by Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, CPCS
Every Monday night we have family dinner at my house. All three of our children know this is sacred gathering time. It doesn’t hurt that they know this may be their one delicious home-cooked meal for the week.
My sons (now nearly 19 and 22) live together (by choice! how about that? they like each other!) in their own little house near the college campus where they are in school. Fortunately for me, they are just 10 miles away and can still make it for dinner each week. My daughter is about to celebrate sweet 16. My role as parent 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 a number of counseling and coaching clients right now who have children who are now young adults and I’ve been observing an important theme.
When your kids are young adults, you might be struggling with some of these questions:
- 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?
Knowing when to step in and when to hang back can be tricky. After all, it’s been 18+ years of protecting, guiding, enforcing rules.
Cut yourself some slack and realize that this is a learning curve and a time of transition for YOU as much as it is for your young adult child. You’ve got a new role and it’s going to take some getting used to.
Remember the end goal of parenting your young adult children is to preserve the relationship so they can come to you if they really need you. Watch out for landmines that will throw you off of this end goal.
Landmines to Avoid:
- talking too much
- being over-protective
- rescuing when it’s not life/death
- spoiling with money and gifts
Tips for Parenting Young Adult Children:
- Invite don’t dictate. Your young adult child will be more likely to participate in what you want them to participate in if you invite them with no pressure, no guilt trips, no strings.
- Drop the tracking habit. If your young adult child lives away from home you are no longer responsible for policing their every move. You have to let go of the feeling that it’s your job to know where she is and what she’s doing. It’s tough. I know.
- Create a connection routine. Explain to your young adult child that you would really like to speak to them – if only briefly – once each week and set up a designated time to talk on the phone. If you’re as lucky as I am to have your kid living close by set up family dinner night like I did. It keeps the connection there. But remember tip #1 – invite don’t dictate.
- Listen more. Talk less. Ask your kid about his life, his classes, his roommates in a way that indicates you are truly interested. Careful not to let it sound like an inquisition though. Don’t bother talking about yourself unless they ask. It’s normal for young adults to be focused on themselves and your job is to support.
- Ditch the lecture. Offer guidance but ask permission to share. If you see her headed down a path that might lead to high risk of safety or regret, be gentle but ask if she is willing to hear some words of wisdom from her old mom/dad. Offer her another perspective but be careful not to dictate. She will bolt if you do.
- Don’t rush to rescue. There will be a day when you get an emotional call from your young adult kid. Sink into compassionate listening mode but don’t jump to rushing in to solve and rescue. If it’s not life or death, your job is to simply assist your kid with using her executive functioning skills. Your a guide here not the know-it-all. Help her consider her options and encourage her by saying, “You’re a smart young woman. I know you’ll get through this. What are some ways you might address this situation? Let’s consider your options.”
- Money and things are not the answer. It is all too tempting to send gifts and money because we so love to see our kids happy and at least temporarily having extra money or goodies definitely yields a burst of short term happiness. BUT… this will cause more problems for your kid down the road if you do this too often. He needs to learn to budget his money. He needs to learn to value things and resources by working for them. Be careful not to throw money and gifts at your kid. Gifts will mean more if they are given less frequently after they’ve had a chance to struggle a bit.
- Affirm Adulthood. “You’re an adult now.” It’s a magical phrase that 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 and effective for helping her to feel you are not trying to run her life. She’ll be more likely to hear you out knowing you acknowledge she’s not a little kid anymore.
The transition is tough. You brought him into the world. You raised him, protected him and now he’s out on his own. But not quite. He still needs you for some things. He’s on your insurance plan, your cell phone plan, and even though he thinks he knows everything there will be times he will need your advice. In order to preserve the relationship so that he will come to you when he really needs you, avoid those landmines and keep the line of communication open.