To cut or not to cut apron strings

I was chatting with a friend and the conversation turned to our children. He expressed surprise at my continued level of involvement with them even though they are adults.

"Surely they don't need parenting anymore. After all, they are over 21 years old," he said.

Our two sons, aged 23 and 27, and our married 25-year-old daughter - together with her husband - all still live with us.

The friend's comment kept playing in my head. I decided to talk to other parents about this issue and see what their approach is.

One, a friend, felt that children should be on their own once they turn 18.

He gave me the usual National Service benchmark: "If my son is old enough to defend the country, he is old enough to take care of himself."

My friend had taken a big step back from his son's affairs when the teenager started his polytechnic studies and continued on to National Service.

While the dad still provided food and shelter - and even bought his son a car during his army days - he steered clear of giving advice on career matters, higher education, religion and values. He had felt that his input would not be valued.

As for me, he had a word for my parenting style - meddling.

I didn't quite agree with the word but, yes, we continue to be very involved parents with our three offspring.

From the diaper days of my kids, when we were their interface with the world, to now, when they are out on their own at their workplace or place of study, parenting has never really stopped for us.

When our children became adults, parenting entered a new dimension and we have had to tweak and chop-and-change our methods to stay relevant to them, but ending the process was never an option we considered.

I still think there is much they can learn from the combined more-than-50-years of adult-life experience that my wife and I possess.

But it is a state of affairs that has not come about easily.

Sometimes, I have had to bite my tongue over some of the choices they make.

For example, I watch my daughter and her husband take cabs regularly - never mind the expense - because they are rushing.

It bothers my wife, and it bothers me, because we wonder if that is a wise way to spend money when they are saving to buy a home. My mum, at 80, still takes the bus and train. But no one's saying anything.

But I have decided I will intervene over outright stupid decisions.

I cut short a plan of my younger son to sell my nice study table which I have had for 20 years for what he had hoped would be a quick and handy 30 bucks on Carousell, a mobile marketplace app to sell stuff.

Some of my friends, however, would have frowned at this intervention. They feel children learn best from their mistakes.

I can understand that, and that also our eagerness to help our children can be a cause of conflict - be it physical help or offering advice.

A friend cited an instance when his wife wanted to tidy up their son's apartment so that his expectant wife would have a cleaner environment.

The father decided to call their son first. The son thanked them for the offer - then said his wife thought the place was clean enough and there was no need for them to trouble themselves.

I think all parents have a "eureka" moment when it suddenly hits them that their children have grown up and want to be treated like adults. And a lot of that, I feel, comes with us parents learning to know our boundaries.

We started off teaching, maybe even dictating, how our children should do things. We moved on to giving them more space and advising and guiding them. Now, I hover around to remind them that expert advice is close at hand.

But I think that they never outgrow the desire to get affirmation from their parents.

It may not be as blatant as saying: "Look, dad, see what I can do," to win our praise.

It is more like, "I finished this tough, challenging project which I had been working on for weeks".

And I feel a simple "wow" from me is what they seek. Maybe at this stage of their life, that is all the parenting I need to do.

matt@sph.com.sg

What are your experiences parenting grown-up children?

This is the last Seriously Kidding column.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'To cut or not to cut apron strings'. Print Edition | Subscribe