Parenting Your 20-Something Kids
By Martha Pope Gorris
So what’s with parenting 20-something kids? Aren’t we through with our parenting duties by then? Most young adults in their twenties are in college, in the military or working somewhere. Our job as parents is pretty much over, isn’t it?
Many people think it is, but the truth remains, we are still mom and dad, still employed with a job to do. The time between teen-age and adulthood are transition years for them, as well as for us. The biggest change is in the way we parent. What we used to do as parents of teenagers no longer works for parents of young adults. Our communication, the way we relate and speak, the ways we love, even how much we give must be adjusted.
No longer can we give unsolicited advice and expect a positive response. No “Ok Johnny, go get your hair cut, buy a new suit, and then send in your resume to this company.” All those things may need to be done, but our methods of blatantly giving advice and instructing are no longer effective with a grown person. Our style of communication needs to shift. How? We can gently ask questions like, “Son, what are you going to do next in your job search?” Or, you might say, “I think your idea to buy a new suit is a good one. If you’d like me to go along, let me know.” Suggesting and affirming are much more effective methods than a straight out “here’s how to do it.”
What about the kid who decides college isn’t for him after all the years of preparation? After all your planning and saving? Instead, he wants to travel around the country or the world to “find” himself. Or, what if your daughter wants to get married right after high school graduation and your hopes for her are dashed? Many parents find themselves frustrated, disappointed, and often angry. This wasn’t what they had in mind! What should we do with that disappointment?
The first thing not to do is take it out on our adult kids. It’s time, Mom and Dad, to acknowledge that our hopes and dreams may not be theirs. Our hopes and expectations are just that—ours.
The key question to ask during the transition years of the early 20’s is this: “Will these words or this action promote a healthier relationship with my adult child? If we ask that question honestly whenever we are in doubt, I think we will learn which way to act.
During the teens, we helped our kids a lot. They depended on us for everything still. No longer should life be a free ride. Part of becoming a responsible citizen is learning to accept personal obligations and have respect for others, especially for their parents. Say no, giving less is part of that process.
Some parents acknowledge saying “no” to their kids is tough. How do you all of a sudden start saying, “no, you can’t borrow the RV or the boat” or “no, I cannot baby-sit again this weekend?” It’s simple. An honest explanation is all that is needed. “We are planning to keep this RV as our retirement getaway and we are limiting its use so that it isn’t worn out in three years.” Or, “I’m sorry I can’t sit this weekend. We made plans to have friends visit for the weekend.” It’s all in the way we say no. It has been suggested that when we say no to a request to borrow money, that we try and do something else to show we care. For example, you might invite your child and spouse to dinner and a movie on you. Or you might take them for ice cream - something to show you are there for them, you are just not going to bail them out.
What do we do if husband and wife disagree about an issue regarding our young adult? It’s important for us to keep a united front. Tell your child that you will get back to them after you have discussed it with your spouse. When discussing it, if we can’t agree together, then we should bow out. If compromise isn’t coming, then agree not to go one way or the other. Don’t admit to your child you don’t agree. Simply say you will have to decline to help.
It’s vital for our adult kids to see us as parents happy together, working on our relationship, building, and looking to our future retirement. The fact that we “have a life” is an important example for them. Even if you are a single parent, our kids need to observe us and how we handle the storms of life. We are still role models, and our actions still teach and make an impression on our kids, even if they are grown up.
So parents, if you have 20-something young adults, get rid of the idea that your parenting job is done. You’re not off the hook, not yet. Remember we’re merely in a transitional phase. The day is coming when they will be completely independent, responsible, and personally accountable for their lives. And when that day comes, if we’ve done our job well, we can enjoy the satisfaction of a deep and lasting mutual friendship with our child—a worthy goal indeed.
Martha Pope Gorris is a free-lance writer who lives in southern California. Her book, Parenting 20-Something Kids: Recognizing Your Role as They Find Their Way is in bookstores or an autographed copy is available at www.marthapopegorris.com.
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