I chose “Parents Letting Go” as the title of this website for two reasons. First, it is the responsibility of parents to let go of the late adolescent/young adult to support their independence. Second, although some young adults hang on or have a letting go problem, most do not. I saw a thirty-two-year-old young man living on his parent’s third floor without paying rent and working for Uber when he felt like it. The parents were convinced there was something wrong with him, some underlying psychological problem. My various attempts to confirm this with psychological testing failed. He continued to make promises but continued not to pay. When I asked if he thought he could make it if his parents booted him out, he didn’t hesitate and said “yes.” I asked if he would be anxious about being on his own; similarly, without hesitation, he said “no.” In this case, his parent’s fears resulted in his having free room and board. The failure to launch is seldom just the parent’s problem or the young adults; often, it’s something of collusion. Sometimes a parent’s fear of letting go is internalized to the extent that the young adult doesn’t believe he can let go.
Q27 The Root of the Problem
The root of the difficulty in letting go by parents consists of parents’ underlying worries, fears, and concerns about their young adult. On this question of worries, fears, and concerns, the following themes emerged in the open-ended comments:
- A concern is that the young adult will continue to be stuck, fail, not be able to live on their own, end up homeless or in jail, or commit suicide. One parent said they worry that they will die before their young adult learns “adulting skills such as taxes, insurance, etc.” Another parent expressed concern that their young adult lacks “resilience.” Some use the more old-fashioned word “grit.” PEW research on millennials found that this was the first generation in which “work ethic” is not one of the top five most important values.
- Many parents worry that their young adults will be unhappy, lonely, won’t experience a loving relationship, not satisfied, or fulfilled in life, and will fail to find success and self-worth.
- Several responses highlighted the difficulty for the young adult in getting a job or pursuing a career. Along with this, there were concerns about financial capability.
- Quite a few referenced concerns about mental health and substance abuse problems may continue to hinder the young adult’s efforts to be self-sufficient and independent. One parent expressed concern that their young adult may languish in doing nothing but “vaping and weed.”
Commentary: In my practice, I see a wide range of parent-young adult struggles in the launching of young adults. Some are problems most parents would welcome, like choosing a college. In other cases, some parents spend nights wondering if their opioid-addicted young adult might end up in jail or overdose. One mother whose son had multiple substance abuse and mental health problems wondered if the next time she saw her son it would be in a body bag. Each parents’ fears, worries, and concerns are unique, but in general, we all long for our kids to be happy and self-sufficient.
Q28 & 29 What Parents Are Contributing
We now can turn our attention to the question of what parents think they have or are doing that contribute to their young adult’s lack of progress toward responsible independence. On this question, 52% indicated that they did not believe their parenting contributes to their young adult’s lack of progress toward responsible independence. About 26% neither disagreed nor agreed, and 17% agreed with the statement. Question 29 asked how parents have or are contributing to their young adult’s failure to launch.
- TOO MUCH was a common sentiment of parents who believe they have or are contributing to their young adult’s lack of progress toward responsible independence. Parents said they helped too much, sacrificed too much, did things for him too much that he could have done himself, too much helicoptering, advocated too much, cared too much.
- What parents said they should have done – made tough decisions, intervened more, been more positive, affirming, and nurturing, not allowed him to live at home unemployed, given more negative consequences, held her accountable, required compliance on tasks such as laundry, chores, etc., been more connected, firmer, and present.
Commentary: The “TOO MUCH” problem may be at the root of an entitled generation as we overextend ourselves and overindulge our children, and they expect this to continue. This perception correlates with those regrets about not being firm or tough enough or holding the young adult accountable. At the same time, there were comments that parents made that suggested they were not nurturing, affirming, supportive, or present enough. Overall, such comments highlight the challenge of balancing and integrating love and backbone in the parental role. If we have been too soft or too willing to do things for our young adults, it may be hard to shift to saying “no” and holding them accountable during the young adult stage. But this backbone approach may be exactly what is needed. The caveat I would add is that saying “no” and continuing to show love are not mutually exclusive. There are aids on my website to help with the blending and integrating of love and backbone. Also, if this is something that is a struggle for you, please consider my short book entitled Parenting Our Young Adults with Love and Backbone.
In a subsequent report, I will share what parents have said about what works and what doesn’t work in launching a young adult and their best overall advice.