Parenting Children in Their Twenties is Harder

Parenting children in their twenties is harder than parenting them when they’re younger – at least that has been my experience. It requires responsiveness, resilience, adaptability and great unattached, unconditional love – which is easier to say than live at times. And the transition of the parenting role can be unexpected and different than the empty nest syndrome.

If you have children in their twenties (or have been through that stage) and just did that wide-eyed look of dawning comprehension because some of your experience just got named for you, that is the look I’ve been getting from friends when I say this out loud to them. They know. They understand. Like me, it hasn’t been a conversation they’ve had in exactly this way and naming it brings relief.

When I mentioned to my older boys’ father that parenting the kids in their twenties is harder, he laughed. “That’s because we thought we’d be done by now,” he said. There is some truth to that. And it is more than that at the same time.

When your children are born, people will warn you about the terrible two’s and the rebellious teen years. Never once did I have someone say to me, wait until they are in their twenties! Not once. Yet, this age offers interesting and unexpected challenges from a parenting perspective.

These young adults are ready to be independent and launch their lives while at the same time still needing support, although they, and consequently you, are not exactly sure what that looks like. And the journey to independence is not straightforward or a straight line. It is fraught with missteps along the way. This journey needs to be acknowledged and not over dramatized. It is just the journey of life unfolding as it does.

These young adults, our children, may ask for support and balk at it at the same time. They may want to be close to extended family and want to be left alone to live their lives – and who can blame them. As a parent, feeling the sometimes contradictory energy and tuning into how best to hold that space can be a challenge – because we love our kids, we only want the best for them and we want our family connections to stay (or grow) strong. Understanding how to hold family close and lightly at the same time, as a parent, is new learning. Hold it too tight and you risk pushing loved ones away. Hold it too lightly and you don’t end up honouring values that are important to you. Lean in too close and it is suffocating. Lean out too far and there is less substance and connection.

My twenty-something sons and their partners.

My twenty-something sons and their partners.

As we navigate a new stage of relationship it is important to hold that space with love, to extend love, to not take the quest for independence personally or be offended or hurt at times.  Keep inviting – true invitation, not insistence. Celebrate the next stages of life – yours and theirs. Both my twenty-something year old sons are in long term relationships, living with their partners, launching the next phases of their lives. I’m proud of them and cherish the relationships I have with all four of them. As a bit of an independent leaning individual myself, I value their own journeys and want only the best for them. I want them each to be and continue to grow into their own uniqueness as individuals. I suppose there is also some grief from time to time mingled in with the celebration, which surprises me a little although maybe it shouldn’t. It is the need to let go of previous stages of attachment and relationship to be open to what will serve best now, in recognition of new stages of maturity – of all of us as individuals and in our relationships with each other.

Everything moves in cycles. It is important to remember the ebb and flow of things as you hold intention for your family connections. One thing I learned when the kids were younger was to not project current (unwanted) behaviours or patterns onto the future as if the future would simply be more of the now. Life offers us the opportunity for our relationships to grow and mature. What that looks like with our kids in their twenties is different than what it looked like when they were younger and is likely different than what it will look like when they are in their thirties and forties (I don’t know for absolute sure because I haven’t gotten there yet).

I know I have a new appreciation and respect for my own parents and I have a new appreciation for my twenty something kids as they continue to be my teachers in this openhearted journey of life.

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Extending Love – A Powerful Game Changer

A long time ago now, I was studying A Course In Miracles. The most striking thing I learned, that has stayed with me for more than a decade, is that everything is either an extension of love or a request for love.

hurt-people Thich Naht HanhI reflect on it often. It seemed improbable when I first heard it, but in my own journey to openheartedness, embracing all that shows up on my path, the meaning of it has seeped into my being. The implications are profound. It is top of mind for me as I see posts on social media reminding us that “hurt people hurt people”, an adaptation of Thich Naht Hahn’s quote, and as I see quotes about forgiveness.

When someone issues a request for love it does not come in a question. It comes in behaviour that looks like anything but a request for love. Actually asking for what we need puts us in a place of vulnerability and for many of us this is a fate almost worse than death.

A request for love often looks and feels like an attack. The default is to respond with your own request for love. Attack meets attack. Defence meets defence. And the game is on. Not only is it on, it is hard to break the pattern. It is a vortex we get sucked into. Until we don’t. Until we become conscious of the pattern, our own contribution to it and set an intention to step out of the pattern, dance a new dance.

bandaged heartAn extension of love does not come at the sacrifice of you and who you are. It cannot truly come at the subjugation of yourself because then you are still acting from the place of requesting love. You can only extend love to another once you have extended it to yourself. The more you extend love to yourself, the more capacity you have to extend it to another person, the more likely you are to break the patterns.

A beautiful side benefit is that you fuel your own boundaries. It is much harder for someone to “request love” through an attack when your boundaries are clear – first to yourself, then to others.

When you understand that when someone is behaving inappropriately, it is a reflection of their own internal state of being – it really is more about them than you – it can change how you respond. When you change the way you respond, you can change the nature of the relationship. If it is an intimate relationship where you are at risk, it does not mean you stay. But you exit differently. When you extend love to yourself, you will not put yourself at risk or stay in a situation of risk.

forgiveness quoteWhen you can forgive someone for their behaviours or actions, it does not condone or excuse their behaviour but it releases their grasp on you. As long as you hold onto the pain, they continue to have power over you – essentially you give your power away. Forgiveness is a means of reclaiming your power. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

It is easier to forgive if you can see past the behaviours of the other person, to the child within, see their soul essence, see the request for love as what it is – an expression of their own pain, their own desire for connection – with an inability to articulate it, possibly even to themselves. It becomes easier to extend love to the person and bring the whole situation to a higher vibration. This does not mean you do not act in ways that are appropriate to the situation, but the range of options you can draw on expand, sometimes exponentially, when you are in the place of extending love to the person or situation.

Reclaim your power. Step into it fully. Extend love every chance you get.

Love at First Sight

My dad, Hector Jourdain, and me during a toast at a mine celebration of my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary.

My dad, Hector Jourdain, and me during a toast at a mine celebration of my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.

On January 11, 2008, the day of my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary, I turned to my father to ask him to tell me the truth. “I’ve received emails this week from two women who seem to think I might be their sister.” I was 46 years old and never suspected I might be adopted.

I already knew the answer before I posed the query. And I could see it in his face before I finished talking. There was, what seemed like, a long pause and finally he said to me, “Well, that’s another long story.”

A long story, yes. And it began with a very simple and clear declaration I might not have heard otherwise, “It was love at first sight!” he told me. Love at first sight. I always knew that my father and I had a special connection. And I always knew that he loved me/loves me as unconditionally as it is possible to love a child, although it hasn’t always been an easy path or relationship, but showing up most significantly, most unconditionally, in the times I have been most challenged – in job loss and divorces.

In the early moments following that conversation about what had been a family secret, dad was worried that my knowing would change our relationship. But, as I told him, we had a lot of history together so I didn’t see any reason it would change. And, I knew both my parents loved me and only wanted the best for me. The journey was undertaken in the spirit of openheartedness.

Dad is now 82 years old. Much to my surprise, not only did he outlive my mother, he became her personal care giver before she went into long term care with dementia – the same year as their 50th wedding anniversary. She died in 2012. Dad still lives home, alone, in the house they shared for many years.

Mom and dad in 2007 for his birthday.

Mom and dad in 2007 for his birthday with a 4 year old Shasta helping out.

He has had, over the years, a myriad of health issues that makes it a miracle he is still alive. He had his first open heart by-pass surgery when he was 45 years old. His second one about 30 years later and it took him almost 2 weeks to wake up from that surgery, partly because, in the end, it was emergency surgery and partly because he was exhausted from taking care of my mother. Then there was the time he became delirious with dehydration during the final week of radiation therapy for prostate cancer and it was the synchronicity of a call to him by my brother that resulted in contacting family friends who immediately took him to the ER, just short of having his organs shut down because of the dehydration. In the hospital so long, his legs weakened and he was in a wheelchair. Even his family physician thought he wouldn’t walk again. That was a few years ago now. Then, he was diagnosed with lung disease and told he would be on oxygen for the rest of his days. A few months later the oxygen was taken out of his home because he was doing fine. (And that’s just a snapshot of his health issues over the years.)

Quality workmanship - one of dad's projects.

Quality workmanship – one of dad’s projects.

This past winter, a hard one here in Nova Scotia, he was out with his snowblower clearing his driveway. Over the last couple of years he renovated his upstairs bathroom to put in a shower. And he built a row boat in his basement. He still has marine engines in his garage that he works on from time to time and he has a long list of projects to tend to. He complains that it takes him longer to do anything, but he has time and he has motivation. And he’s taken a few road trips to Quebec – his home province – to visit with my cousin (who graciously hosts him in her home) in the last couple of years. These things – things to look forward to, to get out of bed for – they keep him not just alive, but living. And just recently, he bought his first tablet and got internet at his home (thanks to some persuasion from my cousin Jacqueline) and this Father’s Day I will try to help him sort it all out. Wish us luck.

In Rimouski, Quebec - dad, me, my cousins Julie and Jacqueline (who we stayed with) and Julie's husband.

In Rimouski, Quebec – dad, me, my cousins Julie and Jacqueline (who we stayed with) and Julie’s husband. 2013 Road Trip

I’m proud of my dad. I’ve learned, am learning, a lot from him. About quality workmanship. About independence. About sheer will power. About love. About just keeping on keeping on. And, I’m glad it was love at first sight or who knows where I would be today.

Dad, Shasta and Spencer, watching me cook. April 2015

Dad, Shasta and Spencer, watching me cook. April 2015

Unconditional Love – A Daily Practice

Unconditional Love-Oscar Wilde Quote

To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love. ~ Oscar Wilde

“To give and not expect return.” How many of us know how to love like that? How many of us have been loved like that? We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world. We may think we love unconditionally but anytime we are disappointed by the words or actions of one we love, we may not be loving as unconditionally as we like to think.

I have been reflecting on this because it is almost Mother’s Day and there are so many posts and images that speak of a mother’s unconditional love – as though all mother’s love unconditionally, all the time. If we are lucky, we experience moments of unconditional love from our parents, as parents, as partners in a relationship, with friends we hold dear. Rarely are we loved completely unconditionally all the time; rarely do we love unconditionally all the time.

Unconditional love-nothing expected in returnWe are born with unconditional love and complete trust. As babies, we learn very quickly what behaviours and actions get rewarded and what don’t. It is a matter of survival to adapt to the expectations and conditions of people around us.

We know our soul qualities when we are very young, before we learn concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. We know our soul qualities before we build constructs around ourselves that we fool ourselves into believing are truth and essential to survival. We shape life to fit in and shape ourselves in trying to make other people happy.Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness (p. 13)

Loving unconditionally is a practice that starts with loving self unconditionally. The more you can be in a place of loving yourself unconditionally, the more you open up the portals to receive love unconditionally. Can you love another person fully, without judgment about who they are, what they say or how they act? Then you offer unconditional love.

I have been learning about unconditional love through recognizing the times I have been “loved” with conditions – conditions that often asked me to be someone I am not, to be there for another person at the expense of myself. These relationships showed me who I was not and where I was not loving or accepting myself.

IMG_1493I have been learning about unconditional love through my cats who also come into the world loving and trusting unconditionally. They remind me of the simplicity of life.

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I have been learning about unconditional love through my children, the hopes and dreams I have for them to be successful in life. When we examine what that means, often we have an idea of what success means and looks like and it carries expectations or conditions we are not always aware that we are carrying. Letting go of the expectations and personal hopes for our children’s lives is an act of love. We also hold hopes and expectations for our parents and our siblings and how we want them to be in life and in relationship with us. Letting our expectations and our judgments go is an act of love that opens the way for unconditional love. And I say this in full awareness that there are some relationships that are so toxic there is no opportunity to heal them inside the relationship – just the opportunity to heal within yourself by loving and trusting yourself unconditionally.

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And I have been learning about unconditional love through my relationship with my partner and our love for each other. It is as close to unconditional as any partnership can be, infused with mutual love, honour, integrity and respect. And it is a daily practice.

Unconditional love. We get there through awareness, intentionality and practice. Daily practice.