Despite the fact that I think that the more you allow your adult children to manage their own lives, the better off they are, I occasionally provide help when it is neither needed nor wanted.

I see other parents providing resources in the form of money, skills, and advice and I sometimes feel that unless I do the same thing, I am, in words that haunt me, a bad mother. It’s almost a form of “keeping up with the Jones”, showing the world what a caring mother I am by doing things for my kids, when intellectually, I am sure the best thing I can do is nothing.

Doing nothing is something I have to work at.

Recently, my son announced that he wanted to volunteer in Africa. He and I started looking online for organizations that would suit his purposes. I continued to e-mail him with sites and he was happy when I suggested that I contact a friend in Africa for some help. My friend sent me some information and I forwarded the e-mail to him.

The next week he said he had to talk with me:

“Mom, I get the feeling that you want me to go to Africa right away and I’m not ready. I have my own deadline and it’s not now. I didn’t expect you to contact your friend so soon.”

“I’m glad you told me that,” I said. “You have Jack’s e-mail and if you decide you want to contact him you can. I won’t contact him any more about you. Do you want me to keep looking for organizations online?”

“No,” he said.

And with that, I stopped. He was right, I was anxious for him to go to Africa—I thought it would be wonderful for his development. He has recently finished his degree in anthropology and is currently working at a coffee shop.

For a couple of reasons, I got caught in the trap of doing things for my adult child which he could do himself.

First, I have a persistent emotional need to help my kids in whatever way I can. But I know that one of the great paradoxes of raising children, whether young or adult is that the more you do, the less you help. Everyone needs to feel that they are competent at managing their own lives, and if we as parents take over from our children, we are, in effect, telling them that they are incompetent.

Unless we are directly asked for help, often the best thing we can do is to butt out.

The other reason I got caught is that I failed to differentiate my son from myself. I wanted him to be like me. I value volunteer work in Canada and abroad. When I was young I volunteered with a Canadian organization by doing community development work in Cape Breton with fishermen and coalminers.

In addition, I saw this as a “step up” from his coffee shop gig and thus his success became my success. While I don’t care if he makes a lot of money, I do care if he uses his skills and abilities.

But pushing any child in a direction for which they are not yet ready is not what good parenting is all about. I think it’s about loving your children for what they are now and letting them know that you believe in their ability to manage their own lives.

I want my son to grow, and no doubt he will, but it won’t be on my schedule or with my set of values and nor should it be.


The details of the story have been changed to protect the privacy of my son.  He gave me permission to post this. 

If you are interested in reading more, check out Creating boundaries with dependent adult children

What is your philosophy in parenting adult children?  I would love to hear from you so don’t hesitate to leave a comment in the Reply Box below.  

Lessons Learned
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