The Joys of Adult Children

I mean that title as a double-entendre, because this week is steeped in both meanings: I spent a long Father’s Day weekend in San Francisco being an adult child — musing nostalgically around the city and Marin, the landscape of my early childhood — and am now spending a couple of days responding to my grown daughter’s call for Mama time. Childhood is never really over for any of us!

Feeling fancy with John at the Opera House

Feeling fancy with John at the S.F. Opera House

While up north spending time with my stepfather, John, I was struck by how vividly present our child-selves can become at any time. The uncannily specific, shockingly reminiscent salt-and-flora scent that wafts through Sausalito and Tiburon… the unmistakable noise-skein of San Francisco streets (cable cars, electric buses, foghorns in the distance)… and the “this is home” sound of John’s bass-baritone voice… all conspired to snag me back to my youth.

I say it often: the trip-wires we all have back to our childhood can be one of the biggest challenges in parenting. We can easily find ourselves responding not as the adults we supposedly are, but as the teen… the tween… the toddler that is suddenly and unexpectedly awakened in us through proximity to reminders of our own past — the most powerful of which is our own children. 

The more we can make peace with our own past, the more joy we find in parenting our infants, toddlers, tweens, teens, and ultimately, our adult children.

Mama to Adult Children for Life


And sure enough, just as I rolled back toward home from the city by the bay, I received an SOS call of sorts from my daughter Eve: she needed some Mama time as she wrestles with some of the grit of real life.

So it’s a time to deeply savor the lived reality of what I wrote about somewhat wistfully in the conclusion of my book Parenting for Peace — that parenting adult children brings a special joy when you know you have raised a creative innovator, a peacemaker poised to make a difference in a challenged world:

Parenting for peace has its own paradoxical wave-particle nature: it is something lived for the richness it brings in each moment — the human connection, the joy, the growth — and also a profoundly important investment in the wellbeing of our global family. It is the ultimate Now and Later proposition.

Farewell and Fair Winds

And now it is later. Fourteen came and went… sixteen… eighteen. Joy flowed, along with some tears. The milestones of driving and graduation passed. Your baby bird grew wings and flew away. Now the world is his nest, and his canvas. Where did the years go, you wonder. Those molasses days of her infancy and toddlerhood, days that stretched on and on and felt like they’d never end, when did they become the steady march of childhood and then overnight the unstoppable blur of her teens? What in the beginning felt like an infinite reach of time stretching out before you — your child’s childhood — today feels like a handful of quicksilver that shimmered for a moment and then was gone.

Unless you’re reading this after your child is grown, you won’t believe me. You’ll think I’m overly sentimental, or a terrible exaggerator, like those annoying people who, when they see you with your baby or toddler, warn you It goes so fast. Really? Goes so fast? Do you know how long I waited while he sat on the potty chair this morning and did nothing?? And then he went in his pants five minutes later! Do you know how long I waited for her to unlock her door after storming in there because I insisted she finish her sophomore project before she could drive to the mall? Part of the miracle and the mystery is this wave/particle aspect of life: both are true, depending on where you stand. The parenting journey is at once interminably long and achingly brief.

I should qualify that: the residential portion of the parenting journey can feel like a marathon in the moment and a sprint in retrospect. The silver lining of the so-called empty nest is that you never stop being a parent and your child never stops needing you. Your grown children indeed need you to be solidly there for them in new ways, so the seeds you’ve sown and tended all these many years can unfurl into vibrant maturity. Life is now their teacher, but you are still needed as an unwavering source of love, counsel, friendship, and enthusiastic support as they experiment with myriad dimensions of being in the world.

This is when you as a parent for peace are graced to witness your child’s emergence as a fully flourishing global citizen with emotional, intellectual and social intelligence and a reverence for both humanity and nature — a peacemaker, poised to make a positive difference in a challenged world.

Awe is exceeded only by gratitude in the soul of a parent who knows that this is because he or she answered Life’s invitation to learn, stretch and grow as their child’s parent. Because you answered that call with a resounding yes, there are no regrets and no what-ifs.

And there is no peace like that peace.

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