This is a phrase I have said, myself, as I rolled my eyes. We have all read stories and watched sitcoms where adult children are saying this to their friends, clearly intimating that the upcoming visit will be difficult. And it always was, when my mother came to visit.

But now the shoe is on the other foot. I can almost hear my children saying this! At the same time, I am thinking about the challenges I feel as I plan a visit to my adult child. How do we relate as respectful adults even if we don’t share all the same values?

Parenting never ends. And that is the blessing and perhaps the curse, or, the gift and the challenge.

We spend the first 10 years of our children’s lives in intimate day-to-day contact with them, trying our best to love them, guide them and instil certain values in them. Of course, these are our values. Some of these values and patterns we have chosen, but others we inherited in our own families and pass on, hardly knowing it, even ones we may not choose. As the children interact with the world, we begin to see them adopting ideas and behaviours that we would not choose or even approve of. But by the time they are adults, we need to set them free of our expectations and ideas. This is difficult.

A few months ago, I went to spend 10 days with my adult son. He is currently single and living an “alternative” lifestyle. He lives off-grid, completely, with a cat for company and a full-grown bull roaming his property. He chooses not to own many things and frequents the landfill, the free store and secondhand stores for what he needs.

He lives in an area where bartering is common and earns just enough cash to live on. I admire him and what he is trying to do very much. But … I was worried about how it would be to live in his space, to relate to his friends, to meet the important people in his life and to allow him to be who he was. I still want to “mother” him and do things to make his life better or easier … perhaps more like mine?

I was also anxious not to embarrass him or say inappropriate things in front of his friends. I can still remember my mother doing exactly that and how embarrassed I was. From my vantage point, now, her faux pas weren’t actually all that serious.

I did have a great visit with my son. We were able to have some important and meaningful conversations. Only once, he chastised me for saying something inappropriate, involving him, to one of his acquaintances. He did it very kindly and respectfully. I was glad that he was able to do it. I never could with my mother. He gave me the gift of sharing some activities that are important in his life, and he taught me some things. And yet, there were still times when I found myself biting my tongue to avoid saying the kinds of things that keep us in a parent-child way of relating.

Being a parent (just like growing old) is not a job for sissies.

When I was still in practice as a family physician, a woman in her late 80s came to see me asking for something for her “nerves.” She was worried about her daughter and couldn’t sleep. Her daughter had left her husband and had come to stay with this woman and was asking for money. In the course of the clinic visit, I asked her how old her daughter was. She replied that the daughter was 65. My sons were teenagers at the time. That says it all!

Parenting—definitely a challenge; but mostly a gift.