes through a relationship break up, it’s a difficult time as a parent. It’s made all the more complicated if you knew (and even loved) their now-former partner. You may find yourself dealing with your own grief over the loss of the relationship and a person who had been a key part of your life.
All you can do is try and be there to offer support wherever necessary. You can’t glue their heart back together, but you can try and stop everything else from falling apart. Offer a shoulder to cry on, but keep your assistance practical as well. During rough times, people are more likely to forget basics like paying the bills or getting the shopping in – so take those tasks on, so you can help alleviate some of the burden.
Scenario: You Don’t Think Their Partner Is Suitable
It’s a nightmare when it occurs, but it’s something that millions go through: their child gets into a relationship that they don’t approve of.
The main focus of this disapproval tends to be feeling it’s not a good match. You worry that your potential-child-in-law is just not the right kind of person. You may even suspect they have anger problems which concern you, or dislike an aspect of something they have done in their past.
There is no magic solution to this situation. In fact, the best thing you can do is… absolutely nothing.
If your child is telling you they love someone and want to be with them, then that has to be the end of the conversation. If you fight back, list the (potentially just perceived) inadequacies or – at the very worst – try and end the relationship, then all that’s going to happen is a stonewall. You’re on a slippery slope that ends with you being described as a nightmare mother-in-law, when in actuality, all you’re doing is looking out for your child.
Do you have a parental responsibility to warn your child if you sense someone is bad news? Of course you do – but there are ways and means of achieving this. Bring it up in conversation as a topic for discussion; don’t demand they end the relationship and just trust that you know best. You might think this is obvious advice, but some parents can’t resist and are so desperate to make their child see facts that they cross the line.
Drive some of that energy into protecting your child on a practical level. If they move in with the partner you dislike, then make sure there’s a solid record of who is bringing what into the relationship in financial terms to ensure there’s an element of protection. Encourage your child to retain some financial independence, and make it clear that if they need to bolt somewhere, your door is always open. That might go without saying, but it’s still helpful to raise the issue.
Unfortunately, you can’t protect against future emotional harm if things do go the way you expect. So do the practical things you can, then settle back, firmly hoping your suspicions are wrong. Many parents do eventually grow to love their child’s partner despite initial suspicions, so give it time and everything might change.
Scenario: Their Career Path Is Rockier Than Expected
There’s every chance your child has a firm idea of what they want to be when they grow up and, when the time comes, they will do exactly that. That’s the parenting dream.
On the other hand, you might find yourself with a child who flips from occupation to occupation without any solid foundation. Your parental desire begins to whir into overdrive, wanting to set them on their course, but knowing that any such efforts to do so are going to be swiftly rebuffed. Do you just stand by and watch them flounder?
No matter how old your child is, sometimes, they need a parental talking-to. This is particularly true if they are expecting an inheritance; some children drift through life expecting to live off what they stand to inherit. Threats are not the answer, but setting standards are. Sometimes, you have to be tough in order to be kind.
You might need to be prepared to support them for a while if they need further education or qualifications to persist down a career path they might actually stick to. It’s worth the time and energy invested if so. It’s quite odd that most of us have to make decisions about what we want to do when we’re 18 – it’s not an age known for sound decision-making! So accept there might need to be the occasional course correction and be willing to stand by them if necessary.