Being a Parent to a Young Adult
Some parents encourage independence earlier than others and as I hope all parents know, there is no right or wrong way to parent, or a perfect time to do anything. We help our children learn the skills they need and the motivation to be independent, as they are ready to do so.
If we do our parenting job well, our teens do leave the nest for college or for a job — and set up their own household, gradually becoming more skilled at managing their finances, health care, academics, employment, relationships with extended family, and transportation; in other words, building their own lives as adults. This is a good thing, really. We adjust to our empty nest and await the text messages, emails and phone calls from our maturing young adults. During these chances to communicate, we ask about school or work, relationships and/or the weather. We learn what they tell us, and no more.
We are more comfortable with some of their choices than others, but the fact remains, they now make most of their own decisions. This is a huge life transition and requires a conscious renegotiation of our role as “parent in charge” to one more like a ”parent consultant.” In the best of all relationships, if we are asked for our opinion, we give it freely, realizing we cannot count on the young adult following our advice. If we are not asked, we nod and hold our tongues. In the worst case scenario, we threaten to cut off our financial or emotional support if they make decisions we do not agree with, and communication gets less frequent and includes more conflict.
- Managing Communication with Young Adults
- Renegotiating Our Role as Parents
- Transferring and Sharing Responsibility
Managing Communication with Young Adults
What is really tricky for this generation is that we are more connected to our kids via the internet and cell phones than any generation previously, which is a wonderful thing, but it means we know more about their lives than our parents knew about our lives. Here are a couple of suggestions for keeping the communication open and supportive:
- Do not move, downsize or repurpose their room (at least for the first year after they move out).
- Keep your young adult involved in your life and home (such as planning vacations and making summer plans).
- Share stories about your own transition into adulthood (noting that the world was different 30 years ago).
- Be available when they call or text, advising only when requested to do so.
- Welcome your young adult home and celebrate the time your family can spend together.
- Try to just listen, be compassionate and remind them you are proud of them and love them unconditionally.
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Renegotiating Our Role as Parents
Basically, the world has changed. With a positive attitude and acceptance of your young adult as an individual, adult, and potential friend, you have the opportunity to build the house rules and negotiate consequences for breaking those rules again (assuming your teen had some input earlier in their lives).
Start with house basics: when does everyone sleep, who does each chore, who pays the car insurance, puts tires on cars, arranges and pays for the maintenance of the cars, puts gas in cars, does laundry, buys groceries, pays each bill, cooks and cleans the kitchen? How are big things discussed and agreed on — like whose furniture is it, can walls and furniture be painted, can friends (of both sexes) spend the night, can friends hang out and watch TV or BBQ on weekends?
Assume that everything is negotiable and take deep breaths. Try to put yourself in their shoes, acknowledge that the young adult may be a little wary of moving home, and try to understand what they hope to accomplish by living back at home. The rules should be realistic and tied to the young adults income, employment status and outstanding student loans. It would be unfair to charge an unemployed person rent, or start a tab, but you can give them 60 days to find a job and let them know the rent will be a certain percentage of their net pay, or that there is no rent if they pay a certain amount on student loans each month. In addition to starting these new agreements, plan a time after a month or so to talk about how the new living situation is going, renegotiate what does not work, or change it in reaction to a new job, raise or change in relationship status.
Some basics to help you live through this part of parenting, just like you lived through childhood and the teen years:
- Do not “fix” their problems. Ask what they have done to resolve a problem, point them in the right direction and support their attempts to solve problems on their own
- Do the work upfront to avoid a reactive parenting style. For example, help them learn about managing money by developing a “spending plan (AKA budget)” and then getting an account where you can transfer the amount of money you have agreed to into it on the first of every month, then say “no” unless it is truly an emergency.
- Talk about things that will annoy you in advance, and if you are angry, talk about why. Remember, they are learning to be adults, and it will be easy for everyone to fall into old patterns: we will want to be the boss and call the shots, and they may take resources and support for granted. Everyone will adjust.
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Transferring and Sharing Responsibility
Basically, no matter how old our young adults are, we will always be transferring and sharing responsibility. I call this “nurturing on demand.” In theory, after 18 a person is responsible for his or her own life. They have lived away from home and know how to shop, cook, do laundry and manage their finances, but that does not mean they always want to (frankly, neither do parents). Similarly to the last year your child lived at home, there may be times when your young adult is completely prepared and competent, choosing to take care of everything related to their own life and annoyed at your intervention. There may also be times when your young adult comes home weary, sick, or just tired of managing everything, and would love to have someone else do laundry, cook or manage their health care, at least for a short period. Is that so bad? Just remember to only offer or agree to these periods if you enjoy it. Nothing ruins relationships like resentment!.
This “renegotiation” has to be consensual and involve either an ask or an offer that is accepted by the other. It is important to talk about these shifts in responsibility so that the nurturing is not expected or taken for granted. Having gotten used to our empty nests, it is easy to see holidays and visits as a burden if the young adult assumes the visit is a vacation from responsibility. At some levels young adults are learning as much as they did when they were toddlers, and the more we can explain ourselves, encourage them and emotionally support who they are, the closer we will be to them. You are not alone, reach out to friends, healthcare professionals, and extended family for support.
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- Konstam, V., 2013. Parenting Your Emerging Adult: Launching Kids from 18 to 29.
- Chapman, D. & Campbell, R., 2011). How to Really Love Your Adult Child: Building a Healthy Relationship in a Changing World.
- Sachs, B., 2010). Emptying the Nest: Launching Your Young Adult Toward Success and Self-Reliance.