My friends in the AA community use the term “stinking thinking” to describe irrational thinking that leads to relapse. For instance, a belief that after an extended period of sobriety, I should celebrate with a drink and just one surely won’t hurt. Likewise, parents can suffer from stinking thinking as it relates to how we approach our role with our young adults. The mindset we have about our role with our adolescents and young adults will influence our behavior and can lead to unintended consequences and dysfunctional relationships within the family.
What do we Mean by “Mindset”?
Before we go further, let’s be clear about what I mean with the term “mindset.” Mindset is defined in the dictionary as fixed beliefs or mental attitude or inclination in thinking. Mindsets guide our behavior. If we have a mindset that “honesty is the best policy” and practice this with friends and family members, we lay a foundation for trust. In part II on “Stinking Thinking,” I will try to describe a mindset that is critical to an effective launch process. In this blog, I want to highlight certain mindset beliefs that trip up parents, hinder the launch process, and cause much unnecessary stress and suffering.
- If we believe we can control our young person, we can experience a lot of pain and frustration. A “command and control” approach will often lead to an escalation of the power struggle and ignores the natural desire of the young person to take over more decisions in their life. To acknowledge this developmental goal of greater independence of thought and action, parents must move from being directive to being more consultative (offering ideas, suggestions, and exploring the pros and cons while allowing the young person to make the call).
- If we believe we are responsible for the young person’s attitudes and actions, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of anxiety and guilt. Anxiety comes as we worry if they will make the right decisions in their lives. Guilt occurs if they don’t make the right decisions, and we blame ourselves. We wonder, “where did we go wrong?” If we can let go of false belief number one above, we have a chance to reduce our anxiety and guilt of thinking we are responsible. When our young adult was a toddler, we were responsible for picking them up if they toddled toward the road. When they are a young adult, and they are on the street driving away, we can’t control their decisions or actions.
- If we believe that what we did in the past is responsible for our young person’s failure to launch, we will treat them as disabled and never expect them to grow up. A divorce, being absent, an alcohol or drug problem in the past are all possible explanations for a parent not living up to the standards that they set for themselves. As such, we may feel some guilt about falling short on our parenting, but we don’t get a do-over. Furthermore, we can’t excuse either our behavior or theirs because of these failings. Parents and young adults both have to let go of the past and take responsibility for the future.
When you find yourself angry, hurt, sad, guilty, anxious, fearful, frustrated, ask yourself if the source of this is your inclination to subscribe to one or more of the above beliefs. If you find this is true, try changing your beliefs versus changing your young adult.
To learn more about these mindsets or practices, take a look at my practice books (available for purchase via Amazon).