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Why Having Adult Children Is Such a Different Experience

By Ann Richardson April 04, 2022 Family

Have you ever stopped to think about how very odd it is to have children? It is, when you come to think about it, one of the most peculiar things we ever do.

The decision to have children is an enormous leap in the dark, with very little control over the outcome. Yet, whatever happens – whether you have a girl or a boy, whether you have twins or more, whether there is some horrendous catastrophe – it affects the rest of your life.

What We Wanted or Expected

And, over time, it is never quite what you really expected.

Some of us strongly wanted a girl but got a boy. Or vice versa. Some of us wanted a quiet child and some the reverse. Some of us hoped for a house full of children, while some wanted only one.

Yet we got what we got. And many of us end up deciding that we were very glad that we didn’t get what we thought we wanted. Life can surprise us like that.

Perhaps you foresaw all the ways in which your life would change, but few of us do. It is too hard to think that far ahead.

And the hardest part is to really realise how long the impact would last.

I have written a book about liking being old, and one of the reasons that I do is the pleasure of having adult children. I liked them when they were young, too, but I like seeing them really grown up.

Babies Become Children Become Teenagers Become Adults

We tend to start with wanting a baby. (I will skip over those who never wanted to get pregnant in the first place.)

People with a number of children already may actually think about wanting an eight-year-old (or another age), but most of us get no further in our thinking than that baby.

It may be a sleeping new-born baby wrapped in a blanket, or it may be a crawling and laughing baby trying out his or her new capacities, but it is definitely a baby in our thoughts.

You don’t hear many people say, “I really want an argumentative teenager in my house” or even a sweet cooperative teenager for that matter.

Moreover, I never heard anyone say they wanted a son or daughter of 36 or 45 or 52, who may or may not be in touch. Human beings are not built to think that far ahead.

Yet that is what we end up with for years and years and years.

Of course, children don’t stay the same age any more than we do, but they stay adults and yet remain our children. It’s all very strange.

We look at our children now and the image can morph into the same person at age two or 10 or 20 in the blink of an eye.

And yet this small child, whose bottom we wiped and who we nurtured through so many ups and downs, now has a beard or grey hair and glasses. Not to mention all the abilities and interests we never could have imagined.

Relationships

Ongoing relationships vary hugely. Some parents talk to their adult children every day, no matter how distant or how little news to impart. Some lose touch completely, often with considerable pain on or both sides.

But I suspect the vast majority of families remain in contact in some way, at a minimum keeping abreast of major developments and recognising occasions such as birthdays.

And I suspect that whatever the arguments that may arise from time to time, these relationships remain important.

There are so many variables that affect our relationships with our adult children. Their interests, their temperament and character are certainly important.

I don’t know how many children ‘fall close to the tree’, as they say, and continue in the family profession. Carpenter begets carpenter and doctor begets doctor.

It probably makes family meetings easier unless carpenter-the-younger takes up some new fad, with which carpenter-the elder has no sympathy. It happens.

Then, there is the choice of marriage partner, which can bring us together or drive us apart. The complexities of coping with in-laws need no introduction.

Grandchildren

And finally – and perhaps most importantly – there is the arrival of grandchildren. I would guess that this event generally serves to cement relationships with our adult children.

At a minimum, it means we see them more often, since if we want to see the children, the adults come, too.

Of course, arguments may ensue if we don’t approve of how the grandchildren are being brought up. Perhaps the adult children give their children too many things and not enough time. Perhaps they seem too strict and/or not strict enough.

Whether said grandchildren are cuddly young babies or strapping teenagers, there are plenty of ways in which we may want to help our children to cope. The tricky path is to decide how much to say.

I like having adult children, the more adult the better. It is a pleasure to see how they have grown and developed. Their interests may not be my interests, but that just adds another dimension to my life.

They keep me in touch with the generations below and keep me on my toes. Very occasionally, they may even seek for my advice.

I find them a constant surprise.

When they were young, did you ever stop to think seriously about your children becoming adults? How do you get on with your adult children? How have grandchildren affected your relationship with your adult children?

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s new book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, comprises a series of reflections on growing older and is partly a memoir. Her three other books explore other people’s thoughts, experiences and emotions in their own words. Ann lives with her husband in London, England. Please visit her website: http://annrichardson.co.uk.

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