Growing up, I was the chief litigator in the family, always challenging rules, defending myself, deflecting, and blaming other family members for my mistakes. My parents began to reinforce this image, and sarcastically noted that I should become a lawyer. When I entered college without an idea of what I wanted to do, I chose a pre-law curriculum and, by my senior year, had applied and was accepted to Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania. Although I never pursued law, my parents’ message and belief in my capability served me well in graduating from college and ultimately earning a Ph.D. As parents, we can have a powerful influence on our kids. We never stop envisioning a successful future for our kids, and we never should.
Imagining a Future for Our Young Adults
Imagining a future for our young adults is extremely important. First, it reinforces two critical developmental goals:
Identity is both who they are (their being) and what they do. Intention relates to finding a purpose, meaning, or passion in life. Second, it communicates a belief in them and their ability to attain this imagined future. Sometimes, it’s our belief in our kids that carries them into the future. As a therapist, one of my roles is to believe in my client’s capability and lift them up when they doubt themselves. Parents need to do this as well. We lift them up when we catch them exhibiting some quality or capability in line with an envisioned future.
We must not get deterred by behavior that falls outside this future. Instead, we need to discover, acknowledge, and reinforce attitudes, skills, and capabilities that align with a positive future. Third, it creates a vision of what a healthy connection can be between them and us. In this regard, we should discuss how we look forward to their adulthood and our relationship with them. My experience is that the relationship often changes for the good when parents and young adult children develop separate lives. I encourage parents to begin the adult-to-adult experiences now that will create a bridge to that future. These could be activities together (e.g., golf, shopping, jogging) or going out to eat with the caveat that we agree to avoid any parent-child talk or lectures. Work on being friendly and enjoying each other’s company.
Cautions to Consider
There are some cautions to consider in imagining and communicating a belief in our young adults and their future. We must be careful that our vision is not a function of fulfilling our need for who we want them to be. One of the significant challenges to letting go of young adults is to let go of a vision we created for and about them that does not align with their vision. Letting go of this vision is often harder than letting go of them physically. We invest heavily in our children’s success more than any generation before us, and we don’t give these up readily. We often feel like we have failed if the young adult doesn’t pursue our path to adulthood.
The vision we imagine has to come from an understanding of their unique personal qualities, skills, and capabilities and their interests and passions. We have to be more patient than any previous generations because millennials and GenZs are taking more time to explore, experiment, and try different paths. Our kids will be quick to remind us that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Lady Gaga were all college dropouts. When our kids struggle, hit speed bumps, make mistakes, and experience failures, we can look for lessons learned and skills acquired that we can infuse into the vision we are creating with them.
Interested in reading more about visioning with children and young adults? Here are some links to explore:
- Can you speak Millennial”ese”?
- Get a Vision for Your Young Adult
- Developing a Vision
- The Importance of a Vision Statement for Your Child