Do you have an adult child and sometimes struggle to know how to have proper boundaries in your relationship? You’re not alone! When our kids are little, it’s appropriate for us to tell them to brush their teeth and eat their vegetables, but when they grow up and have their own identities, it’s easy to get confused about how much input we should give into their lives. For example, should we be giving them advice on their jobs, their finances, and their dating lives? Of course we shouldn’t be helicopter parents to a man or woman in their 30s, but what if they’re really struggling and need some direction?
I shared my thoughts on this topic in a new Marriott Alumni magazine article written by Holly Munson. Here’s a summary of common scenarios parents face with adult children and my take on how to best handle them:
Case Study 1: Career Concerns
Let’s say you have a 23-year old son who has taken some time off from community college and hasn’t gotten around to finishing his degree. He’s very happy to be pursuing film projects, but you’re worried that things may not take off and that he won’t be financially stable. You don’t want to discourage his dreams, but you’re not sure they’re realistic, and you’d really like to see him complete his education.
Tread very carefully here. Let him know that you’re excited about what he’s doing. When it comes to broaching the topic of money, steer clear of unsolicited advice. Instead, ask him if he’s open for feedback. Saying something like, “I’ve been thinking about you and your long-term career plans, and I’m wondering if you’re open to hearing some ideas” can be very helpful. This is also an opportunity to clear up any expectations about whether or not you’ll be supporting him financially in the future. Considering saying something along the lines of, “I think you’re very capable, but you need food to eat and a place to live while you’re working on your dreams.” This can open up the conversation about financial issues.
Case Study 2: Living At Home
More and more young people find themselves living at home. While this can be a good temporary fix, long-term it can have negative effects and leave parents feeling resentful. Imagine you have a 25 year old young man living in your home. You want to allow him to do his own thing, but it drives you crazy that he’s in and out of the house in the middle of the night, and he often leaves his dishes undone.
If you’re kind enough to open your home to your adult child, you need to be very clear about your expectations. What sort of housework is expected of him/her? Do you require a certain curfew? And how long specifically will this living arrangement last (you may need to give them the boot after six months!)? Also, stand your ground and don’t bail your kid out when they find themselves in trouble. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to allow them to experience the consequences of their decisions.
Case Study #3: Single (and Fabulous!):
What if you have an adult child who is educated, ambitious, and well-rounded but is still single? It may be easy to assume they should be available to come home for all your family holidays, and it’s ever easier to try to insert yourself into their social life. After all, you want your child to get married, right? And when they shrug off your advice or attempts to set them up on dates, when they don’t make it for Thanksgiving dinner, you get so upset and confused that you get angry.
In this kind of situation, recognize that first and foremost, single adults want to be seen as individuals. Look past the issue of marital status and see them for who they are: people with dreams and frustrations and needs (just like all of us!). If you’ve lost your cool, apologize. Also, when it comes to their dating lives, ask how they feel about talking with you. Maybe they’re comfortable with it, and maybe they’re not. By honoring their boundaries, you’ll show that you respect them.
Case Study #4: Problems At Work
Your son is in a high-stakes job and is constantly being undermined and bullied by co-workers. You can tell the stress is getting to him, you hate seeing him suffer at the hands of someone else, but you’re not quite sure what to say. This isn’t some schoolyard bully situation on the playground where you can come and save the day; these are adults in a power struggle that has perhaps crossed the line into abuse. What can you do?
It is a very good sign that your son is comfortable enough to vent to you about what’s going on. It shows that he trusts you. Always listen to the whole story and try to consider it from different perspectives. And once again, ask your child if he’s open for ideas. He may just need to talk it out, or he might be interested in your take on the situation. If he is, this may be a good experience to teach about workplace etiquette and dynamics, and you may suggest a helpful resource, such as the book “Crucial Conversations.”
Case Study #5: Faith Crisis
Your daughter returns home from college, and you soon learn that she has not attended church in several months. Your faith is a large part of your family’s identity and culture, and you’re very concerned and saddened. Is she making poor decisions? Will she ever retain to her faith? There are a lot of unknowns that can cause anxiety for the parent.
It’s tempting to take things personally and think, “how could she do this to me?” But it’s not about you; it’s about a young adult figuring out what she believes. Sometimes the best thing you can do is let your adult children experiencing a change in their faith know that you love them and care about them. Continue in your own faith tradition, pray that your daughter will find her way to peace, but also respect her decision to live as she pleases, and don’t make your love contingent on her belief system.
Read the full article by Holly Munson here
Illustrations by Scotty Reifsnyder / Marriott Alumni Magazine