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Parenting Adult Children: Your Journey Doesn’t End When They Turn 18

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Having two young stepchildren, I hadn’t given much thought to parenting adult children.

Like many stepmoms, my early days of stepmomming were stressful. Navigating blended family life is no joke, and there were days where I thought to myself, “Man, I can’t wait until the kids are 18!”

The “Countdown to 18” ticking away in my subconscious came to a screeching halt as I grew in my journey as a stepparent.

As the dust settled in my stepfamily life, I began to feel like a real parent. Getting comfortable in my role allowed me to stop venting all the time, and to start actually paying attention to my other friends and family members who are parents. It allowed me to be present and to realize that my parenting journey is far from over.

One day I was speaking to a colleague who has two children in their early 20’s. In our conversation, he said that parenting adult children is the hardest stage of parenting. Reflecting on my morning made up of two toddlers arguing over a spoon and then dumping their yogurts on the floor, I knew he was mistaken.

Over the next couple of years, I continued to hear the same sentiment from other parents. Their stories ranged from children facing divorce and custody issues to serious financial difficulties and other legal issues. One had to bury her adult child. The stories were all heart-wrenching.

Suddenly, my complaints about how hard it was to parent two young children felt small by comparison.

Parenting Adult Children: Your Stepmom Journey Doesn’t End When They Turn 18

In our online stepmom support group, I regularly see stepmoms post about how they cannot wait until their stepchild turns 18. (This is typically paired with a desire to never have to see the child’s mom again.)

After years of hearing these cries, years of observations, and years of reflection, I’m here to break it to you plainly: Your stepmom journey does not end when your stepchild turns 18.

Your adult stepchild will still need you.

Just as they need you now, they will need you then. Think about it… since you became an adult, how often have you needed one of your parents? Or, more generally, some sort of adult mentor? Chances are, your answer to that question is ALL THE TIME.

You want to be close enough to your stepchildren that they confide in you forever, right?! That means you’ll hear about [and maybe assist them with] their financial struggles. You’ll be the call they make when their relationships fail and they need a place to stay while they get back on their feet.

You will experience highs and lows with them, just as you do while they are adolescents.

Their struggles now are more significant than their childhood struggles.

Comforting your children when they don’t make the soccer team is a piece of cake compared to comforting them when they get laid off from work and can’t pay rent.

As you continue to grow and learn with age, so will they. Parenting adult children is heavy, but trust that you have developed a relationship with them where they confide in you. Trust that you have sufficient guidance to give them (and also be patient when they don’t take your advice)!

It can be incredibly painful for parents to watch their adult children fail.

The shared parenting doesn’t end when the child turns 18.

You may not want to hear this, but you will still see your stepchild’s mom. Your husband will still communicate with her. Their work as parents never ends; meaning, they will continue to craft their shared parenting philosophy forever.

Sure, child support goes away. There aren’t as many events to attend together. Your child drives now and is not bound to a custody schedule. Those are all great things!

But your stepchildren still need their parents (yes, all of them, including you, stepmom!). There will be life events: birthdays, graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren, work events, the list goes on…

There will also still be financial discussions, whether or not you’re set on “cutting them off” when they turn 18. As you know, not every 18-year-old is financially self-sufficient (in fact, most are not!). There will be bills, financial blunders, and debt.

College, weddings, car repairs… there are so many things that “pop up,” and you and your husband will need to decide if you’re willing and able to help. Your stepchild’s mom will be making those same considerations.

If your stepdaughter’s mom thinks the bride’s family should pay for the wedding, but your husband thinks that’s an old tradition and it should be up to the bride and groom to pay, do you think your stepdaughter’s mom will just let that go? Offer to pay all by herself? Or take your side and have the child pay?

No. She will call your husband and a have a discussion about it.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down? There will just always be a reason to communicate. Your stepchild’s mom will always be in your life.

Your child still doesn’t want to be your gopher, and still shouldn’t have to be.

In that same wedding scenario, do you think your stepdaughter will want to pass the “who’s paying for what?” message back and forth between the two homes? No!

When you’re parenting adult children, you should not put unnecessary weight on them just because they’re not kids anymore. You’ll want to continue to keep the adult problems between the [older] adults.

The Bottom Line about Parenting Adult Children

The quicker you can adjust your mindset, the smoother their transition to adulthood will go for you.

Don’t think about your children turning 18 as a race to the finish line. Think about it as entering into a new chapter of parenthood.

Will some aspects of shared parenting be easier? Sure! But will some be more challenging? Absolutely!

At the end of the day, we are all here to support our kids: bio, step, or otherwise. Don’t think you’re off the hook when they turn 18… they’ll need you then more than ever!

P.S. If you already have a young adult child in your life, pass along our advice on budgeting (with a free template!).

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