Building on my first recommended practice that parents need to strengthen unconditional love, I recommend developing stronger relationships with their young adult children. To be clear, this does not mean a more directive or controlling relationship. Parents must stay close but support decisions and actions that reflect young adults’ progress toward adulthood. Staying close involves seeking understanding through relationship skills of:
- Nonjudgmental listening.
- Inquiry, especially open-ended or clarifying questions.
- Requesting feedback on how one can be a better parent.
I spend time in my book “Speaking Millennialese,” describing how young adults are different today than when we were their age. A helpful mantra for us parents is St. Frances of Assisi’s statement (paraphrased): seek first to understand, then to be understood. It’s a challenge for parents because we have been so used to directing, telling, teaching, and modeling, but when our kids become adults, we need to slow down, listen, and try to understand who they are and their world experience.
If you want to understand and relate more effectively to your young adult, I recommend Jeffrey Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel’s book Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Arnett and to hear him describe his research on 18-29-year-old young adults, which he named the period of emerging adulthood. This term defines a separate stage of development as opposed to the traditional abrupt progression from adolescence to adulthood. It’s a recognition that this is an in-between period—neither completely a kid nor an adult.
If you want to dive deeper into understanding your young adult and the changes in their experience, this book will prove extremely helpful. His writing is grounded in large-scale surveys of young adults nationwide and focus groups with his co-author, Elizabeth Fishel. The book’s tone is similar to my writings in that I view parents as trying to do the right thing and young adults experimenting and exploring this new stage of life. The authors indicate that American parents want the best for their kids and want to support them in the inevitable “bumpy ride of their twenties.” My work is grounded on two assumptions. Parents love their kids no matter what age, and kids love their parents. This fact is true even if the relationship is contentious. The second assumption I make is that both parents and the young adult desire to see the young adult happy, successful, and independent. You will be surprised how much his research supports a view of most parents and young adults communicating and enjoying each other’s company. This view contradicts an earlier developmental perspective of psychologist Stanley Hall that adolescence is a period of storm and stress.
Another common belief these authors challenge is that young adults are entitled or selfish. They suggest that young adults are not selfish as much as self-focused. In this stage, they must address three significant tasks – identity formation, intimacy, and independence – the three “I’s. They need to step up and “stand-alone” to face these and other unique challenges. This stage is also a time of instability and endless possibilities. One finding that supports this is that, on average, emerging adults change jobs seven times between 20-29. Job and career opportunities represent parents’ opportunities to partner with young adults. Parents can reinforce actions by the young adult to differentiate themselves in interests, values, and careers while maintaining an approach that reinforces steps toward resolving the three “I’s.”
If you want answers to one or more of the following questions, please obtain a copy of Jeff and Elizabeth’s book.
- How are emerging adults different from one or two generations ago?
- What are the challenges parents face in this stage of life?
- What are the ten things that are better left unsaid? In other words, when should you bite your tongue?
- What do I do about technology, video games, and social media with our young adults?
- What do I do? My young adult has moved back home.
- Dealing with money is the primary source of conflict between parents and young adults.
- What’s a parent’s role in the emerging adults’ relationships with a significant other?
- How can parents help with job and career challenges, and how to know when to “step aside?”
- How do I deal with my son or daughter moving away from our religious heritage and practices?
- What do you do when things go wrong- depression, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders?
In the final chapter, the authors describe what parents believe to be the most significant markers of adulthood. Arnett and Fischel summarize these as accepting responsibility for oneself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. My coaching is aimed at these adulthood indicators, but for both the parent’s sake and the young adults, these would not occur at the expense of the relationship with the parents. Parents are wired to love their kids, and kids are wired to love their parents, and if this wiring gets short-circuited or broken, even if both parties are successful in their respective lives, suffering is inevitable.
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