Ever wonder if we’re doing the right thing as parents of young adults? Welcome to the club. We often face two forks in the road, one involves giving in when we know we should not, which typically leads to anger and resentment. The other is standing your ground which leads to guilt and regret. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma. There is a third path. It doesn’t always have to be my way or the highway or your young adult’s way no matter what.
The Third Path
The third path begins with the parents being clear of what they are willing to do and not do. When facing a decision as to whether to support a young adult’s decisions or actions, follow this brief self-check list in the order presented to choose a third path. None of these questions seek approval. They speak to the need for parents to balance love and backbone.
- Is my decision DRIVEN BY LOVE and not worry, need to control, fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, frustration or other such emotions?
- Is my decision ALIGNED WITH MY PRINCIPLES? For instance, principles such as being honest, keeping promises and being responsible.
- Is my decision likely to FOSTER RESPONSIBLE INDEPENDENCE or dependence?
This template can be useful when responding to requests or situations that arise, but a more proactive approach is to create your own “best parent” report card. I am using “best parent” because I want to call us to a higher standard than one that emphasizes our need to be right or in control. Trying to be right and in control will likely lead resistance. Young adults ultimately can’t be controlled by parents and they have their own opinions about right and wrong. To not face this reality is to invite power struggles and potential alienation. Additionally, measuring ourselves in terms of effectiveness can lead to frustration, disappointment, and guilt. This can occur if our young adult doesn’t comply with our expectations or requests. We parents suffer unnecessarily when we are unwilling to give up our specific dream of who they are and who they should become. Currently, I am seeing a thrity-two-year-old young adult who is not meeting his parent’s vision of what he should or could be doing. He’s enjoying his lifestyle of driving Uber, hanging out with friends and exploring an idea of a brewery with his friends.
Tips for Being the Best Possible Parent
What does it mean to be the “best” parent we can be in a proactive way? What should be on our report cards? For the last four years, I have been researching, writing and working with parents of young adults to define what a “best” parenting report card might look like. In this regard, I have come up with a number of practices that are important to parenting at the young adult stage. These practices are based upon the inability to control or change the young adult and a belief that the parent is not responsible for their young adult’s behavior — past or present. You could consider these two assumptions as some additional principles that are part of the template above. These practices include:
- COMMIT TO LEARN, UNDERSTAND, LISTEN to your young adult. The young adult of today and the experience they are having is different from yours. This is a foundational practice and should be on your report card.
- A second foundational practice is TO EXPRESS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE for your young adult. They need to know they are loved no matter what. Such actions on your part create a secure base for your young adult to move into the world.
- Be willing to APOLOGIZE IN A SINCERE AND HEARTFELT WAY about past actions. None of us are perfect parents; we have made mistakes and will make mistakes in the future. Apology releases us from parental guilt and has the potential of diffusing anger and resentment on the part of the young adult.
- BE WILLING TO FORGIVE. This starts with forgiving ourselves. Many parents apologize for past mistakes but then hang on to the guilt associated with these. You need to start with self-forgiveness and then find a way to forgive your young adult.
- BE WILLING TO TAKE A STAND WITH LOVE. This is sometimes referred to as “tough love,” but its applications in some settings has lost the love part. This is about standing our ground on our decisions and actions while reinforcing the unconditional love we feel.
- Finally, the last practice on the report card is to LET GO TO GROW. As the young adult moves out and forward with their lives we parents must let them grow apart from us as we will now need to grow apart from them.
Being the “best” parent involves following these and other practices. It also means that at the end of the day, you don’t hand the report card to your young adult and ask them to grade it. Rather, you take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you were the “best parent” you could have been for that day or week, compliment yourself on areas where you succeeded and commit to doing better on areas on which you fell short. If you follow this approach and these practices with a recognition that you ultimately can’t control or be responsible for your young adult, you will become a better parent and sleep better at night.