PARENTING ADULT-LIKE CHILDREN
An article to share: With some of my own insights.
Parents are often overwhelmed as their children become adults in chronological age yet still have the maturity and judgment of a 15 year old – less. Adult children should be equipped with life skills and motivated to take on adult responsibilities like moving out, finding a job or paying bills. Yet many cry for support, are ill equipped, and yet want the freedom of what their age dictates without the willingness or know-how to accept the responsibilities of those freedoms.
I point parents who may find it difficult to bring their children in our office to point them to other resources that can provide some aid for their dilemma, such as Empowering Parents- so that they can access articles regarding the need of rewards, discipline, Rules, Boundaries and Older Children, which gives a great overview with tips on enforcing the rules of your home. As well as Home / Expert Articles / Parenting Strategies & Techniques / Family Rules & Limit Setting (Empowering Parents). For those un-insured or with defiant adults who refuse to seek help-then these resources may be of benefit for them so that they at least have some knowledge as to handle this stage of life.
However, the best aid is counseling with an expert; and counseling is best when that expert has experienced various life changes including parenting and grand parenting so as to have that added wisdom of what to do and not to do.
Children have 18 years to learn a good 25+ life skills yet are often uneducated and skilled in most of these while parents are trying to give them their best possible, carefree, responsibility free, and easy childhood as permissive, or over protective parents often do; or when parents, who are too busy in their own lives/work, who are not able then to provide time and tools for their youth.
There are authoritarian parents who dictate but have poor teaching skills-are also often punitive and who are not interested in rewarding good choices; as well as, the absent parent (basically not in touch with the child) and the authoritative parent who does well when the child is below 12 years of age-but may then be overwhelmed with their strong willed older children as peers seem to take over. The dynamics of blended families and step children and parents often muddy the waters more so. From the lists of parenting styles, the authoritative parent is the most positive and easily trainable parent during the child’s middle and adult years since they do invite input and are usually willing to seek expert advice.
We train parents to be more authoritative in their parenting style instead of the authoritarian or submissive style; which tends to be more balanced and healthy for children. These styles enlist input from children, and have a clear set of boundaries, and are often taught to earn rewards and how to resolve conflicts with healthier parental modeling.
However, sometimes children who do have good rules and boundaries still make poor choices due to choice of peers, experimentation of drugs, the negative teaching of social media and internet, and other negative influences since the brains of older children are not fully developed until ages 23-27 (depending upon gender), and even when the brain’s knowledge and judgment is not developed to where the child is easily able to suddenly have good insight and thought processes.
In fact, they have distortions of their world and of self which are often now automatic which skew their perspective; and they are filtering and perceiving from these faulty and risky lenses; which then lead the children to a delusional belief that they are “Adults” in every sense when the truth is-that their emotional and cognitive selves are still at the early adolescent stage of development.
As children push for independence without the responsible and mature character- while their parents see that their children are not ready for the world-yet are themselves frustrated as to how to turn these children around-then children often enter into the world ill equipped and not emotionally stable enough to succeed with the demands of the world, and/or children remain home longer to be taken care of as they explore at their own and their parent’s risk.
Parents feel as if they are to take the responsibility for these adult size children as children rebel and enter into many high risk forums and leave the parent to pay for the consequences of their bad choices. Ideally, the child has already experienced lessons from a parent who had worked diligently in teaching and modeling life skills when the children were young, and were coached as the child grew older, so that the child had some construct of how to navigate, and to thrive in the world while operating from a foundational healthy set of character traits. Some of these traits would be integrity, honesty, dependability, responsibility, and like virtues with conflict resolution skills and the ability to be flexible, as well as; creative. Even so, an adult child provides unique concerns due to their size, their desire to experience, their lack of appreciation for the risks, the exposure to internet, phones, and ability to be mobile.
Other difficulties are the impossibility to protect children, change them, and the lowered amount of effective disciplining tools available; but mainly-the most difficult obstacle is the lack of respect for authority figures and/or the rules-often leading the child to ignore the consequences and to just leave despite the threat of being grounded. What then are parents to do? How can you parent while the child is working from an adult body, with little limits, also with thinking errors; and little to no respect for authority or rules?
There must be rules and boundaries with older children. The respect of those rules and the choice to abide with such rules however are the issue that plagues parents.
One suggestion from a master level social worker is, “I want you to think of your adult children as guests. Not as children. How would you let a guest act? When would you draw the line with a guest?” (By James Lehman, MSW, Empowering Parents).Some questions however are; when does the guest need to start helping with their support while they are at your house? Can they bring anything or anyone into your house and/or do anything from your house? How are they to act towards you so as to keep your grace of allowing them to remain? If they get themselves in trouble, do you pay them out of it? Are you responsible? Do you tell them that they must be back at certain times or that they can or cannot go to certain places? Although I see logic in his reasoning; I am not in agreement with all of Mr. Lehman’s approach due to many such factors and questions that arise; but he does have an approach that does aid some families to understand that parents must relax their need to control, implement their boundaries and be willing to walk through fire should the child rebel.
Children of the late teens and early adulthood often have not established being responsible and play victims as they are over heard saying, “It’s not my fault.” “I couldn’t help it.” “I only stayed out an hour late and you want to punish me?” They become much more adept at manipulating their parents by blaming them for being too rigid and/or to strict. These young adults of chronological age and body may say, “I’m getting older now, I am an Adult, or You should trust me more.” Other times the adult child may yell ” I hate you, my friend gets to do anything and is not treated like a child!” These same children/adults may not have had a good track record of being responsible or dependable and have not earned the trust they seek however which makes it difficult for the parent to provide them trust that was not earned. Some think and say, “You owe me. You owe me a place to live. You shouldn’t be too rigid” and parents often fall hard for such manipulative actions and statements. Has the parents of these children possibly over-protected their children during the earlier years and due to their fear of harm to their children; they failed to provide ample tests and opportunities for that child to grow in character and experiences? It is possible. Sometimes parenting styles are a combination of submissive and authoritative which may have given mixed messages. At times parents fear losing their children who validate their own self worth or reason for life, and therefore they may overly shelter and are hesitant to say, “no” which created a sense of entitlement without responsibility or dependability being established-and then the child is no longer a child that has to listen to their parent-so they rebel. How or why does a child decide to obey even when they are adults? Respecting the parent is the key; especially when the child and parent is in conflict as to what is right. Sometimes children forget the awesome tasks of the parent or the parent’s sacrifice for them and basis their choice of rather they respect or disrespect upon their own constructs as to what is fair.
How to Enforce the Rules of the House with Older Kids
I agree that parents should have two levels of rules with their older children who are still living at home (By James Lehman, MSW, Empowering Parents). The first are the rules of your household that reflect your values, structure and moral authority. For example: People don’t abuse people around here. That doesn’t change at 18 or 19. That rule never changes. No drugs and alcohol on the property. No sexual actions with others on the property…Those are our rules and are non-negotiable. Other rules may also include, no stealing and no lying. Also a parent may include no disrespect (be specific as to what this looks like to you) which must be very clear and have no age limit if these are rules that you deem very important to you; as your core beliefs for your children. These types of core rules are not optional. Many of the above examples come from Lehman’s article.
Also I agree with Mr. James Lehman’s second level of rules that enables parents to live with young adults. Quoted from Mr Lehman, “Certainly, young adults should get more responsibility and independence, but they have to earn it”. If you’ve got a job, you get more independence-but you also do need to help support the family’s living expenses at home-while understanding that this does not allow them carte blanche. Should kids be able to stay out all night because they’re over 18? Absolutely not. If they’re living in your house, they have to let you know that they’re okay when they are out and when plans changes. That may mean calling in if they decide to sleep over at someone’s house. “You have a right as a parent to expect this.” Without this courtesy then parents have spent hours worrying over a possible accident or harm to their child. I thank Mr. Lehman MSW for his insight into this difficult stage of life.
What is important is for parents and children to sit down as they approach 18 to then discover what the plans are for them should they remain home, so that the parents can share concise and precise expectations, the rewards of compliance, and the consequences for defiance. It also must be clear that if defiance occurs then a consequence will occur, and if the child chooses to ignore that consequence with disrespect; then that child will have to move from the home and be self supportive. Parents must be sure that they are resolved to not enable their children by allowing their disobedience and disrespect to continue and they must follow through with the stated consequences. Further, older children tend to be more on board when the terms are in writing and when all have signed the contract. (borrowed from the article as well as our own teaching on the subject).
Life skills are still needed to be coached and mastered, and often insisting for the child to work and to help with their share of living expenses is a good way to help in teaching responsibility. One thing for sure is that the parents are should not be carrying their adult children any longer; cannot accept the child’s refusal to pull their weight as this teaches children to remain dependent. Also parents need to expect that they (the children) will think with cognitive error that you owe them and that this is support; when in fact it is not true. During these occasions then it may be prudent to help them with questioning to access their distortions of thoughts yet be firm with a loving resolve. If the child continues to question your resolve then it may be needed to bring forth the signed contract of the agreed upon conditions to help in settling the matter.
Children slack often in high school and become social butterflies, uncaring about grades or conduct and then find it hard to find a good job; without the life skills to help them achieve it. They want what the parent has by 18, and expect it will magically fall into their laps at times. Working at “some fast food facility” or like position is beneath them however-so if they cannot work for the big money at a prestigious job for which they are still untrained or credentialed to do-then they simply want to wait and fail to apply or to work. Interestingly, they feel justified in this decision and behavior.
To offset this issue during the middle school age and high school age then parents may need to address this. When poor choices continue to occur then the parent must say to their children, “You made choices in high school which are now creating difficulty for you, and only you can better yourself and your chances. It starts with good sleep, healthy eating, being prepared for your responsibilities, study, and your willingness to work hard. It helps to do your homework with diligence so as to make the best grades and possibly earn scholarships. If we cannot pay for all of your college, or if you slack in your grades-then you will need to work a part time job to pay for your college is a more direct rendering of common sense, but one less direct could be asking questions that will help guide the child to realize that their decisions are costing them their future, teaching conflict resolution skills.
Further, the parent who is against drinking or alcohol in their homes will need to add; you know that our rule is no drinking or drugs in the house and/or property and therefore if you come home drunk or we find such on our property then you will need to move out…and make sure there is a time limit for that to occur.
Parents may also have to deal with violence and aggression. In these cases; they will need the police to be contacted with each episode and the child will need to move out if at least 18. The child pays the fines, and the child does the community services. Punitive consequences are only effective when the child has a choice to earn benefits and rewards for better choices.
Once you have cultivated your set of rules and boundaries, the rewards (very important) and the consequences; then have your family meeting and sign that contract.
Some important considerations: (A combination of the article’s lists and our own)
- Parents must have a hierarchy and hefty supply of consequences and reward system with much structure in place.
- Ordering each reward and consequence in connection to the difficulty of the task or the seriousness of the behavior.
- Short periods of consequences are better than lengthy ones.
- Consistency is a must.
- Parents must model what they want from their children.
- Rewards and consequences must be consistent with the child’s level of maturity and ability.
- Avoid short cuts and big consequences for every incident.
- Apply consequences when cool and collected so as to avoid over-reacting, and making threats.
- What do I want to accomplish here? Do I want to show him who’s boss or do I want to get him to do his homework?
- Consequences are best when approached with the child’s learning approach style, and when it fits with the parenting style.
- Parents become frustrated when results are not occurring fast enough and switch before the child figures out that their action is not working.
- Rigidity that is senseless and loses the objectivity of the goal will backfire.
Disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior.
Parents must understand the importance of several brain powering and maximization tools that need to be provided and encouraged throughout the baby-adulthood years:
- Brains and bodies need nutrition (not junk food). Gluten and sugar have been researched to be avoided for many mental and behavioral health concerns.
- Brains need the input of stimulating and educational knowledge. Not screen time, gaming, and negative or aggressive material.
- Brains need oxygen to thrive. (Exercise is helpful to provide oxygen, as well as, deep breathing techniques).
- Brains need rest. All 4 levels of sleep are a must and children require no less than 9 hours of sleep.
If brains and bodies are not nourished well then both suffer the consequence of ill mental and physical health issues.
If you are struggling with children or adult children issues and feel as if you could use our help, please contact Heal and Hope Counseling Services, and schedule an appointment today. I am here to help you walk through this difficult stage of life with you children.
Glyndora Condon MS LPC with exerts from article cited in article found in Empowering Parents.