Parenting a young adult can be a challenging experience for both parents and adult children. Often times, we can all regress to an earlier stage of development that feels familiar when our adult child communicates with us (speaking down to the adult child as if they were younger). This new stage of development and communication is a tremendous shift in our relationships. We are no longer disciplining our children, but attempting to relate to them as young adults, not children.
It may feel awkward at first to have been the parent guiding our children to letting them go and become independent adults. But isn’t that what we were supposed to do? Help them be their own person who is capable of making their own life choices? They need to make mistakes and fail in order to learn life lessons. If we do not allow that, by condemning them, then we haven’t helped them learn how to get back up on their own.
After experiencing my new role as a mother of daughters from 18 into their 20s, I had to readjust and shift my belief systems. I needed to think before I spoke and create new boundaries. I thought about my list of Do’s and Don’ts of parenting an adult child.
- Teach life lessons and life skills– cooking, laundry, finance, etc before they leave home. You may want to help or guide your adult child by showing them or reading rental agreements with them to get them started.
- Ask your son/daughter how they would like to redefine the roles at this age in terms of adult/guidance. Example: Ask your son or daughter what are the expectations at this stage in your life about the kind of relationship you want to have.
- Have faith that your adult child will make good choices; unless there is mental illness, learning disabilities, drug or alcohol abuse, or previous indicators that they have issues with making appropriate choices. (They need professional counseling. Refer them to an agency or school related counselor who can help them adjust.)
- Try to be available to give advice only if they ask you.
- Remember to share your life stories on your experience on living on your own, and the mistakes you made. This will open the doors for communication and create a more relaxed conversation.
- Although your adult child is independent, still offer to include them at family dinners, outings, vacations if they choose to join in.
- If they live out of state or at college or university, try to stay connected through emails, phone calls, texting, or voice messages. Try not to be overbearing and needy nor take it personally if they do not respond right away. Have an emergency number of one of their friends or roommates just to be able to contact them if you are unable to reach them. Be sure to have a code word your child can text you or tell you if there may be a safety concern.
- Help your adult child feel empowered to make choices and decisions. Give affirmations that they do make good decisions in order to encourage their independence.
- If your adult child marries, they may have a difficult time shifting their loyalty to their spouse since they have been part of the family for so many years. Give them time to adjust to married life and if they come to you for advice feel free to offer. If not, do not tell them what to do, because this often times ends with resentment.
- Do not impose your own way of doing things like decorating, buying clothes, finance, cars, dating…unless your adult child asks your opinion, or wants your help.
- Don’t compare your journey to theirs. It’s a different world today. Adult children are marrying later as well as having children later in life.
- Be careful of criticizing your adult child when he/she makes a mistake or needs your love and support when things are difficult.
- Be aware that your adult child may want to spend time with a boyfriend, girlfriend, friends, colleagues, instead of the family. Feelings of rejection may be difficult for you, but try to remember what you felt from 18 to your late 20s.
- Remember that we raised our children to leave the nest and become healthy, independent adults. So keep that in mind when they are showing independent tasks from you.
- Try not rescue your adult child if something goes wrong, unless it is an emergency dealing with health, or some other emergency situation. If you always bail out your adult child financially, they will never learn how to budget and rely on you throughout their lifetime.
- Don’t allow your adult child to speak to you rudely. No matter what. Use “I” messages such as, “I feel sad or hurt when you speak to me in a disrespectful tone of voice.”
- Think back to parenting your children in a different way as each adult child may respond differently to your statements. Ex: One adult child may not be bothered by a parental comment made as a joke, whereas another may take it seriously and internalize it.
- Try to avoid ultimatums towards your adult child. Example being: “I am going to give you a credit card for emergency situations, but if you mess up, you are on your own from then on.”
Often times a parent may have difficulty letting their oldest or only adult child move on and create their own independent lifestyle. This can create guilty feelings, and hurt when an adult child is ready to live in their own apartment or residence with other adult friends. This can also create financial issues between the parent and the adult child. Have the adult child use “I” messages to validate the parent, such as “I will miss you dad, when I move out, but I will always visit you and come back for holidays.” This can help a parent understand the need for their adult child independence.
Linda Levin M.A. has a handbook that can be purchased to review all of these Dos and Don’ts in addition to providing more specific guidance for both parent and adult child. See www.teenhealthmanual.com to order “Help I’m on my Own!”