Time to Land That Helicopter: The Changing Role of Parents When Their Children Marry

I have loved being a mom. It has truly been my most fulfilling role in life. Of course, I have had other roles over the years. I’ve been a wife, daughter, granddaughter, elementary teacher, volunteer, Bible study leader, VBS worker and choir member, among other things. God has no doubt used me in all of these roles to impact others and to bring me closer to Him but, the role of mom gave me purpose, confidence and immeasurable joy.

I know, some of you young moms are thinking, “What?! Is she crazy? I’m up to my elbows in dirty diapers and spit up…my home is a Lego minefield! I don’t feel confident or joyful!” But if you give yourself a moment to reflect (I know, I know, a moment to reflect…what is that?) I’m sure the Lord will bring to mind all of the beautiful moments you have shared with your kids. And when your children are all grown and out of the house, as mine are, and you look back on your body of work as their mom, I pray you, too, will recognize the joy and purpose that they brought to your life.

In this post, however, I hope to share some wisdom regarding those grown children—the ones who are getting married, moving out of the house and starting their own families.

My husband and I have two sons who are married and a daughter who is tying the knot very soon. Our oldest son has been married for 10 years and our next son, for 5. We are very proud of them both and have enjoyed watching them blossom and grow as husbands and—for our oldest—as a father.

When your child marries, there are several things you need to come to grips with:

  • Your role has changed—drastically and forever (sorry if that sounds harsh).

You have spent many years as your child’s caregiver. You made sure he ate his vegetables, wore his coat on cold days, made it to school or work on time and sipped on chicken soup when he was sick. Once your child is married, this is no longer your job. It is the job of his spouse. Being your son’s helpmate is an important role for his new wife, although it may not look the same as it did for you when you got married. Our middle son and his wife share many of the jobs in their home, in fact, he now regularly offers to help with the dishes at our home when he visits! In their case, both of them have careers and so it makes sense for them to share chores at home. Our oldest son really gets in there and helps at home, as well, bathing the kids, cooking, and cleaning. They are working out their roles and responsibilities as they go along and it is wonderful. It is also, none of our business how they define the roles in their own family. You have to trust that your daughter-in-law, the daughter-in-law that God provided, will learn and grow as a wife and mom over the years and will be able to take care of your son and their growing family perhaps even better than you did.

Another thing that may have to change when your young adult child marries is your communication with them. If before they married you insisted that your son or daughter: talk to you daily from college, text you when they made it safely home from late night events, call you every day on their lunch break from their job, etc, (let’s all say it together—helicopter parent) it is time to let that expectation go! You are no longer their text buddy, their best friend, or their parental parole officer. Their spouse is now their best friend and text buddy—and parole officer, if needed. Sometimes, in the case of sons, it is dad who has trouble with this one. It’s very hard for many dads to let their sons go if they have had a close relationship. Moms letting daughters go can be tough, as well. But, once your child gets married, their spouse is the one with whom they will discuss plans and ideas, make decisions and share the ups and downs of daily life. They do not need you texting them every day or multiple times a day with trivial comments or probing questions.

Now, lest you think I am saying your adult children can not come to you for wisdom and advice, I am not. That is certainly still an important role for parents of adult children. Parents have the wisdom and experience that can come in handy in many cases. If they ask for your advice on an important matter, by all means, give it. But in order for your married kids to strengthen their bond, grow, and learn to trust each other, they need to be able to practice making decisions and discussing ideas together. Communication is so important in marriage and you and I as the parents, do not need to hijack theirs.

  • Putting too many expectations on your adult children will be detrimental to their marriage.

When your children get married, they are developing new traditions, establishing their own routines and settling into their own rhythm of life.With the multifaceted structure of many families today, it can be very stressful for them as they are pulled in many directions by parents, in-laws, step-parents, divorced parents— for holidays, birthdays and special events. We have been very careful not to put expectations on our married kids in this regard. They know we are always up for a visit, that we love them immensely and that we enjoy spending time with them. When they decide to come see us we jump for joy! But we do not put pressure on them to come—ever. I know it can be hard not to feel slighted if they seem to be spending more time with the other side of the family but, there is no place for guilt trips, tears or anger. Bite your tongue, say a prayer, and be patient. As little kids like to say, you are no longer the boss of them! And it will be your turn eventually. Make your home a place they will love to visit. Create an atmosphere of acceptance, joy and fun. They won’t be able to resist! If your married children live close by, this point can be even trickier but is just as important. You may be tempted to put even more expectation on them—wanting them to come by and have dinner with you a couple times a week or to invite you over to their place every Sunday. Resist the urge to put that pressure on your married kids who happen to live nearby.

I’m going to go out on a limb here with some straightforward advice for when your kids get married: Go on with your life. Get a hobby. Get reaquainted with your spouse. Leave them alone.

  • Getting involved in their disagreements will not end well.

It is not your job to get involved in your children’s disagreements with their spouse. Stay out of it. Do not take sides. In fact, don’t allow them to drag you into it in the first place. If your adult child comes to you complaining about their spouse, say something like, “Honey, I love you, but it’s best if you work that out with Jane/Joe. But, I will certainly pray about it with you if you’d like.” I am happy to say, our married kids have never come to us with complaints about each other. We are blissfully ignorant of their squabbles.

  • Now, a word about daughters-in-law:

I have two lovely, sweet, smart daughters-in-law. God really blessed me good with the two of them and I don’t take that for granted. They are wonderful, loving wives and my oldest son’s wife (the only one with children thus far) is a fantastic mom who is leading her children in the ways of the Lord. I have a great relationship with them both and want to keep it that way. I refrain from telling them how to run their home, raise their children, clean their house, cook, or take care of their husband. It is their home and they have their own way of doing things. My role in regard to my daughters-in-law is that of encourager, cheerleader and friend. They know that I am there for them if they want advice on anything but I do not offer it unsolicited.

I do try to model a life of faith and devotion to Jesus Christ for all of my children. That is a very important exception to the rule of not interjecting yourself into their lives! It’s critical that we use every method at our disposal to pass on the baton of faith to the next generation! So do talk to them about the importance of being a part of a community of faith (a local church) and of personal time in the Word and of raising their kids to know and love the Lord. Speak it with love and gentleness and model it in your own life.

“And the Lord God said,’It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'” Genesis 2:18

“…Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave His father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6

Friends, when your son or daughter finds the one his/her soul loves and marries them, it is then time for you to: pass the baton, rip off the bandaid, cut the apron strings, change the locks (just kidding with that one!)—land that helicopter once and for all. Understand and embrace that your role has drastically changed. You did a wonderful job nurturing, training and loving those little children God placed in your care, but now it’s time to switch gears, embrace your new role and let them create their own life independent from you. Continue to be a supporter, an encourager and a model of a joy-filled, purpose driven, Christ-centered life. And when the phone rings and your married child is on the line, thank God for them and for the new—different, but just as fulfilling—relationship that you now enjoy.

About Heart of the Matter

I am a southern wife and mom who loves reading, music, studying the Bible, and playing a game of tennis now and then. I also enjoy spending time at the beach and have amassed quite a seashell collection. I love all things southern: sweet tea, magnolia trees, comfort food and entertaining. I live in awe of what my Savior has done for me and desire to share spiritual encouragement with others.
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5 Responses to Time to Land That Helicopter: The Changing Role of Parents When Their Children Marry

  1. Barbara Poston says:

    Beth, This is so true. Enjoyed the article and having landed that helicopter three times, it is so good to have loving children who are happy and well adjusted, and wonderful to have that phone ring and they tell you they are coming over ,or how are you? Thanks for the inspiring message.

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  2. Madeline says:

    Love this and this is great advice!!

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  3. Evelyn stevenson says:

    This is amazing Beth, that’s pretty much what I’ve gone through with my older kids with children and every time they call me or wanna hang out those are so precious memories and I get so excited, when my youngest grew up so fast I was almost feeling like an empty nester, but I prayed about it and I was like they will need me one day, so on the days they wanna jump and call mom or dad we’re there and I enjoy every minute and so proud of them, who they have become, God has helped me through a lot, and Beth you are an inspiration luv you

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    • Oh, Evelyn! Yes, you have been where we are, having to navigate those relationships with your grown kids and their young families. I think you are a wise and wonderful mom and mother-in-law! You have done well! Thanks for reading!

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