Parenting an adult-child is a challenging life transition that can cause situations with a high intensity of emotions and relational conflict. Think about it – parenting really doesn’t change, the methods and ways of thinking stay pretty similar for about 15-16 years. Basically, you had the control as a parent. But no one really prepares you for the adult to adult parenting stage and transition. This is the transition stage of moving from adult-child to the adult-adult relationship where it can get messy. I also refer to it as the “sandpaper stage.” There is a lot of rubbing and friction; and the goal and hope is an adult will be buffed out in the process.
My adult-son completed his first year of college and returned home for the summer. My husband and I decided we were going to create a living agreement or contract for his time home. You can find these templates on the internet and then personalize them, which is what we did. It was all typed out and printed. These agreements are good for communicating expectations and your response if not followed. They can help prevent conflict and hurt feelings, or so we thought. I was leaving for a conference and we intended to have this discussion when I returned.
The problem occurred when I had my conference info sitting on top of the agreement, grabbed it when I walked out of the house, and left the agreement out in the open for my son to find. Yes, he found it and he flipped out. All he could see were the restrictions and his freedom being taken away from him. They cling to their freedom and their perception of fairness at this stage in life. My husband and I were thinking of his future and the different contracts and agreements he would be presented in his life. We want him to have a safety net and the space to fail before making huge falls in the real world that could really affect him. We also wanted a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T and peace in our home for the summer.
When I returned home from the conference, we had a good adult conversation and understanding between us. Our son felt very foolish of his reaction. He learned not to jump to judgments and reactions, until you fully hear the heart behind it and we are for protecting him not harming him. We learned some lessons, too. I think we can be better at being more empathetic and sensitive to the difficult change this is for them, too. It was a growth moment for all of us. Sometimes you have to have some friction to find the spark of truth and connection in the relationship, again.
Here are my top 5 “Don’t’s” for parents that have adult-children in the home:
- Don’t “parent” them. This is the transition of moving from adult-child to adult-adult relationship and you are now a subtle influence.
- Don’t communicate at them, but with them. It’s an exchange of thoughts not “Because I said so”.
- Don’t criticize. Ask thought provoking questions that allow them to infer from their choices and see potential consequences or already discovered consequences.
- Don’t give advice. Wait for them to ask for it. Less telling them what to do and more listening to how they think and view the world. It’s amazing what you hear and how proud you get.
- Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Allow them to take responsibility for their life.
I would love to hear your questions and comments if you are in this season. Let’s help and encourage one another through this.