Parenting Your Adult Child: The Not-So-Empty Nest
While our children are growing up, we spend hours each day caring for them, keeping them safe, and preparing them to become independent humans. We assist them in making wise decisions, and we bask in the glory of their accomplishments. We want only the best for them—and we expect only the best from them. They complete high school, maybe go away to college, and even start a career. Sure, we give them a little boost from time to time—a little something to help with the rent; keep them on the family insurance and cellphone plan; we even invite them back home so they can pay off their bills and save enough to move out (and move on).
We don't anticipate that our adult children will need or expect our help when they're 30, but it happens. And it's happening more and more often—to more and more people—than ever before. Learning how to respond to an adult child's failure to launch is a new, and often unwelcome, skill of parenting that comes with no "What to Expect" guidebook!
Over and over again in my practice, I hear my clients complain of an adult child's behavior, followed up by a rationalization that somehow "excuses" the behavior. For example: "My son never offers to help with the housework . . . but I know he's busy so I don't want to ask him." Sometimes I hear, "I paid my daughter $20 to help me with the laundry" (or the vacuuming, the yard work, bringing in the groceries). The rationalization is, "She's helping me." Sound familiar?
You might ask yourself these questions: Is disappointment and resentment negatively affecting my parent-child relationship? Am I allowing my adult child's poor choices to rule my life? Is guilt driving my actions?
When adult children live with their parents—especially when they boomerang back after an unsuccessful launch—the attitude is that they are independent adults who can make their own decisions. And we want them to be independent adults! But there's a dynamic within the home environment that is resistant to change, and adult children often revert to adolescent behavior when interacting with their parents. When faced with the challenge of interacting and living with an adult "teenager," it's important to use compassion and understanding in your approach. Most adult children want to be independent, but life events or financial circumstances are prohibiting them from successfully striking out on their own. Remember to treat your adult child like an adult—like you would want to be treated. This approach will go a long way in improving communication and managing conflict.
If you recognize that you are allowing your adult child's poor choices to impact your own happiness and freedom, take a step back to see how you may be contributing to the problem. Setting clear and appropriate boundaries is imperative when dealing with your adult children. Trust them to be able to make adult decisions, but don't bail them out when they make poor ones. Clearly communicating your limits and expectations will help you to establish healthy connections that will be supportive rather than enabling. Often times, parents feel some level of responsibility for their children's mistakes and failures, and attempt to make up for it by giving and doing too much—to their child's emotional and developmental detriment. Failure is a part of life—it happens to us all at one time or another, and it's an important life lesson to learn from our mistakes and to recognize our personal strengths and weaknesses. The adult child who never has to pay the consequences of his or her own actions cannot learn these important lessons.
Finally, be sure to take care of yourself and your needs. Live your life, follow your dreams, and enjoy your success. Modeling a life of joy and contentment will help your children to honor and respect your desires and to recognize you as an individual—not just as their parent.