Loving Our Kids into Adulthood


This time of year parents all over the planet are launching their adult children into the next phase of life.  It can be SO hard!  We feel you!  We have launched one kid into adulthood and the other just turned 18.

Photo credit: Photo by  Alex Jones  on  Unsplash

Photo credit: Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

I can literally feel the lump in your throat as you are driving home after taking your kid to college or helping her move into her first apartment. You are hoping all those years of parenting have resulted in a young adult who has what it takes to survive in this great big world. And it is unclear what your role will be from that day forward. That day changes everything!

You’re tempted to offer just one more piece of sage advice or hug him just one more time so he knows for sure how much you love him.  Then as you drive away, you question everything, and you’re probably struggling to see the road through your tears because this is a really big deal!

We questioned everything, too.  Trust me.  When my eldest rode off into his adult life, I could have listed 1000 things I suddenly realized I would've done differently if I could do it all again. That whole 20/20 hindsight saying is totally true. But there’s nothing to be gained by beating ourselves up about the past, so let’s just agree that we did the best we knew how to do. Let's shift the focus to ways we can live in the present and make the best of this new stage of life.

I vividly remember being a young adult, and I'm sure my sense of detachment probably seemed heartless to my parents. I just wanted to show them that I could do it...that I could create a great life just like they did!  It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the incredible upbringing they gave me.  I was just antsy to blaze a trail of my own!

Young adulthood is stressful, so it's helpful for our kids to know they will always have a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on without a side of guilt. So, from a person who learned a lot in my young adult years and who also has kids emerging into adulthood, here are five things that our kids REALLY need from us as they step into the great unknown of adulting, whether or not they actually tell us.

1.  They need us to embrace their launch into adulthood. (This is hard.)

For at least 18 years, possibly longer, our children are the primary recipients of our attention, teaching and care.  We have poured a whole lot of energy, time and love into raising a great human, so when the moment comes for that precious human to launch out into the world it kind of feels like a rip off.  I mean, all that effort so they can successfully… leave?  Ouch.

But this is not a surprise ending. This is the goal of parenting! So, even if we have mixed feelings about this profound change in the relationship, it is important to let our young adults know that we will be okay and that we are glad they are doing this totally normal thing called growing up!

If it helps, find a new hobby or plan some fun activities with friends or family to help you redirect your attention to things that bring you enjoyment. Because…. #2.

2. Adult kids need us to give them space to figure things out.

Once kids set out on their own, they have to discover how they are going to navigate this new stage of life.  And we need to let them do that, without judgment or constantly checking in.  This is an entirely new way of relating to these kids whose diapers we once changed.  So it takes some rewiring of our brains, but this is such an important time to set the precedent for the future of the relationship.

During the next few years, there will likely be moments when your adult kid makes you so proud your heart nearly explodes. There will be moments when his or her lack of life experience will be really evident. ALL of those moments are something to be proud of, because young adults need to be allowed to spread their wings, solve problems, figure things out and make their own decisions.

This is a time when kids' identities, previously tied closely to their parents', takes a new turn.  Often their sense of individualism is just bursting at the seams. That is healthy!

Our kids will make mistakes and shortsighted decisions, just like we did.  And look how great we turned out! *insert sheepish smile* Sure, we would love to save them from mistakes we made but, even if we could, that wouldn’t be nearly as helpful as we might think.

We can’t spare them from all the hard things or we stunt their growth. Keep the big picture in mind and remember that these years of testing their wings and learning to fly are so important for their eventual success!

3.  They need less uninvited advice than we might want to give.

When your 19-year-old sees your number pop up on his phone, you want him to pick it up, right?  Well, he definitely will not pick it up if he knows you’re just going to drill him about whether or not he got his homework done or to tell him you’re worried he is only eating Ramen Noodles (although it's possible that's exactly what he is eating).

You want your young adult to know that you are willing and ready to offer support or advice whenever they need it, but let him know you will only offer advise when he asks for it.  (Then keep this promise!)  This will be harder for some parents than others, but it is imperative and #4 says why.

Let them initiate most phone calls (which means not calling every time you think of something you want to say).  If they know you are going to call them multiple times a day, they’ll just wait for you to call instead of calling you if they need you.

When they do talk to you on the phone, listen more than you speak.  Instill your confidence in them, let them know how happy you are to talk to them, and try to keep your sobs in check if you’re missing them. Even if it’s hard at first, it is healthy and good that they’ve left home and they need to know you recognize this.

4.  They need to know they have what it takes to be a great adult.

We can tell kids we believe in them.  That is important.  But we actually SHOW them how much we believe in them by allowing them to try things and find their own way without a running commentary about how we would have done it. 

Let’s be honest.  Kids may not have all the life experience and wisdom they need when they’re first starting out.  But neither did we!

Showing adult kids we believe in them means not criticizing or comparing them with other young adults, their siblings or even with our own place in life. We raise each of our kids to be their own version of wonderful, and we need to let them do just that.

It is also tempting to “fix” things for them if they make a decision that is hard for them to live with. If and when they come to you with situations that reveal their lack of experience, resist the urge to make them feel foolish and simply help them come up with possible solutions. It's especially helpful if those solutions involve action from them, rather than from you.  This shows them with more than words that you are there for them, but that you also believe they are perfectly able to solve challenges and setbacks.

Yes, we all want to – and will – help our kids when they need support. They do still need us! But let’s also give them a chance to use those brilliant minds and not make their difficult challenges magically go away. Allowing them to learn and develop coping skills will instill confidence they will build on for the rest of their lives.

5. They need a relationship with you that is not about money.

One particular hot spot for many college students and their parents is the issue of finances. It is imperative to let them know how much support you can provide and how much they will need to participate in the financial aspects of their college years. If they invest nothing, they may not sense the same commitment to their own success than if they are able to contribute something to their own education, housing, transportation or living expenses.

Holding money over kids' heads as a way to control their decisions is not helpful. In the long run, these kinds of financial conflicts only breed resentment. Regardless of how much you can or cannot help them financially, it is wise to communicate clearly so they know what they can count on from you and what they will need to contribute. Then stick with that deal as much as possible. Using financial support as a tool for making them dependent on you (or withholding support if they aren’t complying with your wishes) is unhealthy for the relationship in the long run. 

Our adult kids need to have a relationship with us that is rooted in trust and love, not control. And they only develop skills they have the opportunity to use. If our kids never need to contribute to their own life financially, their confidence can actually decrease as they face the possibility of supporting themselves in future years.

We could talk for days about the ins and outs of launching kids into adulthood, but when it comes to loving our adult kids well, the kindest thing we can do is allow them to be individuals who know they are loved regardless of how they "perform" as adults. They will get better at adulting with practice, just as we did (hopefully).  It will help them to see that no mistake is final, simply a step toward hard-won wisdom.

If you have other ideas about helping adult kids launch successfully, or questions to discuss with others, visit us over at the Love Better Community (a closed Facebook group created just for us here) and post your ideas, experiences or feedback anytime!


Emily SutherlandComment