Musings of a Man with a Kid in College – “Make Good Decisions”
There’s an old joke about the 18-year-old who says “my parents are so dumb.” Then he turns 25 and says, “I can’t believe how much smarter my parents got in five years.” I sigh every time I hear it.
There are certain rules to parenting a young adult. The first one, and the most important one, is don’t take it personally. And by “it,” I mean the eye-rolling, the embarrassment they show when you’re around, the endless snapping at you, and the way the words “Mom” and “Dad” come out of their mouths with equal parts anger and distain. And the way that they make you feel that everything you say is the dumbest thing ever uttered by anyone, anywhere.
If you’re not experiencing this, then count your blessings. And keep it to yourself. Also, keep in mind another parenting axiom: once is a fluke, twice is a system. In other words, it takes more than one “perfect” child for it to be about your parenting, rather than about luck.
And if you are in the other, oh, 85% or so who doesn’t have that young adult who is a joy to be with, keep in mind that they really don’t mean it. They’re just going from being kids to being adults, and that’s a rough time for even the best of them. They have adult opportunities in so many areas (socially, educationally, vocationally, economically), yet they’re not quite ready to make those kinds of adult decisions, even though they think they know everything.
So what should you do? Well, your instinct is going to tell you to smother them with love and kindness and – worst of all – advice. While those might seem to be a winning move, they’re actually counterproductive.
You’re going to need to ignore your instincts and go in a different direction. In short, keep this in mind: Anything you think you’re doing to help them is actually hindering them. Well, make that almost anything. You will need to jump in when they get close to the danger line, where bad choices can have lifelong ramifications, but every time you rescue you them with a care package, make a call for them, book something for them, or generally apply your fantastic problem-solving skills to solve their problems, you’re taking away an opportunity for them to learn something valuable.
To help them be able to navigate their adult choices and to get them to a place where they can figure out which way to go when they reach their proverbial forks in the road, you have to let them struggle, and you have to let them face adversity on their own. This won’t be easy for you, but you can’t keep jumping in every time something comes up and your young adult become stressed, upset or angry. Otherwise, they won’t learn coping mechanisms, and they won’t learn to be accountable for themselves.
Remember, they’ll grow out of this, um, unpleasant stage, and they’ll come back to you. What you want when they do, is for them to be ready to launch themselves down the path of a happy, healthy, stable, productive – and self-sufficient – adulthood. And I say Amen to that!
In the meantime, every time you end a conversation with them, use these three words: Make Good Decisions.