This blog will cover counseling services sought and the extent to which parents communicate unconditional love and support their young adult’s quest for a separate identity and independence.
Q15 & 16. Counseling Services
Two drivers of counseling services surface in the survey results – depression and anxiety. In most cases, these relate to the young adult, but there were some indications that the parents suffered from these conditions as well. In my experience, there is nothing more stressful to a parent than a young adult with severe mental health or substance abuse problems who is refusing help. In this survey, 49% of parents and young adults sought counseling services, with 20% parents alone and 9% young adults alone.
Commentary: In my counseling articles, I address the challenge of getting help for young adults who are resistant. Ideally, I would like to work with young adults and parents but will see whoever shows up. Young adults, as a whole, are typically resistant to seeking counseling or substance abuse services, and I suspect parents who believe the problem is their young adults may question their own need for such services. The level of parent participation in counseling is encouraging, although this may also reflect a significant level of parental stress. My recommendation is to encourage parents to invite their young adults to participate in a session to inform their parents and me as to how we can be helpful to them. But if the young adult doesn’t want to participate, parents should still seek help.
Q17 & 18 Responsible Independence (Financial, Physical & Emotional)
62% of parents believed their young adult was responsibly independent, with 38% of parents indicating a little or not at all levels of independence. When parents were asked if their young adult was still financially dependent, 60% said yes.
Commentary: There seems to be a contradiction in the findings that over 62% of parents said their young adult was responsibly independent, yet 60% viewed their young adults as financially dependent. A recent national survey said that nearly half of empty-nesters are still supporting their children. Is it likely that parents may believe overall that their young adult is independent but are still willing to chip in on some major expenses such as help with buying a house, wedding costs, and some continuing school loan burdens? A parent needs to ask: Does the young adult have the resources to cover the expenses they incur, and if so, why is the parent helping? Does the parent’s help undermine the young adult’s coping and resilience by funding something that the young adult could do? Some parents wonder and may even feel guilty not helping when they have the discretionary income or assets and could help. Such aid must be balanced with the value the young adult experiences in finding ways to meet their expenses on their own and achieve the satisfaction and learning that comes with such a struggle.
Q19, 20 & 21 Developmental Tasks
These questions on the survey address the three most significant actions that are important to the young adults’ developmental tasks. Essentially, every young adult faces the challenges of:
- Developing a separate identity
- Establishing independence
- Maintaining an amicable relationship with their parents
Failures to launch can involve both the parent’s rejection or overcontrol of the young adult and the young adult’s rejection, anger, and rebellion toward the parents. For young adults to effectively transition into responsibly independent young adults, they rely on the parent’s unconditional love, support for a separate identity, and independence. On the question of parents communicating unconditional love to young adults, 91% said they have done this in word and action.
Commentary: My experience is that more parents of young adults are willing to communicate their love for their young adult and show this more than past generations. Past generations, and I realize this is a generalization, tended to take for granted that the kids knew they were loved by the parents and were less indulgent than today’s parents. My wife and I asked our nine-year-old grandson what he wanted for his birthday, and he couldn’t think of anything, not out of humility but out of overindulgence. Giving our children or young adults what they need is an expression of unconditional love; giving them everything they want is not. Entitlement is a challenge for young adults and parents. Overall, it’s gratifying to see a strong positive response to this question. There is a way to validate this perception of unconditional love by asking our young adults to what extent do they feel like we have communicated this.
On the question of the extent to which parents believe they support the young adult’s separate identity (Q20), the response was again quite high-89%.
Commentary: My guess is that a significant number of our young adult children may disagree with this. As one parent commented – “He would strongly disagree.” I’d wager that the percentage of young adults who don’t feel supported in this task is higher than 11%. As parents we have certain aspirations about who and how our kids will turn out and when they deviate from these, we may be unsupportive. Gender identity, sexual preferences and practices and choices of mates may not fall in line with our expectations and become hard to support. Our challenge is to let go of our aspirations and try to understand and find the value in theirs.
Finally, on the item of “fully supporting my young adult’s efforts and desires for independence (Q21),” the percentage agreeing was again high-92%.
Commentary: On this question, I think most parents want the young adult to be more independent but may not agree with “how” the young adult chooses to express this independence. A young adult may believe that staying out all night without communicating with parents is an expression of independence, but parents may not agree. Both parents and young adults agree that independence is desired but attempts to attain this can be a significant source of conflict and tension.
In part IV, we will cover questions about the challenge of letting go for both parents and young adults and what parents say about the difficulty of this. We’ll learn from the data that 32% of parents have a hard time letting go. This finding would seem to contradict the degree to which parents indicate that they support their young adult’s quest for independence (92%).