Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead, don’t walk in front of me., I may not follow, just walk beside me –Albert Camus
As new parents, we walk behind our toddler or lean down with arms out and beckon him to walk toward us, knowing the risk that he may fall. This is the start of a pattern of nudging our children out into the world or pulling them by modeling a future we want for them. These themes of push and pull continue throughout the lifetime of parenting. When we arrive in the late adolescent and young adult years, we need to position ourselves differently. We need to move away from longstanding patterns of push and pull parenting and stand beside these young adults as they face the world.
Stop Pushing & Pulling
We have to back away from pushing or pulling our young adults in a particular direction based upon what we think is best. We can fall prey to a tendency to push or pull from mundane expectations such as getting them up for school or work to larger goals such as attending a specific college or pursuing a specific career. Recently. I met with a family who had planned for their oldest and first high school graduate to attend the university that the father attended in another state. Money was saved, and a scholarship garnered to the university so that this son would be able to graduate without debt. Everything was set except that the father and mother didn’t anticipate that their eighteen-year-old would fall in love with a high school junior. As a result, he chose to attend a local community college. The pained look on the parents’ faces spoke to the disappointment they felt in this decision. They realized they needed to give up their dream and find a way to walk beside their son’s dream.
Pushing and pulling during the young adult years has the risk of resistance, not unlike earlier times with them. How many of us pushed to get our kids up, dressed, out to the buss and used the old “1…2…3” threat to get them to move. And at times, we would swear they were moving in slow motion just to irritate us. It’s a different playing field with young adults, but efforts by parents to push and pull too much can yield passive resistance or outright rebellion.
Walk Side by Side with Your Young Adult
In my clinical practice, when I meet with parents and young adults, I ask the young adult to write up their five-year plan on the whiteboard. Where will they live, what will they be doing, etc.? Never have I had a young adult say – “I just want to be living with mommy and daddy in five years.” They don’t want to be living with us any more than we do. Predictably the sigh of relief by the parents is palpable. I then ask the young adult to write up three critical actions they need to take to achieve this plan. Finally, I ask the young adult to write three things that parents can do to support and walk beside the young adult on their journey. Recently, when I did this exercise with a twenty-three-year-old young woman, she said – “I don’t want money; I want emotional support- encouragement, listening, affirmation, demonstrating a belief in me.” The best gift we can give our young adults is to walk side by side, and in so doing, say – you are not alone, we are here for you, and we believe in you.