Once your children have left home you will need to do everything in your power to support their need for independence, but you must also make it clear that you're still available for them when they need your help, support or sympathy.
Follow our guidance on maintaining this delicate balancing act:
- Stand back and let go. Accept that interference in your child's life will be met with irritation, resentment or rejection.
- Lose the habits of a lifetime, and stop treating your grownup offspring as children. This means listening to what they're saying, respecting their opinions, and resisting the temptation to lecture, tease or nag.
- As far as possible, keep your opinions yourself. Haranguing your children over everything from their choice of car to partner will only alienate them. Everyone should have the freedom to make their own decisions - and, sometimes, mistakes.
- Be supportive. Give your children positive encouragement in everything (within reason) they choose to do - even if you can't understand why they're doing it...
- Don't aid and abet regression. You may find your children are all too willing to return to the parental home for pampering, and are more than ready to regress into sloppy adolescents.
- This is a dangerous precedent, and will only happen if you are colluding with your children. Instead, ask your children to help out around the house and garden, give them tasks and errands, and keep them busy. Don't offer to do their washing!
- Don't pry. Your children will not tell you everything, and you must respect their privacy. Looking at their text messages, snooping on Facebook, peeking at their diaries is simply not acceptable, no matter how desperate you are to know the truth.
- You just have to hope that, providing you build up a good, mature relationship with your children, they will feel able to tell you everything in due course.
- You will always worry about your children, but be careful about expressing your anxieties directly to them. All too often, your worry becomes an extra burden, and your children may choose not to off-load their problems on you, because they fear your reaction. This may lead to a cycle of secrecy and restraint.
- Try, as far as possible, to take the lead from your children when it comes to keeping in touch. Your child may find daily phonecalls oppressive, so it's probably best to stand back and let the younger generation come to you. Gradually a pattern of communication will be established, and you will then be able to play your part in maintaining it.
- Make it clear that you're always happy to see your children, but don't beg them to come and visit (unless you have a very good reason). They may be very caught up in their own lives, and will see your repeated invitations as needy and hectoring. By rejecting your obvious neediness they may make themselves feel guilty, and therefore resentful, towards you, and a dangerous precedent will be set. Wait for them to come to you.
- Be positive. Your children will need your support and affirmation throughout their lives, so don't be afraid to give it. Compliment them on their appearance, their flat, their partner's success. Tell them how proud you are when they pass their exams, get a degree, a new job, a promotion. It's never a bad idea to show them how much you care.