Finding the Peace

Witnessing and Supporting

As a parent of adult children, I have come to realize that my role as a parent is rather limited.  When my children were growing up, it was never easy to watch them struggle when life was sending them a series of twists and turns. I was reminded that life didn’t always make sense.  My children are good kids and I always wanted life to cut them a break.  And when it didn’t, or they were not on the top of their game in handling situations, I would interject and guide them as all caring parents want to do to help their children grow and develop.  My husband and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we got our three children graduated and out into the world.  But no one told us that raising our children was the easy part.  Problems that happen in the childhood years seem so much more manageable than watching our children as they live in the adult world of life and encounter adult problems. Perhaps this is because our role as the parent has changed. No one ever really said how we parent when our children enter the adult arena.
So with an unclear role, I have practiced different ways of being a parent to my adult children.  Being pretty direct, I have interjected my thoughts, but learned early on that this wasn’t helpful. Sometimes they really didn’t want to know what I thought.  They just wanted me to listen.  Sometimes, I had no idea what was the best for them, and had nothing to add for advice and “fix it” ideas. And I struggled because I knew from my own experiences, that life is in some “untold, but perfect order”. I had to ask myself, who was I to decide what my children’s journey should be?  I didn’t know what growth would come their way from the path they travel. Nor did I want to be in charge of how they were to grow.  So what was my role to look like?
After a series of “practice sessions” which life dealt me, I have decided (at this stage in the process) what I may do as a parent of adult children. I may “witness and support.”  This means I enter the space of my adult child’s life gently when invited in. I maintain neutrality even when I might really have a definite opinion. This means that I don’t get to judge as it isn’t my life. I may witness his/her life as he or she shares. Witnessing anyone’s journey is a humble gift.  And just being asked to be present in someone’s life is the honor and is the role.  I don’t have to do anything but allow the sharing.  That can be a tough one as a parent. 
And I may offer support.  I am there, in the midst of the witnessing, to support my adult children.  I give them the message that they can handle their life and I trust they will do what is right for their lives. I “hold the space” for them as they navigate life. They can drop by for a bit of homespun energy to help them move forward. I am there to support them if they need an extra hand, or just need some emotional support. There are many ways to support someone as they move through life challenges.  As their parent, I will be a steady, consistent force that helps to contain their anxious moments when they choose to share. Not by saying much, but by allowing them to dump. I will be their drumbeat that lets them know I am always there for them.  I will be the neutral person that they can unload on without fear of judgment, or too much opinion about what they “should” do, or a need to think I have to “fix it”. And maybe most importantly, when they are struggling and really have some difficult moments, I will remain strong and steady.  I don’t get the luxury of feeling bad because they are feeling bad.  I need to be the force that stays centered and “okay” even when they are not “okay”.  And in that role, I give them full permission to use me in my role of “witnessing and supporting.”  They can be falling down, even crawling through difficult moments.  I will witness the situation, walk it with them, let them decide when they can walk again, pause with them as they need to catch their breath, and support them when they ask for an extra hand.  No one ever said parenting was easy, but if we work to be good parents, we certainly will grow and develop as better people.  Because witnessing and supporting is not an easy role to play.  But I do believe it is a good place to start in trying to do what is right for our adult children.
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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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