January 5, 2020
Some days I wonder what on earth possessed me to have children, and then some days I look at my now sort-of grown children, in awe of their wisdom and compassion. When they were little, it was easy to parent the simple things… “no, you can’t eat hotdogs for six straight days.” As they grew, the issues became more serious, more life-altering… “if you lose your cool and punch the kid who stole your coat, you will get suspended.” Those rules of course, change as they get older and assault becomes a felony, the consequences are much more severe. It was my main purpose through their adolescent years to merely get them through school without acquiring a criminal record or ending up dead. I know these seem like extreme goals, but this is how it is when you have children who make questionable (put delicately) decisions. Not all kids get in trouble, but mine did.
My oldest son had difficulty saying “no” to his not-so-great friends. His trouble started in high school when he fell in with the wrong bunch. Unfortunately, a close-knit group formed out of the marching band and together, they used drugs and consistently found themselves in trouble. My youngest hit her “holy crap adolescent years” very early. By nine-years-old, she got the attitude that all parents dread. Gratefully, by about sixteen-years-old she was well on her way out of the hellish teenitude years and gracefully sliding into young adulthood.
Now that both of my kids are well into their young adult years, it is a whole different parenting world. Many days I know they have a handle on their lives, who they are, and on their way to becoming the best versions of themselves; not today. My daughter, who is currently enjoying her last year of being a teen, has put me on the edge. She is quite capable of doing her own laundry, cooking her own food, cleaning up after herself….and yet, here we are, in the middle of a weird teenitude meltdown. Trying to make a claim there is no food in the house, she is simply upset that I am not an instant cook with the ability to create a dish reminiscent of our local Mexican restaurant. “No, darling, I cannot magically produce your chicken and guacamole bowl,” I say with as much compassion as I can muster and not a hint of an eyeroll (I am very proud of myself). You see, parenting young adults is like walking a delicate tightrope. Don’t say too much, don’t give the wrong glance, and swiftly back out of the room.
My own experiences raising young adults has led me to do some research in the area. How do you parent young adults? What follows are the ideas and practices that have emerged during my twenty-one years of parenting, guidance from other parents who have ‘been there, done that,’ and, wisdom offered from the mental health community.
- Address every situation with compassion, without enabling. It is important for young adults to know they have you, their parent/caregiver, in their corner and their best interests at heart. At the same time, remaining objective and calm when an issue arises will keep your relationship in-tact and help your emerging adult think on their own when trying to solve problems and make decisions. For instance, if your young adult has just bounced a car payment, accrued fees, and is now stuck for gas money for the next week, this is a great opportunity to assist without enabling. Let he or she know that you understand how difficult this can be to navigate but it is not the end of the world and let them take care of it. If they need guidance when calling the bank to discuss what went wrong, that is helpful for them and still allows you to remain on the sidelines. Let them do the adulting. Overparenting can lead to an over-exaggerated sense of entitlement.
- Be available. It is vital that your children, at any age, know you are available and willing to offer advice when asked. I find myself often swept up in a social media world, gazing at my phone while my daughter is trying to talk to me about her day. When I realize what is happening and she is trying to connect, I find she is now captivated by her digital world, and I have lost her for those moments. We all have days where our children, or young adults, require more attention than others but it is important we are aware and present to their needs. Put down the phone, ipad, laptop, whatever it is that has your attention and listen to what your young adult is telling you. There will be a day when they won’t want to tell you what happened at work or who they are dating, pay attention and foster open communication.
- Create and hold onto family traditions. When children are, you know, children and still at home, it is much easier to impose weekly game night. Young adults who have ventured out and live on their own often feel a sense of disconnect from the family. Stress the importance to maintain family gatherings. Staying connected is so important to a smooth transition from living at home, to full independence.
At the end of the day, your young adult should know they are loved, you are available, and they are capable of making their own decisions.
Givertz, M. & Segrin, C., (2012). The association between overinvolved parenting and young adults’ self-efficacy, psychological entitlement, and family communication. Communication Research. doi: 10.1177/0093650212456392