As a parent, there's nothing worse then watching your child struggle. As a parent of a now 20-something, there are 3 big mistakes I see parents make. Learn the 3 mistakes along with some new strategies you can implement today.
Do you remember watching your child as they played in the park? Your son or daughter was hanging from the monkey bars without a care in the world. You watched as they swung around, ready for their Olympic-style dismount.
From where you were sitting, you knew it was too big of a drop but before you could call out, "Be careful!" your kid was flat on their back writhing in pain. You ran to comfort them and check all of their body parts to make sure nothing was broken.
As a parent, there's nothing worse than being able to see that your child is going to fall down-and there's nothing you can do to stop it from happening. Fast-forward 10-15 years. Your child is no longer a "child" but a 20-something struggling to figure out how to negotiate being an "adult."
You know how tough the transition to the working world can be. You lived it. You have a lot of life advice to give. You might even think you know the exact career path they should be pursuing. You might hear yourself wondering aloud, "If only my kid could stop going in circles and listen to me, then they would prevent themselves from a lot of frustration and pain."
While your grown adult kid is out of the trying teen years, and you can now have a conversation without erupting into a screaming match, it doesn't mean that your now 20-something is going to listen to your advice on the best way to be an "adult."
Here are the 3 biggest mistakes I see parents of 20-somethings make along with some new strategies you can implement today:
Myth #1: You can make them do something
If only our children would do what we wanted them to do. If only everyone would do what we want them to do. It's nice to dream, but you know as well as I do that your people (and your kid is one of them) have minds of their own. They have a right to autonomy, their own ideas and their own choice of life path.
If your 20-something is living at home with you, or if you're still financially supporting them, you may not be able to control their choices, but you do have control over the type of relationship you want to have with them. If you want to create a strong adult relationship, one where hopefully they'll eventually at least listen to your advice, then you can't treat them like kids or teenagers any more.
Your role right now isn't to give advice; it's to listen. And the best way to listen is to ask questions. Kids in their 20's are still developing into adults. Like fish that don't even know they're wet, they don't even know what questions to ask themselves. So it can be helpful to have someone they trust ask meaningful questions of them- as long as the questions are well intentioned.
Questions have the wonderful effect of showing your child that you're interested in what they have to say, their feelings, and their point of view. Grand inquisitor, you are not, nor should you be. Think of questions as the tool by which you can get your child to open up. But respect it when they're not ready.
Eventually, the deeper the trust, the better your child might ask you about that graduate degree you know is probably their best option.
Myth #2: You can motivate your kid
It can be tough to see your kid work at a job that doesn't challenge them. It can be even tougher to see them miss out on opportunities because they're unwilling or unable to push themselves a bit harder.
If your kid is working at a dead-end job or not doing what they need to do to land that "dream job" they've been talking about, your kid needs to experience some kind of discomfort from their personal choices when they're ready. They need to be in charge of their motivation.
In other words, you can't just give your child an "aha moment."
What you can do
If they're living under your roof, you need to maintain your boundaries and make sure to stick with the limits you created when they first moved back home. If they're working, you can charge them rent. A low paying dead-end job is not so bad when you're living for free, but having to give up 30% of your earnings for rent? That's motivating.
If you're not supporting them financially and they're able to pay all their bills, well, then the best thing to do is...nothing. It'll be tough, but your kid needs to experience the pain and discomfort of waking up one day and realizing that they hate their job. They need to feel the fire in their bellies to make a change. You can help that happen by not trying to make it happen.
Myth #3: You can rescue them
As a parent myself, I know it can be hard not to come to your child's rescue when they're struggling. Remind yourself of your ultimate goal. Your goal is to help your child launch and in order to do that they need to have confidence in their own abilities.
If you continue to rescue your child, whether it's giving them money, applying for jobs for them or calling friends begging them to hire your kid, you're taking away the opportunity for your child to solve their own problems. If you keep rescuing your kid, as much as you believe you're doing the "right" thing or "best" thing, they will start to believe that they can't rescue themselves.
What you can do
Wait until your kid comes to you. If they're coming to you to solve their problem, instead of telling them how to solve it, flip the script and ask your kid to come up with a solution. You can have a meaningful conversation with your grown child about what they've tried and what they haven't tried. You can remind them of the times in the past when they were faced with a problem, and how they were able to solve it.
You want to empower them and build their confidence through love and support, but not doing the work for them.
Utilizing these strategies doesn't mean that you can't be there to comfort your son or daughter. Ask questions and help them find their own good solutions. While you may find it tough to sit back and watch your kid go in circles, remember this: if they're allowed to fall and pick themselves up, eventually they'll be able to move out of your house and stand on their own two feet.
Tess Brigham is a licensed therapist and coach whose mission in life is to empower 20-somethings to live their best lives. If you want to learn how to create lasting change and truly enjoy your life, visit her website.