Can you imagine dancing with your young adult son or daughter and they have a very different way of dancing than you? Such an effort to navigate the dance may lead to anger and frustration. The process of launching a young adult can sometimes feel this way. When one is moving closer the other is moving away. Parents sometimes complain that they try to let go, but their adult child keeps moving toward them with explicit dependency needs: “I need money” or implicit dependency needs such as: “I had a car accident.”
No Formula for Balancing Support and Emancipation
Unfortunately, there is no clear “sweet spot” where you have the right combination of love and support in all circumstances. Relationships are dynamic and complex, particularly between parents and young adults. The challenge is understanding when and how to move in with a supportive word or action and when to back off and let the young adult struggle, decide, or act on their own.
Should we Parent Young Adults?
Some parents may object to the concept of parenting “young adults” as if it’s a contradiction (oxymoron). One shouldn’t parent adults! We may all agree with this statement in theory but have a hard time applying it in practice. We continue to parent either because we are pulled by our young adults or as a result of our own difficulty backing off. Parenting, whether intentional or otherwise, at this stage in the family life cycle is very difficult. As one parent said it in a recent survey:
“Adult children are the most difficult and frustrating to deal with because they are adults.”
Often a parent’s own emotions become a hindrance. Fear and guilt can cause a parent to act in unhelpful ways. A good test is to ask yourself two questions:
- Is this the right time to express love or to support autonomy, regardless of your underlying emotions?
- Is my decision or action going to support responsible independence?
In other words, put on your thinking cap and step above your emotions to do what is best for the young adult versus what may make you feel better.