There are good and not so good ways to ask questions and gather information from our young adult children. If we want to increase our likelihood of a positive response, don’t ask leading questions that add pressure and can feel accusatory. Questions that begin with “when” or “why” should be avoided:
- When are you moving out?
- When are you going to get a job (or keep a job, for that matter)?
- Why aren’t you moving out, getting a job or finding a girlfriend or boyfriend?
While these are important, practical, and relevant questions, they can trigger defensiveness and shut down the dialogue you desire to initiate.
Set the Stage
To set the stage for the crucial questions, we need to begin by asking our young adult to share their thoughts about their future. Find a neutral space, outside the home, where you can have an adult-to-adult dialogue. Consider inviting them to breakfast or another meal, which will be more comfortable and welcoming of conversation. State that you did not invite them out to lecture them and will do your best to listen without judgment. Indicate that you would like to know their thoughts regarding their life five years from now. Where do they see themselves living? While your fear might be that they will always be living under your roof, I have yet to have a young adult say that they just want to be living with mom and dad. Follow this plan by seeking to understand what they see themselves doing. The vision they have for their near future can extend to questions of what kind of car they hope to have, their wishes for a partner, and how they envision spending their free time. Finally, you can seek to understand how they see their relationship with you. Do they envision regular contact, coming over for dinner, flying home for holidays, or texting regularly?
In my private practice, when young adults share their hopes for their future, there is a noticeable sigh of relief. Besides saying they won’t be living at home, they add that they will be gainfully employed, have a car and possibly a girlfriend or boyfriend. Incidentally, the research on millennials tends to indicate that, while they are taking longer to get there, they tend to gravitate toward conventional goals – career, marriage and family, home ownership – as much as past generations.
Identify How You Can Help
Once you have a good understanding of their hopes and goals, seek to identify what you can do as a parent to help achieve this five-year plan. Ask them to describe three to five actions you can take to support their five-year plan. It’s important not to ask a yes/no response questions such as. “is there anything I can do to help you toward this five-year plan?” Indicate that they can tell you actions you can start or stop. Be ready to listen and to let them know you hear what they are saying. You want to partner rather than pressure them toward responsible independence. They may need to think about the actions they would like from you, and if so, give them some time. Once you get the three to five actions, commit to at least one or two for starters. Indicate that you will check with them periodically to see how they think you are doing on these actions. It’s essential to fulfill your commitments and to obtain their feedback. They may doubt that you will come through on your commitments. Prove them wrong.
In summary, whether your relationship is amicable, strained, or complicated, it’s vital to construct a positive, future experience with them. If the relationship[p has been contentious mitigate this with questions that are less when and why and more what and how. And equally important to follow through on any commitments you make. Even though their future plans may not be what you desire, there is a good chance they will change. The important point is to get onboard with their efforts to move toward a responsible, independent future.