“Honey, I know you’re 25 now, but you’re not really all grown up,” I told my son with a smile. “I can still teach you things.”
“I know, Mom, but at 25, I need to be all grown up. I should be all grown up,” he responded, with a small smile of his own.
This is an actual conversation I’ve had with my son a few times over the past couple of years. My independent, head-strong yet open-minded young man has always had a need to make his own decisions, even if I thought they were the wrong decisions. The decisions he made during his teen years were often not only inadvisable (wrong), but also based on a complete lack of life experience. Yet, in his eyes, his decisions made sense. He was, of course, too young to know any better, and he understands this now. But as is typical of a 25-year-old, he no longer feels “too young” to make his own decisions.
In many ways, he is. In others, he could still use some guidance.
As administrative coordinator for the post-adoption services team at Holt, I’ve talked to a lot of parents with a wide variety of parenting styles. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve struggled to relate to “helicopter parents.” You know, the mom or dad who hovers over their child and won’t let them out of their sight. Parents call us to “fix” whatever issues their grown Adoptee is having with citizenship or their personal history. Quite a few of these Adoptees are actually in their 30s or 40s — even a few over age 50!
When my son was still young, I thought helicopter parents who continued to hover over their adult children were just silly. ‘I’d never do that to my own adult child,’ I thought. At age 18, he’d stand on his own two feet, go out into the world, faithfully seek my sage advice on employment and relationships, and be an adult in every sense of the word.
But I realized today, on my son’s 25th birthday, that it’s really hard NOT to be a helicopter parent. All parents want to support their child, stand behind them when they become adults and always be available.
I wonder, however, if it’s harder for adoptive parents, like me, to stand behind their grown child — rather than in front.
It has nothing to do with my son’s independence or stage of life. It has everything to do with my need to take care of him. As adoptive parents, we have spent years in the adoption process, then years adapting to and anticipating our child’s needs, determining what is best for them as children and as Adoptees — trying to keep them safe from an often difficult world. As Adoptees, our kids often face more challenges navigating this difficult world… Then one day, they turn 18 and we’re supposed to back away, become the one who makes suggestions instead of corrections, and pray they will still listen to us.
I’m telling you, as a parent, this is really tough stuff. I’m beyond fortunate that my son still talks to me about the difficult things in his life, when not all young men are open to this, especially with their mom. Sometimes it’s after the fact, and all I want to do is holler, “Why didn’t you ask me first?” But at least he talks to me. The hardest thing for me is not calling the bank to straighten out his account issues. Not calling his HR department for his medical insurance information. And not doing his taxes for him. I had always thought watching him move out and live on his own would be the hardest part of watching him grow up. It’s not. What drives me crazy is that I can’t do everything for him anymore, because that is what my instincts are telling me to do.
Parents are very aware that we need to let our children do things for themselves. We taught them to walk, eat with a spoon, learn a new language, make new friends, and be a part of our family. We want them to be independent, until they are. Then we want to protect them even more.
I’m not an Adoptee so I can’t know how it feels, but I have observed how difficult things can be for my son. Adoptees can feel left out, different, “foreign” and displaced. My son often told me of the careless comments and intrusive questions he received from friends and strangers alike. As his parent, I feel an enormous urge to shield him. I want to balance out all of the carelessness and harshness of the world for him, but I can’t, not completely.
I became a single parent when he was around 15, and he lived with me full-time until he was nearly 20. He briefly came back a couple of times after that — between roommates — then settled down a couple of years ago. As I’d never lived on my own before, either, in many ways we depended on each other while we both tried to figure out life as independent, single adults. He’s settled, has a good job, and is far more responsible with his money than I ever was. However, I can’t fix his problems for him. All I can do is offer my advice, explain why I feel the way I do, compare it to my own experiences, and pray he makes the right choices for himself.
My job is to convince him that he can still ask for my help, but I won’t do it for him. I’ll guide him, advise him, redirect him if needed, and I’ll even say “I told you so” if the situation warrants it. But I won’t do it for him because it does him more harm in the long run; he needs to learn how to navigate the world on his own. I can’t guarantee I won’t go a little bit more insane during the process. I can also explain to him why the simple act of letting him be an adult can be so hard at times. It’s allowed him to see each situation from a different perspective, and he respects my honesty.
I think now I understand helicopter parents a lot more than I used to, and I empathize with how difficult it is for us to let go. Parents of both biological and adopted children know how tough it is to let them grow up. But I think for some of us adoptive parents, it can be a bit more difficult.
During my conversation with my son, I realized he needs to be a grown-up, and I still need to be his protector, but I can also just be happy being his mom. We agreed that sometimes “adult-ing” is NOT fun, but we’d tackle its challenges together, and learn from it together. I’m a very lucky mom.