12/20/2012 05:31 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Kids as Adults -- a New Kind of Parenting

Being a mother never ends. We all know that. Here I am with two grown kids, and still, I worry -- not like I did when they were growing up, but my worries are there, all the time, in my train of thought. Is there a moment as a mother when you aren't a mother? Are you able to put aside the mother in you?

Not me. Not ever.

Over the past few months, my kids have both returned home. My daughter, freshly graduated from college, started her dream job, and my son has spent this semester at home attending a local junior college, sorting out his options. My daughter moved into an apartment; my son is returning in January to the university he had left last spring. This is all good -- but as all moms know, nothing is this simple. And as all moms know, it's incredibly difficult -- no matter their ages -- to let our kids go about their business without sharing our opinions (welcome or not).

I see this all around me, every day. I hear it from my friends -- we all try to put some respectful distance between us and our adult children. We hold back as often as we can, wanting to let our kids make their own choices, but also their own mistakes. These choices and mistakes are so much bigger than when they were small -- unlike forgetting to turn in their homework, some decisions as an adult can be life-changing -- marriage, jobs, having children. Watching them figure these things out without wanting to tell them what to do is as difficult as it was letting them first walk to school without us when they were small, or watching them drive off solo when they first got their licenses. It's like holding back the tide of an internal ocean.

Yet this letting go, this distancing ourselves from them, is part of how they become independent of us. It's perhaps the most difficult part of parenting of all. Because as our kids grow independent, our roles as mothers change -- and we have to change, too. For some it's easy, but for most it's a complicated, multi-faceted experience. I have felt everything from guilt to pride to loss to, yes, even relief, as my children have grown up and away, as we have pushed and pulled against each other through this time in their lives. Yet I know it's best for them -- and for me, too.

So we grow up, alongside our children. We grow from new parents, eager to learn everything there is to know about our babies, our toddlers, our grade-schoolers, and especially our teens -- to seasoned parents of grown-ups, now individuals who need to keep parts of their lives separate from us. The learning about our children has slowed, our understanding of them more or less defined by the years we spent raising them. Now we have to learn to be parents of adults, respecting them. They are no longer children, but the men and women we have raised them to be.