How to Raise a Grown-Up*

*Similar to but not the same as a parsnip

In the six years since my divorce, I have been lucky to have my grown daughters live with me, albeit intermittently.

I know parents who can’t wait until their kids are gone and lament the economic conditions that have altered this natural progression. I enjoyed my occasional time alone, but I’ve also come to see their return as a second chance. I have been given the opportunity to be a different type of parent to them, as one adult to another. I have been given the chance to make amends.

Children of divorce carry scars regardless of the circumstances. All that they know and depend on is turned upside down before it is set right, if it is ever set right. Research bears this out.

My kids had difficulties of all sorts following my separation and divorce. Some of those bumps may have been normal for their age and unrelated to divorce, but being the type of mother I am, I assume they would not have had these problems had they come from an intact family that looked Norman Rockwell-ian. I know NR families. I am deeply envious of their intactness, their solid parenting, and the foundation it gives the kids going forward in life. Many kids aren’t that lucky. In any case, our lives were complex and my daughters did not get the benefit of my full attention during several difficult years.

For us, the do-over meant that they moved home after college and after working for a few years because they’d decided to go to graduate school and needed some prerequisites prior to application. They moved in with me and went back to school.

My older daughter returned first, having been on her own for several years, and we slowly moved from the place of me parenting her as I had during her high school and college years—that is to say, gingerly, with fear and extreme caution on my part—to a completely different relationship. For one thing, we shared responsibility for our elderly dog. Olga grew old before our eyes, and Liz began to feel an adult type of love and responsibility for her. For another thing, she watched as I cared for my own mother, who slowly slipped deeper and deeper into dementia. But our living arrangement included a meaningful series of meals together, when we discussed the past, the present, the future. We discussed politics, religion, current events, relationships with men and women and children. We argued. We hurt each other’s feelings. We learned to apologize before going to bed at night. We saved our best stories for each other and laughed together. I watched her struggle through the science classes required for pre-med, then master them, then get terrific grades, and get accepted into several medical schools. I watched her confidence grow. I watched her blossom.

When Jocelyn called to say she wanted to come home, my door was open. She is a different person than Liz, and my parenting requires different techniques. But the same process is at play and I marvel at her growth in a year’s time. What is interesting is not only that they’re adults now, but I’m more of a grown up than I was ten years ago. Having gone through the past decade made me more patient and considerate. I am fortunate to have had this opportunity with my kids, to be present for them, to have the emotional energy to expend, to have the room physically to house them, and to have a second chance to be a mother at this point in their lives. As much as I give them, they give me more.

They want me to teach them how to cook, of course, but enough already. I’m tired of cooking. I’m even tired of eating. But I am willing to direct traffic in the kitchen, and impart the wisdom of my cooking past. I learned a lot from their grandmothers in the same way—insights casually shared across a table or over a stove. It feels now like a new manner of parenting but I suspect it is a continuation of something very old. And I’m lucky to be part of it.