My sons (now nearly 19 and 22) actually live together n their own little house near the college they both attend. I am fortunate that they live only 10 miles away and can still make it for dinner each week. Our daughter has just a few years left here at home with us before she flies from the nest.
My role as mother to these three kids has changed significantly this past year as two of them are now adults and the third is maturing with lightning speed.
I have noticed that many of my clients who have young adult children are struggling with knowing how to parent at this stage in life. I've come to an important realization.
Here are some typical questions parents of young adults have:
- Should I check on him? I haven't heard from him in days?
- She's homesick at college. Should I go bring her home or encourage her to hang in there?
- There's a letter in the mail from his college bursar's office saying he has a balance due. Do I take care of it for him or let him handle it?
- She's telling me she wants to get a tattoo. She's 19. Do I share my objection or respect that it's her body and her choice?
It's tricky business figuring out when to step in and when to hang back. After 18+ years of protecting, guiding, enforcing rules it can be difficult to discern.
Go easy on yourself. This is a learning curve and a time of change for you and for your young adult child. Your role has changed and it's going to be an adjustment phase.
Keep your eye on the prize. The end goal of parenting your young adult children is to preserve the relationship so they will come to you when and if they really need you.
There are some particular behaviors parents often fall into which can throw you off the coure of your end goal.
Sticky Behaviors to Avoid:
- talking more than listening
- meddling in their business - invading their privacy
- being overly protective
- rushing to rescue without need
- showering them with money and gifts
Let's get more specific... Here are some how-to's in avoiding particular behaviors when parenting young adult children.
- Extend invitations. Your young adult child will be more positively responsive if you invite them with no pressure, no guilt trips, no strings. The days of dictating where they go, what they do have passed.
- No more tracking. It is no longer your job to police your young adult child's every move. It's time to release the need to know where she is and what she's doing at all times. She has a right and a need to have her own private life now.
- Groove a connection. Invite your young adult child to agree on a day and time once each week you can either see each other or speak on the phone.
- Two ears one mouth. Work to become an active listener with focus on really listening rather than talking at your child. Ask him about his activities, his classes, his friends, his views on life. Ask in a way that indicates you are truly interested. Be cautious though to avoid sounding like an inquisition. Refrain from telling them too much about yourself and your views It's normal for young adults to be focused on themselves as they are growing into adulthood. Your role is to love and support.
- Let go of the lecture. Ask permission to share your experience and ideas. If you see her aimed at a path that you know is not in her best interest, ask if she is willing to hear some words of wisdom from her old mom/dad. Offer her an alternative view point. Try to avoid sounding like a know-it-all. She will shut down if you do.
- Fools rush in. When the day comes that you get an emotional call from your young adult kid, prepare to listen with compassion and refrain from rushing in to solve and rescue. If it's not a life or death matter, your role is to simply support him with using his executive functioning skills. You are a guide for him not the judge. Help him see his options and encourage him by saying, "You've got a good head on your shoulders. I know you'll get through this. What are some options for how you might deal with this situation?"
- Material things and money are not the solution. Let's face it: we all love to see our kids happy and in the short term, having extra spending money or gifts yields a happy feeling for you and your kid. Unfortunately, this will likely cause more problems down the road if this is your go-to solution. She needs to learn to budget her money. She needs to learn to value things and resources by having to work for them. Gifts will mean more if they are given less frequently after they've had the experience of toiling a bit.
- Adult Status. "You are an adult now." This sentence encourages, empowers and helps your kid to feel seen and respected as the young adult they are. This phrase should be used often. It's disarming when they seem defensive and effective for helping him to feel you are not trying to run his life. He will be more likely to listen to what you have to say knowing you acknowledge he's not a little kid anymore.
This is one of those pivotal points in mid-life. You brought this child into the world. You raised her protected her and now she's out on her own.
But she still needs you. Even if she doesn't yet realize and appreciate this.
She's on your insurance plan, your cell phone plan, and even though she thinks she knows it all, there will be times she will need your love and guidance.
In order to preserve your relationship so that your young adult child will come to you when he really needs you, avoid those sticky behaviors and just make yourself available for when she wants to connect.