Adults - but still children in our minds ?


Active Member
A few days ago Barbara wrote something to the effect that sometimes we (parents) get 'stuck' in a particular emotional phase of our kids lives. Most probably at the 'emotional age' where they began to have significant struggles. (Barb, I'm sorry I can't find the direct quote).

But, I have been pondering this for several days. And while I certainly believe it to be true, I can't unravel it in my mind.

For me:

My daughter is married. A mother. 19 years old. She is by all standards doing OK. Well in fact. And yet -

I have a hard time seeing her as an ADULT. I still fight overwhelming desires to correct her. Give unsolicited advise. To worry myself sick over the 'what ifs'.

For me I think part of this may be due to the fact that I missed 16 months of her adolescence while she was in residential treatment. So those months are kind of just gone.


I would love to understand if other moms are 'stuck'. And if so ... WHY? How do we move forward??


New Member
I think it's the just mother in us that always makes us worry about them, no matter how well they are doing. My son is 20 years old, one year clean, living in an apartment with his new girlfriend, working full time, paying his bills, and I know it's still hard for me to sit back and not worry. Maybe it's because I know him so well and this responsibility thing for him is so new to me. He is doing things I always thought he wasn't capable of. I guess I didn't give him enough credit.


Crazy Cat Lady
Ummm...I'm 47. My mother is 73. The other night she informed me that she STILL finds herself biting her tongue on occasion.

I guess mothers don't ever grow out of it.


But do fathers? husband is easy child's stepfather. He is the only father he has ever seen, or have had. I have a very hard time with this issue. I find myself still trying to protect him, often giving advice when i know he gets upset about it.
However, ever since he went to college, I enjoy watching husband with him. He speaks to him as an adult. They have such wonderful conversations. I have a hard time doing so.


New Member
I think the mother who doesn't worry about her kids and bite her tongue to not give unwanted advice to an adult child is the odd parent. Parents spend years teaching, helping, guiding, coaxing, parenting. That doesn't stop just because a child is now grown, living outside of the home and is successful.

I once saw a Nobel laureate with his mother. Mom was straightening his collar, adjusting his tie, telling him to stand up straight. At dinner, she constantly reminded him about his manners. Through it all, he looked at her with great affection and let her be his mommy.

I think we parents of problem children have it a little more difficult because we have to parent even longer. Most of our kids are extremely immature and really aren't ready to live on their own as soon as their peers. I think it takes us longer to realize and accept our kids are truly adults.

scent of cedar

New Member
Well, this is how it seems to me.

Back when I came to the Board, everyone was telling me that difficult child was a man and that, for his own sake, I needed to let go and let God.

And I literally could not do it.

Intellectually, I could see the value of handing responsibility for his life over to him, but emotionally I could not do it.

I was grieving. I worried over him as though he were twelve years old, or fourteen.

Then I realized that, in my mind...those were the pictures called up when I thought about difficult child.

I just could not make the connection between difficult child and my son.

It was as though, in my mind, I had lost my son. It was as though he were still fourteen, and had disappeared.

Even though I KNEW where he was, and what he had done, and all the terrible things that had transpired in the interim.

And I wondered how that could be.

How could I know what the reality was but be reacting from the emotions of a mother whose fourteen year old son has been snatched away and needs help?

Because that is just what it felt like, whatever I knew, intellectually.

So, this is what makes sense, to me.

It helped me to view it this way because I could see and name the feelings as irrational in a way I had not been able to do, before.

Remember how, back when we were responsible for our babies, our attention was focused, solely and naturally and easily, on everything having to do with those babies. Diaper rash, colic, how often to burp them, what their first words were, when they walked, whether these things were happening on time. If you think back to that time, you will remember listening to every bit of advice, learning how to parent better, how to be more responsive, how to get the child to eat nutritious foods and on, and on.

You were fascinated with everything having anything to do with your child.

And, back as our species was evolving, moms who did not fixate on their children in that way did not produce very many offspring who lived to adulthood.

We always presume that this fascination a mom has for her children ends somewhere along about the time the child is ready to become an adult.

But what if, as happened to you, and to me, the child is simply abruptly gone?

When next you interact with them, they are adult people who look like your child might have looked...but they act nothing like your child.

It seems to me that, at least for me, there is an instinctual part of my psyche (that same, instinctual force that saw me fixating on the care of my infants) that is still searching for my son.

To this day, I feel I lost my son at sixteen. Somewhere in the depths of my psyche, he is still fourteen and he needs me.


Because the rest of my psyche knows he did not make it.

I know it doesn't make sense.

But the instinct to mother and nurture doesn't make sense, either.

Until I worked through my feelings in this way, I could not separate the adult male who now exists from the fourteen year old screaming for help in my mind.

I think these responses are genetically mandated and hormonally mediated.

However those initial bonding behaviors between mom and baby are initiated, Moms whose children do not progress normally do not produce the hormonal release that interacting with a child who is present in the home on a daily basis provides.

Our children were one day just gone.

And somewhere in our psyches where we cannot see or touch it, we are still searching for that child who disappeared.

I know it doesn't make intellectual sense.

It rings so true for me, though.

You hear about mothers of every species who carry the bodies of their infants with them. That is what I think I was doing, too. I could not get it that my child had not died or was not still out there somewhere needing my help.

The child I have now in the world just cannot be my child.

He doesn't feel the same.

Isn't that sad?

But it was more sad when I did not know that it was my sense of loss that was fueling my response to the thirty year old man who IS my child.

Our minds and our spirits operate irrationally. Intellectualizing our situations does not help us (at least, it did not help me). I needed to acknowledge that I believed, in my heart, that my son was still alive in the world as he was in the time that I lost him.

Whether it is rational or not, that is what, somewhere in the heart of me, I believe.

I don't think I have ever stopped looking for him.

It is disconcerting to see my real difficult child ~ though I do sometimes see a flash of my son in his eyes.

I think that, for those of us whose children were gone during their adolescences, we never do understand that the adult who came back to us is the child we lost.

WE are always looking for that lost child. The longer he or she is missing, the more frantic that underlying message becomes.

Like all things, if we can uncover and acknowledge those feelings, we can heal that grieving mother within us.

But boy, until I could do that?

I could not, for the life of me, see my difficult child as an adult.

And I do think these responses are hormonally mediated. Unless we interact with our adolescent children, we never receive the hormonally mediated key to let them go.

So, I don't think you are mourning an empty nest so much as that you are searching for your lost child.

And even though her adult self is there? And even though she is named the same and calls you mom?

Somewhere in your heart she is still whatever age she was when you lost her.

And she needs help.

It was easier for me once I understood this about myself. It feels a little like telling yourself there is nothing under the bed or in the closet. You name the fear irrational and go back to sleep. For me, I can remind myself that difficult child DID grow up, did survive, does not need my help.

That is why the "kidnapped by drug use" imagery works so well for me.

I know where my son is.

Before I was able to know that?

I cannot tell you how painful it was.

I hope this helps you, Golden Guru.

It was the most searing kind of pain I have ever experienced. It made me irrational. I could not stop grieving, but I could not name the grief, either.

What helped me was to be sincere with myself. No beating myself up because I was supposed to feel stronger or colder or smarter. I needed to make a separation between my grief and my living child. I needed to understand that I DID lose a child ~ that he was already gone and there was nothing I could do about it. Just as a mother who has truly lost a child teaches herself there is nothing she can do now, either.

Because rational or not, I did lose a child.

And I never, ever saw him, again.

And both you and I need to respect ourselves enough to nurture that grieving mother within, instead of condemning her for not being able to cut her child loose.



New Member
I find it tough for me now as my girl approaches 19, as she is beginning to realize how different she is from others her age. Besides "being out of the world" as she calls it, for 18 months at Residential Treatment Center (RTC) when she was a younger teen, she also has processing difficulties which make it difficult for her to tune in to conversations and carry them through. She hasn't found a social circle or friends, in the past year....not for lack of trying.

So, it is sad for me to watch my beautiful girl try to figure out how to fit in and compensate for her Learning Disability (LD).

Some days, I see her as a young adult, others she still seems like a 15 year old to me.


Well-Known Member
For me, the boys will always be "the boys" just as I am always my fathers daughter. I dont think we ever stop worrying about them.

My father calls to make sure Im ok. I call to check on him. LOL.

scent of cedar

New Member
Did you go through a time Janet, when the kids were in trouble and then, gone from the home (a treatment center or some such)?

I think that is the key to the irrational, unexplainable kind of grief I felt. (And still feel ~ but now I know where my boy is ~ my son took him.)

Crazy, huh?

But I am functional again.

No more depression.

No more private grieving.

I know where he is.

I know I cannot help or change or even, reach him where he is.

But I am also no longer at the mercy of my-son-in-the-world-today.

And I can view myself with compassion for the horrible pain of my loss instead of condemning myself for everything that is lost.



Active Member
Hmpff......not sure what my thoughts are. A couple of things come to mind though. One, is that I totally agree that as mother's we biologically are wired to nurture, protect, and care for our offspring when they are in need. Whether that is 2, 12, 20, or 40 - it the first thought that springs to not just our mind, but our body when our kids are in need. Unfortunately difficult children seem to be in constant "need", which triggers our maternal drive, constantly.

For me, I am not sure if I am stuck, yet, because my son is still 16 and at home......but already I can see where I baby him WAY too much, enable him WAY too much, and do not allow him to stand as an adult man, when is capable. Part of this could be, that for so many of us, our kids show us that they ARE incapable, time and time again - so we are literally working on a fact - our child needs help. They act like they are 12 when they are 17 - so we are simply responding to the reality presented to us. For me, I am having to constantly remind myself that - actually - he IS capable, smart, and able to do the task at hand. It is a lot of cognitive thinking, and self talk.

The last thought I have is that I am not sure this always applies to kids - but possibly loved ones. My Dad has stage 4 brain cancer, and is gravely ill. He and my mom have just decided to drive through the US on a vacation - and my Dad who has had seizures due to the brain tumor - is the one driving!!!!!! YIKES!!!!
For days, I felt like they were my kids - and wanted to talk them out of the trip, told them I was worried about the trip, and felt literally as if they were my kids making a really bad decision. Of course they went anyway, and are on it right can I do? Except practice letting this go. Just like I practice letting my son go every day.

Perhaps this is all normal - it is just part of being a loving caring being in this world. And when one we love demonstrates behavior that is inappropriate, or immature - isn't it normal to instinctually want to nurture, coddle, or take care of them? However, "normal" does not always mean it is the right thing to do - and therefore causes us to have to use a lot of personal restraint in reigning in our emotions, mouths, and thoughts.

Good luck with this journey. You are not alone.
Hmmm...a few different directions here...

On the side of the child...when I was 15, I started to drink and drug. That is when I stopped growing emotionally. I got clean the first time at 20. I was a VERY immature 20 year old. My mom was on me constantly. She is to this day. I am almost 40 now. She calls me at near midnight to tell me that she is worried about me moving to an elevator building because what if Tink gets stuck. She does NOT get on my brothers like this. But she never has had a reason to get on my brothers like this.

Which brings me to my other direction that my mind wandered. I have 2 kids, they are 19 and 6. I am raising the 6yo completely different than the older one. She is just a different kid. Tink (the younger one) wakes up, makes herself breakfast, gets dressed and THEN wakes me up to say she is going out to play. Today she cut up an apple (with a butter knife) so she could dip it in peanut butter. Copper (the older one), even at age 8, would wake up, and sit on my bed and stare at me till I woke up. If I had to pick one of my girls to be on Survivor, and take care of herself, it would be Tink. At age 6. She'd win too.

Now, I have successfully detached from Copper, as she is out on her own. But I wonder if this whole "knowing your kid is an adult but treating them as a child" has to do with what kind of kid they are? I make a point not to do to Copper what my mom does to me. If she asks for advice, I give it. She does not ask often. If I am going to give unsolicited advice, I do it in private. mostly, I bite my tongue. Like about how much I can't stand her her boyfriend.

Have I mentioned, he is a leprechaun?


Well-Known Member

I have had two kids in "settings" I guess you could call them. One...Cory...has been in treatment facilities of some sort since he was 11. He was in wilderness camp for 16 months starting at age 11. Then various group homes and psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment facilities.

I did worry about him but learned to mother him along with other various people who became his surrogate parents. To this day he has contact with some of them.

Then there was Jamie who went into the Marines and I was forced to learn to let go. There was simply no choice.

I still worry, I am forced to..I cant help but worry about my kids. I think worrying about what is happening to a child when out of your sight and in a fairly dangerous situation is natural. However, I dont let that worry overwhelm me completely with the others. I had to learn to put the fear in the back of my mind with Jamie because otherwise I would be paralyzed. He is in much more danger even now than the other two really but I refuse to think about After all...he wears a police uniform and lives right outside of Difficult Child! dont go there.

BBK...I so know what you mean about worrying about your parents though. My dad is quite elderly now. He had traveled to the Boston area the weeks before 9/11 and was due to be coming home right around then. I couldnt reach him when the attacks happened. I didnt know if he had driven up or flown up or took the train. I wasnt sure when he was coming home really. The lines were down. I was panicked. I yelled at him when I finally found Told him to never leave home without telling me exactly when he was returning and giving me a number where he could be reached....lmao. He laughed so hard.
Barbara - You should write a book!! You took my thoughts completely out of my head. Tears are streaming down my face because I feel that I have lost my son and I want him back! I lost him at 16 like you did and I have never found that young adult again. I try to help him find himself but it never works. I keep asking him where is my son? He never answers me. I miss him - my husband misses him. I want so deparately for hiim to come back home. I have tried to let this other person come back home that looks like my son - and it is so hard because it is not my son. Thanks for making me feel not so crazy or wrong for finding it the hardest thing I have ever had to do but feel llike I cant find him or do anything to find him. I think that is my pain. I hear the words kick him out over and over but I know it is right and we have done that and everything else but it is like telling the person you are trying to find to go away - he stiill tells me he loves me and I wonder if it is just out of thinking he needs to - Thanks :flower:


Former desparate mom
I can understand that some of you feel you lost your child and how you continue to grieve but in gg's case, she got her daughter back and she is doing ok.

I find it very surprising that I don't know my difficult child's work schedule, medication schedule, finances. It is not how I lived the first 21yrs of difficult child's life. I was over scrutinizing his life and it was strangling him in some cases. I pushed back (within reason) and let him run out of money, medications, late for work, etc. I still give him some cues on big issues(big to me) but I am less hyperfocused. difficult child demanded to fail or move forward on his own. It was so difficult to deal with him that I was forced to stand back.

I never felt Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) took my son away. I felt like they gave my son a chance and I'm grateful for what they provided difficult child but also what they provided me.

I don't think mom's as a general rule, ever stop parenting their kids. I am just doing so a little more silently. LOL.
GG, your daughter is only 19. I am sure by the time she is older and showing signs of being a young woman of character she will demand that you treat her as an adult. The relationship between adult parent and adult child can be a wonderfully rewarding relationship.

Having said all that, it is really nice to have difficult child in our home even if it's temporarily. I feel satisfied that for now he is safe and with people who love him.
Goldenguru, I hope you see what's best for difficult child to become a wonderful adult is to have her mom respecting her adult behavior.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
One final thing...lately I'm so busy, I barely have time to think about giving my children advice. They better figure it out for themselves.

Nomad hit the nail on the head. Parents of adult children need to find something to do with the rest of their lives. Your days of active parenting are done but you have a long life ahead of you.

I recently recommended a book called Beyond the Mommy Years: How to Live Happily Ever After...After the Kids Leave Home by Carin Rubenstein. The author points out that you will be the parent of adult children for many more years than you were a hands-on parent. As described on Amazon . . . "Through intensive and wide-ranging original research, author Carin Rubenstein reveals how and why some mothers thrive and others do not. She breaks the post-motherhood launch down into three stages--grief, relief, and joy. If a woman makes it through to the final stage, friendships blossom, work thrives, and she develops a renewed sense of confidence and well-being."

Have you thought about what you are going to do with those years?

I think my success at detaching is two-fold. One, I really don't think of my daughters as "girls" anymore. They are truly adults in my eyes (albeit not always adults that make the wisest decisions), and two, I'm busy with teaching and graduate school and making plans to travel with husband so I am not hyperfocused on what they are up to.

difficult child said to me recently, "You are never home when I call." I answered, "Am I supposed to be home knitting waiting for you to call?"

I don't know how to knit.



Active Member
Quoted by Fran: "but in gg's case, she got her daughter back and she is doing ok"

I struggle with this statement Fran. Actually, I never did get my daughter back. I had a daughter ... and it seems that at about 14 years of age I lost her. To drugs. Drinking. Mental illness. Residential treatment. And so on. I literally lost YEARS of her life.

I missed proms. Dating. High school clubs. Band concerts. College.

I lack those mile stones. Those rights of passage that steer our lives from one season to the next. I am stuck ... I think ... because we never passed over those things that clearly delineate childhood from adulthood.

It's like going on a trip. You drive through state after state until you arrive at your destination. Thats what happens when you parent a 'normal' kid.

When you parent a troubled kid ... you drive and drive and but its disorienting because even though I have reached 'the destination' ... I didn't pass the mile markers that measured the journey.

Yes my daughter is doing well. But, it seems to me that I lost her at about 14. After four years of drama ... she moved out. I have missed those rites of passage that have moved me from being the mother of an early adolescent to the mother of an adult.

And just as my 'trip' analogy would leave one a bit disoriented ... it seems that missing those important years in her life have left me disoriented in terms of relating her to as an adult person.

Does that make any sense??

I do respect her adult behavior .... and try to verbalize it to her regularly. But sometimes my heart is sad for the teenager I wish I had known better.


Former desparate mom
gg, I respect the losses you sustained on your journey. I don't think we ever not pine for those milestones but truthfully there is an end product to parenting. Your teen parenting years were heartbreaking and there was a lot of loss.
Your difficult child is at 19, more responsible than easy child's at 19.
I'm saying that if she were still drowning in the negative self destructive behavior there would be reason to think of difficult child as a child.
I also feel loss to me as a parent or to what my child didn't get to experience but parenting seems to be a process that changes every step of the developmental scale. I hope I continue to change how I parent as they kids grow and their needs change. I can't go back to the way it way it was. Thank goodness. I can only look forward with some hope that parenting an adult child will be more wonderful than the past 10 to 15yrs.

I'm 52. My mom still feels a need to "show me" how to fold socks. She never did learn that "biting her tongue" thing. (this is said jokingly) She is a wonderfully loving, over bearing, knowing all things 80 yr old mother that I try to spend less than 5 days at a time with.


Active Member
This is probably why I dislike the month of June so much. I get very moody and sad when I have to read about proms and graduations.

It does get easier though. I am so very proud of my difficult child 2 for getting his GED and for finishing a technical school program. He is now employed, fun to be around, and very much on his way towards independence and great decision making skills.

I still dislike June however.

scent of cedar

New Member
Originally Posted By: Big Bad Kitty

If she asks for advice, I give it. She does not ask often. If I am going to give unsolicited advice, I do it in private. mostly, I bite my tongue. Like about how much I can't stand her her boyfriend.

Have I mentioned, he is a leprechaun?


scent of cedar

New Member
GG, nineteen is still very young. Our daughter is 34, now. I say it is a whole different thing, with a daughter. It feels like they want you to leave them alone but expect you to be ready to leap in (like Superman or someone!) and know exactly what to do WHETHER YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE DETAILS OR NOT!


I love interacting with my daughter and grandchildren.

Remember when Coookie always used to talk about sitting on her lips?

I always try to remember to keep myself quiet, too.

Smile and nod.

That is what Mom's and grandmas are supposed to do.

Smile and nod and always hug everyone. :smile:

I know one grandma who keeps a big, glass jar of brightly wrapped candies in her bedroom. When all her children come home with all the grandchildren? The grandma and the grandchildren lay around on her bed and eat candy and talk.

Now, how cool is that!

And when one of them has a special problem to discuss?

The grandma pulls out the Godiva chocolate.

I always swear I am going to do that, too. I don't have the willpower to leave the candy alone until the kids get here, though. (The grandma I am talking about is quite heavy ~ probably related to all that talking she does over candy with her grandchildren!)