Most likely your young adult will not be living at home in five years, especially if they have anything to say about it. When I ask this question of young adult clients – “Where will you be living five years from now?” I have never had a young adult over sixteen say, “I just want to be living with mommy and daddy!” It doesn’t happen. That said, there are some exceptions where the young adult is struggling with a physical or mental disability. Even in such cases, the young adult still desires to be independent and self-sufficient. In this culture, there is a strong norm of moving out and on with one’s life during the late teens and early twenties. So how can a parent begin a conversation around a future state?
Questions to Ask
When parents and their teen or young adult child come to my office, I ask this person to go up to the whiteboard and answer a few questions regarding their future. You can do this at home, but it often goes a little better with a third, objective party. However, often the teen/young adult refuses to participate in family therapy, often telling the parents to go. If you are going to try to facilitate a discussion of a five-year plan, do this in an adult or more neutral setting than the home. You can write out the following questions, share the sheet with your young adult, and ask them to respond to the questions. Indicate you want to get an idea of where they want to be in five years and how, as parents, you can help them get there. Indicate that you realize things may change over the next five years. Another point I should make, when I do this exercise is that no young adult has said they want to be living in a box under a bridge, and smoking weed. Parents are relieved to find that their adult child has given thought to where they want to be, and typically their goals are ones parents can get behind. These plans may not be what the parents anticipated, but usually, the answer involves a job, an apartment, and self-support. So here are the questions you can ask:
- Where will you be living five years from now? In the current town and state? Another state?
- Will you be in a house, apartment?
- Will you be living by yourself or with a roommate?
- Will you have a girlfriend or boyfriend?
- What type of work do you think you will be doing?
- Will you have a car?
- Who do you think your friends will be? Current friends or new friends?
- What will you be doing for fun in your spare time?
- Do you think you will be happier attaining these goals in five years than you are now?
- What will your relationship with us (parents) and siblings be? Friendly? Stop over for dinner and special occasions?
Once they have filled their answers in and you are writing these down as well, ask them what they believe are the two or three most important actions they can take in the next year to move toward their five-year plan? Jot these down and ask them to do the same.
Next, ask them what the two or three most important actions they would like you to take to support their five-year plan are. Jot these down and ask them to do the same. Indicate which activities you will do and what you may defer to later if you can’t respond to all of their requests.
Finally, ask them how you can work together to implement the actions to which both have committed? Indicate you want to be sure that you are following through, and your efforts are helping them. Remind them that this is their plan, but you are both working to help them get to this independence that they want in five years. Indicate that you look forward to this time when you can have a more comfortable and amiable relationship because they will be adults and on their own. Thank them for taking the time to share their thoughts about their future. If they have no specific suggestions about how you can work with them on this plan, propose that you check-in monthly, maybe at the same restaurant or meeting place to discuss the progress you and they are making. This approach shifts the emphasis from being a nag about getting a job, going to school, etc. to being a collaborator in their future plans.