17 Sep Parenting (Young) Adult Children
This is a time of year where transitions are in the air: the weather is cooling, the days are shortening and the leaves will be soon be changing. In addition, this is a time of year where parents of young adults may be adjusting to no longer having their children at home with them and are acclimating to an empty (or at least emptier!) nest, A common issue that comes up for parents if and when their children leave their home to go to college or to live independently is how to parent young adult children.
An important factor to consider is that, as most parents and adults are well aware, 18 is not a magic age. Although we consider 18 the age of adulthood in the US, we know from experience that we don’t wake up on our 18th birthdays with all of the wisdom and maturity that we will need to get us through our adult years! It is important for parents of adolescents to work on gradually fostering more and more independence in their children so that 18 or moving out of the home does not seem like a rude awakening for parents or kids. Parents can do this by allowing age-appropriate experimentation and exploration. This might be extending curfew from time to time, particularly if kids are normally responsible about coming home and checking in. Parents can also make a habit of empowering their children to think through their decisions and make their own choices. Parents may not always agree but it is important for kids to get experience the pros and cons of their own decisions while they still have the full physical and emotional support of their parents.
Steps towards greater independence during adolescence will help smooth the transition once young adult children leave their parents’ home. It is a big adjustment for everyone and not without its challenges. Some helpful hints include:
Whenever possible, let your son/daughter learn to stand up for themself and fight their own battles. Whether they have issues with their roommate or don’t like their classes or landlord or professor, whenever possible try to resist the temptation to step in and do for them. Instead offer a supportive ear, coach them if necessary on next steps and offer as much encouragement as you can. We don’t learn independence unless we are given the opportunity to be independent and letting young adults take charge of their own circumstances and negotiate and advocate for themselves is an important step towards being independent.
Stop talking and start listening
A piece of advice that is often helpful to empty nest parents is to be there as a sounding board for your kids and to listen rather than tell. Get on the phone or FaceTime with them and let them vent without offering advice or your opinion, unless they specifically ask for it. You no longer get the final say on many things, and that’s okay! You can still steer your son or daughter towards good decision-making just by listening and hearing them out.
Be clear about expectations
Although you are certainly not in control of many aspects of your adult child’s life, parents do have the final say on a few things, particularly if their children are financially dependent on them. If you are paying for school or some portion of it you may have certain expectations for grades. If children will be living with you for the summer or you are helping pay for rent, you might have requirements about jobs. If you are going to have certain conditions moving forward, be clear with your son/daughter about these requirements well in advance and do your very best to set reasonable (and not excessive) expectations.
Even while your adolescent children are living under your roof, unless there are major safety issues, it is perfectly acceptable for you to not know where your children are every minute of every day. The same applies once they live elsewhere. You don’t need to know their every movement and expecting them to update you constantly on their activities and actions will interfere with them building their new life. It may be very helpful for you and your son/daughter to come to an agreement about how often you check in and touch base.
It’s not all about you
Get ready for their visits home. Whether it’s coming back for Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, December break or a random weekend, you’ll likely be so excited to have your beloved son or daughter back home. You’ll want to make them all of their favorite meals and spend as much time with them as possible before they head off again. Newsflash: it’s not all about you. Chances are your son or daughter left behind friends and significant relationships as well and understandably they are going to want to spend some time with their hometown buddies. It’s not personal and doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. Communicate ahead of time about when everyone can commit to some family time and then let them enjoy their visit home with you as well as the other important people in their lives.
Take care of yourself
It is a big adjustment when a child leaves their parents’ home. Parents are entitled to feel an array of emotions and likely many at the same time! Even for those parents who are excited about their own increased independence, there is a void left when a child leaves the home. Take care of yourself in whatever way makes sense for you: talk to friends and family members about how you are feeling, take up a new hobby, pamper yourself, etc. Prioritizing your own needs will help you be in the best position to support your child.
Pay attention for signs of trouble
Just as adjusting to a child living away from home can be hard for a parent, obviously it is also a big adjustment for a young adult. Is normal for young adults to have moments of sadness, feel homesick or lonely, etc. That being said, if you are concerned that your child is struggling emotionally in a more significant way, may be abusing substances or is at risk in any way, speak up. Talk to your child about your concerns, help them receive professional help if necessary and come up with a plan to offer them the support that they need.