As your children grow up and become young adults, you may feel a sense of loss as your parenting role begins to change. Your child may not require as much emotional or practical support from you. After all, they are financially independent, may already be in stable relationships and are looking towards starting their own families soon.

You can no longer mollycoddle, shelter or control your child. Such overprotective parenting might even be counteractive and alienate your kids. They will gripe about feeling smothered and the lack of independence and inability to make decisions. As a parent of young adults, you will need to learn to let go and give your child more breathing room.

The Best and the Hardest of Times

For Susan Yong, watching her children become adults was simultaneously the best and the hardest time for her. The 55-year-old housewife and mother of two daughters had been used to “them coming to me for advice and me bossing them around”.

However, this gradually changed about five years ago. Her daughters, Amy, 27, and Alexis, 24, suddenly became more independent. For the first time, Susan was being left out of their decision making process. “They entered university and then the work force, and they started informing me about their decisions instead of asking me to help them make a choice,” she said. “It was difficult to deal with the first few years. I wanted to trust their judgment but I wanted a say in their decisions too,” she explained.

It’s Hard to Let Go

Other than issues with school and work life, Susan now had to deal with changes in their social lives as well. Her youngest daughter, Alexis, who recently graduated from university, used to be a “wild party-goer”.

“She would stay out late and come back reeking of alcohol, or not come home at all. I used to ground her half the time and we would have screaming matches every other day,” Susan said.
“Then, sometime during her university years, I stopped being so hard on her because I figured she was old enough to take care of herself,” she recalled. Her new attitude included being more hands off, and not checking Alexis’s whereabouts or nagging her about it. Even if Alexis was hung over, Susan would just tease her about it. Eventually, Susan said, the time Alexis spent at home became “less yelling and more talking and laughing.”

This worked wonders for their relationship—her ‘party-animal’ daughter mellowed down and started spending more time at home. “She would set her alarm in the morning to go to the market with me, while before I used to have to pry her out of bed. She also took an interest in helping me out in the kitchen, and she’s now a pretty good cook,” Susan said.

Adults and Friends

Becoming independent and relying less on you is part and parcel of your child’s transition from kid to adult. They have emerged into adulthood with their own ideas, opinion and mind sets about relationships, religion, character and values. If you’re still fussing over their meals or controlling every aspect of their time—it’s time to reassess your actions and parenting behaviour. Learn to let go and treat them as adults.

“We spend years and years disciplining our kids, but when they are older, they don’t want a disciplinarian, they want a friend. Try to be that, and slowly, they will open up to you and listen to you again.” Susan recalled when her eldest daughter, Amy, could not decide between continuing her studies to get a Masters, or taking up a well-paying job offer in a sector she was not keen on.

“I wanted her to take on the latter because it meant she could save up a little more before pursuing her interests when she’s older. Her father was close to retirement age, her younger sister was still in school and taking up a Masters course would mean more study loan debt. It wasn’t impossible for her to do her Masters then but it would have caused some financial strain on the family.

“So one evening over dinner, I pointed out the pros and cons of both decisions. She was hesitant, quiet and moody, and I wasn’t sure if she was even listening to me. I was so sure she was going to pursue passion over salary,” Susan said. To her surprise, her daughter announced a few days later that she had decided to defer her studies to save up some money.

“Later on, she confided that had I fought her tooth and nail into making what I thought was the smart decision, she would have rebelled just to ‘show me’ she said that me speaking objectively and giving her the chance to make her own choice made her want to do the mature thing instead.” Susan recalled while laughing.

Three years on, Amy is close to completing her 5-year bond with her company, and is in the midst of applying for a Masters course placement overseas. “I didn’t allow my daughters to do a semester abroad as I didn’t trust them to live on their own. But now my daughters have grown into women and they take on more responsibility at home. It’s time to let them experience having a little pad of their own if they decide to study overseas for a few years,” she said.

Susan learned that by letting go, her daughters were capable of seeing the big picture and making sound life choices.

Still Some Concerns

These days, she still frets about one thing—her daughters’ romantic relationships. Both of them are single, and Susan hopes they will meet suitable men soon. “My eldest daughter just started dating someone and I hope she brings him home to meet us soon,” she said. “My second daughter had a string of suitors when she was younger, but now she’s very focused at work. I guess I will start asking her about marriage after her elder sister ties the knot!” Susan said.

Her daughters avoided bringing their previous boyfriends home, assuming that Susan had sky-high standards and would force them to end the relationship. However, her new attitude and approach to dealing with her adult daughters also extends to her concerns about their love-life.

“They are old enough now. I only want them to be happy and am willing to get to know their partners well and accept them. I am just like any other mother out there who has learned to love their kids in the way they best need us to,” she said.

Some Tips to Be A Parent and Friend to Your Teenager

  • Learn to let go and be comfortable knowing that your children are able to make their own decisions at this age.
  • Try to give them more space and independence. Over-controlling your children belittles them and stifles their foray into adulthood.