Parenting young adults in the 18-25+ year old range can be very challenging. These offspring are no longer children yet they are still maturing emotionally and intellectually. Research seems to indicate that their prefrontal cortex executive functioning skills do not reach maturity until approximately age 25. This means that their ability to see the big picture, solve problems, and control impulses may be compromised. In addition, many young adults who are striving toward independence may be unable or unwilling to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed.
Parents may experience a great deal of frustration when they observe their children struggling. They may want to help their children, but lack the tools to effectively communicate this idea.
Worried parents with low energy may unwittingly provoke their children. A parental tone of voice can set off a cycle of defensiveness and verbal attacks. In addition, when parents believe that their children can’t take care of themselves, they may be sending out subliminal messages that they do not have faith in them. Young adults need lots of unconditional support during this time and this lack of parental faith can be devastating.
How can parents let their children know that they care deeply and love them unconditionally without losing their cool? The following are some methods that I have utilized while providing family therapy to young adults and their parents. Please take whatever fits for you and your children.
L Leave your children alone when they are upset. Attempting to communicate with emotionally reactive individuals is like pouring gasoline on a fire in hopes of dousing the flames. It is just not going to be effective and it may even increase the fire to a roaring forest fire of a blaze. Declaring your unconditional love, and then stating that you will be happy to continue the discussion in the near future, may be helpful. Even if your children want to keep the fire going, this will give you the opportunity to practice firm boundaries with compassion and end the conversation. For example, “I love you very much but I can see that this is not the right time to discuss this.” Remind your children once more that you love them, that you will talk soon, and then either leave the room or say a gentle good-by if you are on the phone. Make a supreme effort to end the conversation with loving kindness. It will be very beneficial when continuing the conversation in the near future.
O Obtain permission from your children to continue the conversation. It is important to treat young adults with respect and compassion. For example, ‘Is this a good time to continue our conversation?” They may just jump in with something negative. This is when parents must empasize the unconditional love once again, as well as requesting both parties communicate respectfully. Parents also need to let their children know that what they have to say is very important to the parents. This cannot be emphasized enough. Many young adults feel that their parents just don’t care about their points of view. You may want to say, "I love you very much and it is important to me what you have to say. I will be respectful to you and I would appreciate it if you would be respectful to me." Make sure that you maintain eye contact throughout the conversation so they know you are sincere.
V Valiant efforts may be rewarded on Universe time not parental time. Sometimes it may feel like it is impossible to get through to your children. You practice loving kindness and communicate with strength and courage, and yet it seems like nothing is changing. It can be very disheartening. Then one day when you least expect it, they will graduate from college, have a baby, or land a great job, and then suddenly there they are thanking you and wondering how you ever managed to put up with their shenanigans. It is amazing how a little maturity (yours and theirs) smile, combined with lots of love and support, can help to ease this life transition.
E Every moment brings an opportunity for new beginnings. The past is over and the best way to move forward may be by practicing forgiveness. Ask your children to forgive you for being human and forgive yourself for being less than a perfect parent. Forgiveness may be the key that opens the door to more effective communication. They may take your lead and apologize as well, but It may take some time for your children to be able to apologize to you with sincerity. Sometimes they are not able to see past their own ego needs. However, time has a way of smoothing out the ripples of life. One day your children may once again surprise you and ask for your forgiveness. This may be when they become parents and see how hard the job really is. It could also happen when they experience their first heartbreak or lose their job and they realize that you are always there for them unconditionally. In the meantime, if parents are able to practice gratitude, forgiveness, and patience, they will know in their hearts that they are doing everything they can, to be loving conscious parents.