Parenting grown-up kids: Three families share their journeys
Christine Leow // July 28, 2020, 5:16 pm
From serving instead of judging, to listening instead of nagging, three sets of parents share their journeys parenting their now-adult children. Photo courtesy of the Tham family.
Talk about parenting and the early struggles come to mind – nights interrupted by feeds, diaper duties and calming colicky babies. Then come those pre-school and schooling years shepherding energetic toddlers and tutoring children. And, of course, the teen years with their changes and challenges.
But there is a season of parenting that is just as pertinent and poignant: When our kids have grown up.
How do we parent someone old enough to earn their own keep, tall enough to look down (not up) at us, and smart enough to talk back?
Salt&Light talks to three families about their journeys.
Surrendering a rebel to God: The Ohs
Joseph Oh, 58, and his wife Joni Yuen, 53, are parents to two sons and a daughter, all in their 20s. Their ease with their children today was refined by a season of rebellion when their youngest son was 13.
“He became a delinquent,” said Joni of their youngest son Jonas.
At 13, he lost interest in his studies and refused to go to school. “Every morning was like wartime. He kept saying let him be; he just wanted to do what he wanted.”
Eventually, he dropped out of school. He would sleep in the day and go out at night till the wee hours of the morning. His parents never knew where he went. Then, he joined a gang.
In desperation, the Ohs sought help from the church and counsellors. But “the more we wanted to pull him back, the more he resisted”.
“One day he just told me: ‘I think you two need counselling. I don’t need counselling,’” said Joni.
Instead of confrontations and judgement, dad Joseph chose to love and serve.
It was then that Joni decided to “surrender him to God”.
The stillness of her soul surprised her son. He confronted her one day when he was 16. He asked her why she seemed so calm.
“I told him: ‘It’s not that I’m not worried and sad. But I’ve committed you to God.’”
Dad Joseph chose to focus on turning his heart fully to God, holding on to Malachi 4:5-6 that God would “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents”.
Instead of confrontations and judgement, dad Joseph chose to love and serve. He would wait up into the early hours of the morning, cooking his son supper when he returned home. Night after night he would do this without a word of thanks.
“The night my son finally said ‘Pa, thank you’, my husband was close to tears,” said Joni.
“The more we wanted to pull him back, the more he resisted”.
One day, at age 16, after three years away from the books, Jonas asked to return to school. Today, he is in his final year at a polytechnic.
The way the Ohs parent their children consciously changed as a result.
“Now, they talk, we listen,” said Joseph. “We are careful not to have top-down communication.”
Joseph has learnt to let his children set the rhythm in conversation and “give them the time and space”.
For instance, picking the right time to show his love and care. Not when his oldest son is engrossed in his work.
“I make sure I’m around. And when he stops for a break, I engage him in conversation and see if he wants to talk.”
“Just doing something together helps people to open up.”
Even the recent Circuit Breaker which many families bemoaned, was a time of communication and bonding for the Ohs.
Mum Joni found that she did not have enough time to complete her work at home when she had to prepare a meal for the family every two hours.
“Over dinner and I brought up the matter of rotating meal preparations to them. They agreed quite readily. I was a bit surprised,” she said.
Middle child, Tryphena, found another perk to preparing the meals: It opened up another avenue of conversation, she said of asking her parents advice on how to to cook, how much groceries to buy, and how to choose the freshest items.
“Just doing something together helps people to open up. It gave my parents a chance to approach us in way that is more friendly.”
The Ohs also revived an old family tradition – playing Rummikub, bringing back memories of times when the children were younger.
Bonding over HIIT workouts and family devos: The Thams
Alex Tham, 56, and wife Shirley, 55, join HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts led by their exercise enthusiast daughters aged 25 and 22. Even though they did not immediately think they could manage the workouts.
“We think it’s important to show our support in the things they are interested in,” said mum Shirley. “It boosts their confidence. My girls also appreciate it. It made them very happy that we joined in.
“I told myself that if I don’t change now, I wouldn’t be able to adapt when I’m much older and more fixed in my ways.”
“As parents we need to keep in touch with what our children like. I told myself that if I don’t change now, I wouldn’t be able to adapt when I’m much older and more set in my ways.”
Growing with their children has also meant leading them to grow in their faith. When the Tham sisters were young, their parents would have family devotions with them every night.
“We would start with worship, then some verses and prayer,” said Alex.
Then sharing openly as the girls got older. It developed a culture where the girls, even as adults, “bring their problems to us”.
Because of their children’s increasingly busy schedules, bedtime devotions were moved forward to after dinner.
“Instead of leaving right after the meal, we make them stay on to talk. We learnt to nod and hold our tongues, and not judge,” said Shirley of those times.
“We have always trusted God to give us the wisdom to guide our children even now that they are so old.”
Those family devotions have evolved into sharing prayer needs through a WhatsApp chat group.
“Before bed, my husband and I will pray for them,” said Shirley. “In the morning, God often gives me a verse or a song for them. Then, I will send it over the chat group to encourage them.”
Even conflicts are brought to God in prayer.
“Sometimes when we disagree and I’m hurt or I think that I’ve been wrong in an argument, I will lift it up to God in our family prayers.
“I let my girls hear my struggles and my effort.”
Dad Alex holds to Proverbs 3:5-6, trusting in God for wisdom in parenting, especially since the two girls are very different in character.
“You can’t use the same method of parenting with both. So, we have always trusted God to give us the wisdom to guide our children even now that they are so old.”
Modelling love: The Lims
Albert Lim, 59, and his wife Alison, 57, are parents to three grown children, and new grandparents to a baby girl. Since the children were young, Albert would model the walk by apologising when he is in the wrong.
It’s often said that “sorry” is the hardest word to say.
“When things are not right between my wife and I, I would apologise, even in front of the kids,” said dad Albert. “They see it.”
He would also apologise to his kids.
So from a very young age, the Lim children have had no problems apologising without being promoted when they are at fault.
Their parents also made a conscious effort to let the children know that they are loved unconditionally, telling them “I love you”. In the morning. And at night. Even now when they are adults.
“They do value your wisdom as they get older.”
Now that they no longer have the opportunity to pray with their children on car rides to school, Albert and wife make it a point to wish them a blessed day when the kids leave the house.
“So they know. They hear from our voices that we still love them. We communicate this so they don’t forget.”
Youngest son Aaron, 22, also appreciates that his dad makes an effort to find common ground with him. Recently, he had to do a research paper on England’s history for his university course. He found it “pretty cool” that his father, who had also studied history, offered to be a sounding board.
“They talk but they also listen. So, it’s easier to accept things when they talk to me like that.”
“It turned out that he knew more than me. I got some good ideas from him,” said Aaron. “It is interesting that he is trying to engage me in a different way.”
Aaron admits that he chafed under his parents’ control in his younger years “especially when they didn’t explain their rationale and I couldn’t understand them”. But became more willing to open up when he noticed his parents listening more as he and his siblings grew.
As his parents began to let go, he started to see their side of things.
“It’s no longer one way. They talk but they also listen. So, it’s easier to accept things when they talk to me like that,” said Aaron.
Said dad Albert: “They do value your wisdom as they get older. They’ve come to trust our counsel because they know we are God-fearing and give them wise advice.
“They can walk into our room any time and talk to us and we will make ourselves available.”
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