“I’ll take formula and teething over college and alcohol any day of the week,” said Montgomery County parents of four young adults. We sat down with these two parents to get an inside view on how stress, worry, and parenting evolves from raising babies and young children to navigating the complex ages of late high school to college. A parent’s job is never done and although we recognize that having young children brings with it an element of anxiety and safety concerns, the knowledge we gained from interviewing these parents was that those days were simpler in ways, and both of them were in strong agreement that they are greatly missed.
Jayne and Kevin Graham started their family in 1996 with the birth of their first son. At the young ages of 28 and 25, the couple was no longer just a duo. “I remember when we brought him home from the hospital and sat him down; we just looked at him. It was an unexplainable feeling to look at this baby and know our lives would be forever changed, but more importantly, we were going to have to mold this little life,” says Kevin. Little did they know it would not be just that life they molded but also three more bundles of joy that came earlier than either of them expected; in 1997, 1999, and rounding out the family of six in 2001.
With four kids under the age of 5 things were hectic, to say the least. The Grahams can remember the immense stress and anxiety they had trying to stretch each and every cent of both of their paychecks to try and keep all of their babies fed and happy. When asked what their biggest cause of tension during these days was they looked at each other, chuckled, and said in unison; “money, and daycare.” “We needed daycare in order to go to work, and we needed to work to afford daycare,” said Jayne.
While finances were more of a struggle back then than they are now for the family they went on to explain that parenting was by far easier for young children. “It is common sense that we needed to tell them not to touch the oven or cross the street without looking. However, the parenting decisions you have to make as your children are getting older are much harder to figure out, and what’s even more difficult is that they are much harder to agree upon," said Jayne. As the age of each of their children increases so does the magnitude of their problems and decisions. These decisions range from whether or not a child should go to college, what college they should go to, and experimenting with alcohol. The choices a child makes can impact the trajectory of the rest of their life.
Kevin told us that what makes these big decisions even more difficult to parent through is the fact that he and Jayne don't always see eye to eye on them, and their children don't always think that they need to be parented. Their fundamental parenting instincts have always been on par with each other but they differ on how they chose to handle specific situations. This can cause tension between each other, and with the child, they are trying to parent. Their best advice for parents dealing with disagreements is to check in with each other before giving your child advice, and also to pick your battles. By agreeing on the course of action they are going to take with their child before discussing it with them, they can create a united front and have more of an impact on the situation.
Even if you both do agree on how to parent your son or daughter, your child might think they already have it all figured out. Kevin and Jayne can remember the ages that their children started to feel like they didn't need help with certain things. They went on to say that in late high school your child starts to take on things on their own and feels less dependent on their parents. This feeling only gets stronger when the child leaves for college and not only have distanced their decision-making from their parents but now has an actual distance that separates them. When asked how they handle this, they explained that what once was a black and white, "yes" or "no" to your children has to transition into more of a guidance/advice setup. This can be a very hard pill for a parent to swallow but Jayne reminded us that keeping a close and healthy relationship requires them to let their children make their own decisions.
Jayne told us that while Kevin and herself have reeled their parenting in, they have not stopped it. "The job never ends and I feel like if I can take what I have learned in my life and take a look at some of my greatest successes and failures then use those experiences to aid my children in making their own decisions, then I'm doing my job." Jayne wishes more than anything that her mother was still alive so she could tell her the age-old saying; "my mother was right," is in fact very accurate. She says that while raising her children into adulthood she has seen that more times than not her own mom was not trying to control her or "rain on her parade" but she was trying to help her make decisions that would set her up for a successful life.
The mental health of each of their children has ebbed and flowed throughout life, as it often does, and with the new stressors of leaving home and starting their own lives, they have seen an increase in anxiety. Starting with the decision of where to go to college, and how much debt to take on, to figuring out if they should move back home post-graduation has caused stress and tension in the lives of each of their children. At the moment they have two recent college graduates, a college junior, and a high school senior. All are at very transformative points in their lives, all facing massive life decisions. When asked how they keep tabs on the mental health of all of their children who span across the state of Pennsylvania Jayne replied; "I make it a point to text them, call them, but most importantly see them. If I can see my children I can make sure that they are doing okay and it gives me immense peace of mind."
Kevin went on to say that they have worked on creating open communication with each of their children that they all know that they can go to their parents for anything. "When it comes down to it, no matter how old you get, when you are sick or scared you want your parents, and we will without a doubt drop anything we have to protect and give those four kids security. I cannot express this enough but the job truly never ends." Kevin told us; "I recently lost my mother and even in some of her very last days, from her nursing home, with very aggressive dementia, it was her instinct to parent me and to make sure that I was doing okay."
When asked what their most important advice would be for a parent who has just begun parenting young adults they told us; to have faith in the people you raised. You spent countless hours in parent-teacher conferences, and sleepless nights sitting up at the kitchen table worrying about the wellbeing of your children and you need to accept the fact that it is on them now to start figuring things out. Your children are eager and ready to begin taking on the world, and you need to be their support system every step of the way, gently guiding them towards success. No matter how much they think they have figured out, if you keep your relationship positive and healthy, you will always be that first phone call they make for an upset stomach, a heartbreak, or how to tell if their chicken is fully cooked.
Are you having trouble advocating for your child, or even knowing where to start? Reach out to one of our free and confidential Family Support Partners at 888-273-2361 or online here.