Raising Adult Children

The words adult children may seem oxymoronic, and while the term refers to any child you’ve managed to raise to the age of 18 or beyond, the ones I’m really talking are those kids between 18 and 24 who are technically adults but who still require a bit more raising (even though they don’t think they do). These kids require special handling. On the one hand, you can’t treat them as though they are still kids or even teens who require heavy handed oversight. On the other hand, you can’t assume they’ve mastered all of the skills necessary to navigate life’s land mines without a little bit of help.

Finding the right balance between giving these kids the freedom they need to grow and still being there to support them can be difficult. What’s more, each child will have different needs during this transitional phase. I’ve always felt that the best way to let a child learn to be an adult is to let them make their own decisions and choices, even when they differ greatly from what I would do…while being prepared to be there for them if things don’t work out the way they’ve planned.

The only way kids and young adults will learn how to cope in the “real world” is by gaining experience in it. It’s difficult for a control freak like me to step back, bite my tongue, and let things play out…but the results are often surprisingly successful. If you arm your kids with the coping skills, confidence, and self-esteem they deserve to have, they’ll be able to handle life, even when it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Being An Adult Stepchild

Getting Real With Tiana Green

As I was growing up with my family fully intact, I never thought that I would be faced with being an adult step child. My parents had been married my whole life. I had never even imagined what it would be like to have a stepmom or stepdad. Even once my mom was diagnosed with leukemia I never thought that my world could so completely fall apart, as it did once she was gone. I thought things would just get better and that life would somehow return to normal once she was cured. Because of course that was the only option. We would all just have a new appreciation for life and we would get back to our normal family.

The problem is that never happened. My mom never got better. She went in for a regular appointment in preparation for a special program she was going to be part of at Stanford University and wasn’t feeling well. My dad took her back up the stairs to the doctor and she never again left the hospital again. Facing the loss of my mom, one of my best friends, was (and sometimes still is) the worst thing I have ever done in my life.

Of course, intellectually, I realized that with my mom gone that meant that my dad was now alone. After having been married for 35+ years he was now on his own. I still never contemplated the fact that he would meet and eventually marry someone new. For my-self at least, it wasn’t the fact that I was so against my dad moving on but the fact that it made so final the fact that my mom was not coming back.

Luckily for my dad he met a wonderful woman that makes him very happy. They have a great life together and I have always been made to feel very welcome at their home. Step parents can be a great addition to our lives. It can be hard at first but with an open mind and open heart it is possible to have a great relationship with each other.

Get my sister Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

Advice for Adult Stepchildren

My aunt and I have been through similar situations.  Her dad and mine both lost their wives (our mothers) too soon.  Her dad and mine have both remarried.  We are both suddenly being thrust into the world of being adult stepchildren, and having having both been on the other side of the table, you would think it would be easier.

While neither of us have handled it perfectly (I threatened not to go to my dad’s wedding; she accused her dad of being crazy; we both felt our fathers were acting somewhat stupidly), we have both learned a great deal about how not to handle the situation.

Advice for parent and impending stepparent of adult child

Ok, we’re grownups.  And you don’t owe us any kind of explanation whatsoever about how you choose to live your lives.  We are being selfish.  Please realize that you are the only parent we have left, and regardless of how long ago our other parent died, it is still difficult for us to think about losing (or even sharing) you, even if that’s what makes you happy.

Don’t make it harder – don’t threaten to withhold your love or disown us or exclude us from your life just because we’re having a tough time accepting your plans.  Try to be understanding.  We know we should be done grieving and happy to see you happy…just give us time to get there.

Understand that our children (your grandchildren) still want to have a special place in your life, even if your new spouse also has kids and grandkids who will be demanding your attention.

Advice for adult stepchildren

Try to put yourself in your parent’s shoes.  Whether your mom or dad is widowed or divorced, life alone is just not something many people contemplate.  If your parent has found someone who makes him or her happy, accept that.  The more you support your parent, the more likely it is that you will be included in his or her new life.

Realize that while it has been convenient to have your single parent at your beck and call, that you have a life of your own and quite often, your mom or dad is not included in that life.  Your parent needs to still feel like an individual with a life of his or her own – and that may mean you have to let go a little more than you might be ready to.

Advice for both

Please don’t think the worst of each other or exchange words in anger.  Don’t go out of your way to say or do hurtful things.  Give space when needed, but still try to maintain your relationship.  Set boundaries for each other if you need to, but remember, you’re still family.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

Growing Pains

Our oldest son, Derek, was 10 years old when I started filling the mom role for him.  Dave and his first wife had been divorced for over a year and apart for nearly two, and Dave had full-time physical custody of the kids.  The kids rarely saw their “real” mom.  I filled a gap in their lives…and without me even realizing there was a gap in my life, they filled it completely.

When I met my husband, it was because I had offered to baby-sit for him.  He was a single dad with three kids, and it was obvious from our conversations that he needed a break.  I thought he was a great person and wanted to help him out somehow…so I offered to baby-sit for him and we arranged a time for me to come over and meet the kids.  I never ended up babysitting, although I did help find a good one so that Dave and I could go out.

I tell people my three oldest kids came as a package deal when I married their dad.  It was never even a question in my mind whether or not I wanted to be a part of the kids’ lives… they were as much a part of Dave as his love of music (our first date was an REO Speedwagon concert).  At the time, I had no children, no experience.  No one told me how painfully wonderful motherhood would be, or how fulfilling I would find it.

But most moms get 18 years to get used to the idea of their child leaving home.  I only had eight years with Derek.  When Derek graduated from high school, he had enlisted in the Army and left two weeks after graduation.  I’ve missed him every day since, and feel like I was cheated out of having more time with him because I entered his life so late.

Derek was away from home for 23 weeks at basic training and tech school with the Army.  He was able to come home for Christmas and spent three weeks with us.  He spent 18 months in Iraq but managed to take a transport home for two weeks at Christmas in the middle of his tour. He is now stationed in Japan, but flew 24 hours to come home at Christmas last year.  Taking him to the airport that last day and having to say goodbye all over again was even harder than the first time, but I realized that our relationship has not ended just because he moved away…and that I wasn’t cheated out of time, but given a lifetime of moments with this young man, my son.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

From Stepmom to Stepdaughter

It wasn’t until the envelope came in the mail that it was even real to me, and even then I wanted to deny it. I had known it was coming, and had tried very hard to put it out of my mind – but there it was, addressed by hand to Mr. and Mrs. David Bruce.

I thought to myself at the time, “Nice calligraphy,” but stopped, because I wasn’t ready to have nice thoughts about her yet. When I opened the envelope, the announcement was homemade, from one of those kits you can buy now.

They’d printed them on their home computer, with a picture of the two of them sitting there and smiling, like this could somehow be the happiest moment of their lives – like there was anything in the world to smile about.  I felt ill, like I had just eaten something that wanted to crawl back out of me.

The funny thing is, of all people, I should have been more tolerant, right?  When I married my husband, he had three kids. I would have been devastated if they had made my life difficult or didn’t trust me or didn’t want me to be with their dad. I was lucky, because while we have had our moments, we have great relationships.

It is different, though. My step kids were young; they needed a mom in their life. I never forced them to think of me as mom or call me mom, I just filled the role and took care of them and got involved in their lives and helped them through all those icky things that come with childhood.

My mom is in a “niche.”  Not even a real grave where I can go sit and talk to her, but just a little square of marble in a little wall not even as tall as I am surrounded by a bunch of strangers — like she moved from her big house to a little tiny apartment. All there is to know it’s her is a little name plaque.

I couldn’t face the fact that my dad, who had been married to my mom for 36 years, could replace her with someone else so quickly. I definitely wasn’t ready to have a step mom. He’s my dad, though, and I love him.  I miss my mom very much and because I didn’t behave very well at the start of my dad’s new relationship, I still feel uncomfortable around my stepmom, but I try. I try because I remember what it was like to be the new person in the family and because, whether I like it or not, my mom is gone and my dad is here and he deserves to be happy.

Most of us have some kind of “step” in our family. As adults, we may find it more difficult to accept these relationships than our children would. It’s important to respect other people’s choices and feelings – to realize they aren’t trying to hurt you – and to try to find joy in your loved ones’ happiness, even if it is difficult to do.

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

Adult Stepchildren

As much difficulty as women seem to have with stepchildren, adult stepchildren seem to cause even more stress and strife.  Whether it’s dads who are having a difficult time shifting priorities, adult kids who seem to be manipulating or interfering, or a number of other frustrations, adult stepchildren seem to present special challenges in blended family relationships.

I am in the position of being both a step mom to adult stepchildren and, more recently, an adult stepchild.  Because I raised my stepchildren from the time they were young, as adults, we don’t have as many challenges as we might have had I inherited them when they were older.  However, there are still times when their dad and I still struggle over entitlements.

When our oldest daughter graduated from high school, the plan was that she would be leaving after the summer to attend school. Mid-summer, she changed her mind and decided to stay home and go to community college. My husband and I had different levels of expectation about the contributions an 18-year old adult should make to the household, given that we were still supporting her while she attended college.  It sometimes causes grief for us – right or wrong, it’s hard for me not to want to shift our priority (i.e., our budget) to the younger kids.  Is it because they are my birth kids?  While that might play some role in it, the way I see it, it’s their turn. When the other kids were little, we took them on trips and to movies and spent money on sports and activities they were interested in. Shouldn’t we be able to do the same for the younger kids now that they are of the age where their interests are growing?

We managed to find a comfortable compromise that worked for us.  Our adult children are still expected to do certain things around the house to contribute, and while they are free to live their lives, it is not without some very restrictive rules about how that impacts the younger kids who still have to stay on a regular schedule, get up and go to school, and have routines.  Our daughter was welcome to stay out late with her friends, but she wasn’t able to bring them home to hang out at our house until 3am. She could come and go as she pleased, but she had to keep her bathroom and bedroom presentable. We stopped planning meals around her schedule; we were happy when she was there to share, but okay if she wasn’t. We expected the common courtesy from her of letting us know when she wasn’t going to be home for a night and how we get get in touch if we needed to. It worked.

If only it was that easy for me as an adult stepchild! My dad remarried shortly after my mom died.  I was still grieving; I felt like he was moving too fast; I was unable to see through my personal pain that he needed to do what was right for him.  Because we got off on the wrong foot, my “stepmother” and I haven’t built a very strong relationship.  In fact, I was probably one of those adult stepchildren new wives complain about – I told my dad I thought he was making a mistake, I didn’t want to go to the wedding, I resisted their relationship at every turn.  I had more than my share of mean thoughts. Over time, I’ve realized that my stepmom is actually a very sweet lady, she makes my dad happy, she does thoughtful things for our family, and she is a good person.

When it comes right down to it, I love my husband – and I love his children whom I’ve been privileged to raise.  When it comes right down to it, I love my dad – and his new wife makes him happy and that’s really all I want for him.  I wish there was an easy answer, but as both a stepmother to adult stepchildren and as an adult stepchild, the only thing that really works is time, patience, and communication.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.