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Davis Journal

Treat your adult children as adults

Jan 20, 2023 11:10AM ● By Bryan Gray
My wife recently had lunch with a woman who lamented that she felt “awkward” around her adult children and their spouses. My wife responded, “Maybe the answer is to treat your adult children like they are – adults. They are independent souls, and you can enjoy them as such, not as children who are still growing up.”

Viewpoints on children, both young and grown, differ widely. I once had a friend tell me that his cantankerous father “hated all of his children equally,” seeing them as intruders into his once much simpler life. On the other hand, many readers have heard parents proclaim that “you can’t know what true love and happiness are until you have children.” (I often wonder how this comment impacts the couple who cannot have children. Can they not experience love or happiness in their lives without a bassinet?)

Of course, for the vast majority, children are a given. Some are more wanted than others and some are born at inconvenient times, but most of us accept having children as a responsibility needing care and comfort – and most of us do our best in creating a healthy environment producing respectful and productive sons and daughters.

But going back to my wife’s advice to her friend at the beginning of this column…

In her autobiography, author Agatha Christie described her joy at watching her daughter’s development:

“There is nothing more thrilling in this world than having a child that is yours and yet is mysteriously a stranger,” she wrote. “You are the gate through which it came into this world, and you will be allowed to have charge of it for a period of years. After that it will leave you and blossom out into its own free life, and there it is for you to watch living its life in freedom. A child is like a strange plant which you have brought home, planted, and can hardly wait to see how it will turn out.”

Not everything turns out well, of course. Parents can be disappointed, angered, and regretful. Some parents have faced financial challenges due to health issues or rehab payments. But one thing parents should not regret is that a child did not turn out just like them!

We should celebrate that our children are not cookie-cutter semblances of mom and dad. Our children are individuals having their own inclinations, opportunities, and challenges. 

On a personal level, my wife and I count four children (two of hers, two of mine) in our family. They are all different in temperament and have chosen vastly different careers. My son and daughter live in Las Vegas; one is a successful restaurant manager, and one is an entertainment writer. My wife has a son, a sought-after documentary filmmaker, who with his wife just moved from their home in El Salvador to a new residence in the tiny eastern European country of Montenegro. Her daughter, who teaches at an Oakland, California high school, periodically travels across the country instructing other teachers wanting to polish their skills.

None of them compete against each other. All have their own personalities. All of them have at one time or another made my wife or me wince – and they have probably raised an eyebrow by a few of the things we have done as well.

That’s the way it should be. Acknowledge their lives as adults and love them. Yes, some things are pretty simple.