Just because your kids have grown up and flown the nest, doesn't mean a parent's job is done -- there are times you should intervene.
One of the hardest things about being a parent to a young adult is knowing when to be quiet. You could certainly say that as an adult your child no longer needs parenting, of course, and while that is what all parents hope for, the reality is that our roles as mom and dad don’t have an expiration date.
Let me explain a recent situation that illustrates my point.
My 24-year-old son came home after a prolonged stay abroad, and when he arrived I admit I had a little shock. He had gained a fair amount of weight and was looking a bit sallow. Now, as someone who’s had a tendency to put on a pound or 10 over the years, it wasn’t the weight gain that really alarmed me, but that he didn’t look healthy.
I went to bed feeling unsure of what to do. I have a very open relationship with my son and we can talk about many things, but something like this can be a very tricky subject. On top of that, I needed to take in a few cultural differences that affect how I deal with things.
I live in France where parents are extremely vocal about what they think their children should or should not be doing, saying, or eating. I remember vividly my mother-in-law barking at her daughter, “Sarah, you’re fat!” while we were enjoying a meal in a restaurant. I still can’t forget her poor daughter’s face at the bluntness of the delivery — and to be honest, she looked perfectly fine to me!
Add to that the fact that I’m British and we Brits are very reluctant to express how we really feel, and I was left with a parenting conundrum: do I keep my mouth shut, or do I go all Gallic?
Speaking out for our children’s good
After much consideration, I decided to let a little Frenchness come through. I felt it was my duty to talk to my son about making wise lifestyle choices. I certainly didn’t want to “fat shame” him; instead I wanted him to see his body as the gift it truly is, and something we should never take for granted.
So, after a little trepidation, I voiced my concerns to him. I very gently explained how it’s so easy to see pounds pile up, but not so easy to shed them, especially when our jobs are so sedentary.
As the theology of the body points out, our body is a gift to us and it is through our bodies that we love others. For example, as a healthy, fit individual, he’s in the perfect position to help our elderly neighbor bring her shopping bags up all the stairs. Not so easy when you’re badly out of shape.
I also explained that his propensity to order take-out instead of making a healthy meal at home was not just wasteful, but lazy. Again, something that’s far from desirable and doesn’t help you in life.
My son was pretty dismissive and defensive; I knew he would be. But when we carefully point out things we believe are important and deliver it with compassion and love, it may eventually lead the person to reflect on what has been said. And through this reflection they’re often able to make positive changes.
While my son is still ordering the odd takeout, he’s also now drinking water and exercising — all through his own volition. Of course, I’m delighted by his lifestyle changes and it reaffirms for me the fact that a parent’s duty is never to shy away from unpleasant discussions, but to use them as learning experiences for both ourselves and our children.