Stepparenting the Adult Child

Stepparenting the Adult Child
For years you worked hard to provide a comfortable home, a secure life and, if not a parental relationship, a friendly one with your stepchildren. There may have been times you didn’t think you could stick it out in a household where the interaction was so tense, but the looming horizon of their adulthood motivated you to forge on. Surely, the money, time, caring and worrying would pay off and you would finally have a mature relationship without the conflicts and issues that governed most days during their adolescence. Soon the kids would finish school, get a job, move out and begin their own journey to independent thinking and living. If you were reading this during the decade between 1970 and 1980, you would probably be fairly accurate in this foretelling of the future, but many of today’s young adults are staying at home with their parents well into their 30’s. Some of these long-term residents are there out of an unwillingness to start a life outside the convenience of the parental home. After all, soap, toilet paper, food and laundry are expensive when one has to use their own money. In fairness, however, it is certainly not our grandparents’ trip to adulthood. College tuitions are astronomical, jobs are at historical lows and rental costs can easily exceed a monthly paycheck. As a society we are taking longer to age and generally, much longer to grow up. My own generation (baby boomer) was fortunate to see our demands for freedom and autonomy played out in an economically friendly environment. Almost all of my peers were chomping at the bit to leave home when we reached 18 years of age.

If the next few years will include an adult child living in your home, it may be a good time to consider some of the issues that come with parenting an adult. No longer will you have the absolute control you once had over their lives and the rules and expectations that were acknowledged and accepted by the child are ripe for challenge by the chronologically emancipated adult. Your once wise counsel and sage advice is relegated to a “suggestion”. Beware that coming to grips with your son’s or daughter’s adulthood while living under the same roof can be the slippery slope to the undoing of the relationship.

The age of adulthood brings with it the expectation of the long-awaited benefits of autonomy and independent decision making, but what if one has not reached the point of self-sufficiency and being able to provide for his or her basic needs? What if you, the parent, are still needed for emotional and financial support? The simple answer is rooted in the age-old adage “as long as you are living under my roof you will obey my rules”. The difference now, is that you are parenting another adult and planning for this new dynamic may prevent your becoming the enemy.

Mutual and appropriate rules, expectations and goals will go a long way toward elevating the status of your child to his new adulthood. New privileges and relaxed regulations should come with increased responsibility and demonstrated maturity. Consequences must also be revisited to ensure their practicality.
One of life’s greatest joys is the time when a parent and child can truly become friends. The time spent parenting an adult child is a prelude to that friendship as trust, pride in their achievements and understanding of their separate and unique selves can be cultivated. As our grown up kids reach the point of declaring their own independence, they actually liberate us parents at the same time.

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