When I Realised That Being A Parent To An Adult Is Different To Being A Parent Of A Child


The glass doors glide silently open. Wearing a dark, pin-striped pencil skirt and stiletto-heeled shoes, I step nervously into the hushed court entrance. My parents, wary and apprehensive, flank me.

I am in shock. I cannot believe where life has brought me. Mum and Dad - my champions - are just as stunned. Borne of the stoic generation, they keep their feelings in check.

Despite being divorced for decades, my parents have managed to maintain their friendship, underpinned by a history of shared adventure, experience – and children. Now, they are joining together to support their daughter, to hold my head above water when the enormity of what is happening, of what has happened, threatens to drown me.

I am absorbed in my own pain and bewilderment, and spare barely a thought for my parents as they struggle with their powerlessness to make things better for me, for us. This was not the life they had envisioned for their daughter, or their grandchild. They are floundering as much as me – perhaps more so.

As a child, my parents were central to what I did and how I did things – when to go to bed, what to wear, what to eat, where I would live and go to school. Now I am an adult, my parents are bystanders. All they can do is watch and listen as I make decisions, sign papers, give evidence.

I stop and bend my head, my lashes fielding tears as my resolve begins to collapse. Then I feel my parents link their arms through mine, one on either side. We walk on in, my head high, my determination to do my best, strong.

Two decades later, and I work with an agency that supports people in court situations. This is a different court, with different corridors, different doors – but still a court, which holds the power to change lives.

As I walk these corridors, I see parents sitting next to their adult children, waiting. Their faces are anxious as they observe their child’s pain, and they drape their arm protectively over the shoulder of their babies, unable to do anything but be there. They look at me over their progeny’s bent head, their eyes watering dryly as they suffer in silence. For many of these parents, being in court is foreign territory, one they had never imagined traversing with their child.

I am deeply moved, and reminded of my parents’ solid presence during my years of need. They were my rock as my life stormed and crashed, battered by elements over which I had little control. Did they know how important they were to me, how their belief in me, their love for my child, their practical support, provided sanctuary and safety? Did I say ‘Thank you’? Enough?

To all parents standing by their adult children – I see you. I see you as you sit by the phone, your head in your hands, while your child finally tells you of their fear, of unimaginable horrors happening in their relationship. I feel your heart pound as your child tells you of their visit to the doctor, that they may need to see a cancer specialist. I hear you weep silently from the other side of the country, when you learn your baby has miscarried their longed for baby (your grandchild). I imagine your fear for your child, while you listen to their confusion as they come out to you, queer. I reel with your helplessness as you learn your child has lost their job, their house, their marriage.

You see, for me, life has turned full circle. Now I am the parent of a young adult, living on the other side of the world, and a teen, rapidly growing. Both are finding their own way in life.

I will have to find the strength to be powerless, unable to change my child’s pain.

The cause of their suffering will be so much bigger than the stubbed toe, the friendship snub of their childhood. I won’t be able to just kiss it better, to hold them tight.

I suspect that my ability to listen, without judgement, without blame, will be tested with the adult problems of my children. I know that somehow, I will have to hold my fear, my anxiety, within, and separate my concern from my child’s. I must trust in their ability to find their own way.

I will become a bystander in my adult child’s decisions.

However. While there is breath in my body, while there is movement in my limbs, while my mind works clearly, I hope that my children can rely on me to be whatever they need at that time.

Because, like you, my love for my children has been, still is, and always will be, unconditional. No matter their age.

First published 12 March 2019

© Larissa Dann. 2019.

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