A little advice . . . for your consideration

August 06, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

THE PARENTING OF ADULT children is never more complex than during college summer vacation, when there seems to be no agreement about who is in charge.

The kids have just finished nine months of doing what they darn well please, and we have spent nine months blissfully unaware of what they were doing.

It is a rude shock when these two worlds collide in summer.

Recently, my daughter, a rising junior in college, declined to bend to my will. When I expressed my exasperation, she said, sweetly and with a gentle hug, "Mummy, you know I always take what you have to say into consideration."

While I attempted to recover my composure and, like, ground her for a month or something, she and a handful of friends flitted out the door to their next unsupervised adventure.

And I was left to stitch together the tatters of my role as the mother.

I hope I don't sound like Chamberlain here -- willing to give up whole chunks of Europe in the name of peace -- but I guess I should be happy with what territory has been left me: She takes what I have to say into consideration.

I am not sure I have anything to offer her as she makes her way through this increasingly complex world. I feel like my own mother, whose advice to me when I was Jessie's age seemed perfectly crackpot. Such as, always wear new underwear to the doctor's office in case you are sent immediately to the hospital.

But I will take what I can get.

Cell phones and e-mail and instant messaging open lines of communication between parents and children that our parents never imagined. And I am not sure they would have availed themselves of this kind of constant contact if they could have.

I don't know about you, but I was raised in an era of benign neglect: "Be home for dinner" was the only admonition and the only expectation.

These days parents have a much different role. We are intensely involved in every aspect of our children's lives -- I read a newspaper story recently about parents stepping in to negotiate starting salaries for their college graduates.

We are so involved that we fail to notice when our days as disciplinarians end.

Our adult children will let us know when those days are over. At that point, we need the grace to slip into a new role, that of consultant. When we can no longer successfully forbid and demand, we must learn to suggest. And be grateful when our children are willing to entertain our wisdom and experience, disguised as suggestions.

There are plenty of experts out there who will say that parents shouldn't even do this. That we are only prolonging our children's dependence and handicapping them as they attempt to find solid footing in adulthood. Maybe so.

But forgive me if I think we might have something to offer, beyond our own mothers' advice about underwear and the doctor's office. No less an authority than my daughter agrees.

After all, she said she takes whatever I have to say into consideration.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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