- “I don’t know if I am doing the right thing when it comes to my young adult?”
- “I don’t know what the right balance is between being supportive and letting go, stepping back and requiring my young adult child to be more responsible?”
- “I don’t want to enable my young adult, but I don’t want to be too harsh or get rejected.”
These are typical questions and sentiments parents bring up in my workshops or counseling. Sometimes parents feel like they must choose between two undesirable options. If they stand their ground and say “no” to an unreasonable request, they might feel guilty afterward. But if they give in when they should say no, they will be mad at themselves. At one of my workshops, the most common emotion expressed by parents with challenging young adults is “frustration.” Essentially this challenge of trying to know and do the right thing.
Rules of Engagement
There isn’t a way to address every challenging situation that might arise for parents, but here are some rules of engagement. Ask yourself the following questions related to your decisions or actions:
- Am I acting out of love?
- Am I doing what I believe is right?
- Do I believe that my young adult child is responsible for their actions, not me?
- Do my actions demonstrate a belief that my young adult can move forward toward greater independence and self-sufficiency?
When interacting with your young adult around tasks, keep the following in mind:
- Don’t do something for them that they can do for themselves.
- If they are having trouble, help them get started (i.e., make the call and give them the phone).
- Agree to partner. If working with them on some goal or project, never give more energy or effort than they do. Don’t just do it because it is easier, or you may get fewer hassles.
- Don’t give any reward or money before they accomplish something. Giving the reward or money before meeting an expectation is a bribe; your young adult may take the money and then not follow through.
General Principles for Interaction
Here are some general principles in interacting with the young adult:
- Start with asking them what they need to do, how they might approach a problem, and their ideas (a coaching approach). Practice listening first before giving your input.
- Check what you think you hear to be sure you understand.
- Ask if they would like to hear your ideas or suggestions and couch this in “but, it is your decision if you want to use any of these ideas.” Be willing to have them choose not to use your ideas (consulting approach).
- Change problems to goals. From “I don’t have any money to buy a cellphone” to “you would like to buy a cellphone.”
- Focus on successes they have had in the past that they could use as stories or examples of addressing a current similar problem.
Saying “no” is not a four-letter word.
- “Silence” is a response when it appears that they want you to decide or help, and you want them to own their actions.
- Take care of yourself.
- Don’t look to your young adult to make you happy, less guilty, or feel like a good parent. It’s not their job.
- Do your own report card based upon being the mother or father you want to be regardless of their response. Use the list of questions, actions, and principles above to evaluate your parenting.
- Find support in friends and extended family members where you can request feedback and suggestions for finding the balance of understanding and firmness.
Parenting our young adults is not for the faint of heart. It can be a tough day-by-day challenge. Let’s be sure our hearts and heads are in the right place, so we act out of love and a desire to do what’s right.