Launching Your Young Adult Children
Dear style & substance,
We are the parents of 2 high school age kids and are watching our friends with children that are graduating – most are either staying at home or moving back home because of the economy. We are concerned about it and wonder what you would suggest in preparing for this or is it just to be expected?
There is a lot to be said about this very important issue, therefore this is part one of a two part column. This trend has most recently been termed “failure to launch”, which sounds quite negative. If we turn it around and call it “successful launching”, we may come up with some more positive solutions. We believe your concerns are spot on.
We recommend that you start early in having realistic expectations and being communicative and flexible with these. We believe that the early start means as soon as you begin communicating with your child. It can be a very “soft sell” throughout or you can wait until the last year and start the “hard sell”. From listening and doing it on our own, we can say that the “soft sell” is a much easier and smoother method.
While every family situation is unique, there are commonalities in the “soft sell” of launching your child: set high, yet reasonable, standards, expect success and failure, hold them accountable to right their wrongs, and celebrate self-reliance. Parents can have fun with this, and should! A very important part of a child’s growth is developing a positive sense of self which builds confidence and independence.
Creating an expectation oriented environment, means that your communication, interactions and behaviors reflect what you wish for your children. In other words, do what you say and say what you do. This shows consistency and reliability, which are two very important traits in the successful launch. To produce emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy young adults, the key outcomes should be that they have their own personal sense of discipline, understand consequences of actions and behaviors, and seek to meet their potential.
Create a checklist of all the things you need to teach your child before they leave home. Some ideas for the list are: securing and keeping a job, opening and maintaining a bank account, budgeting and money management, time management and follow through, how to wash and fold laundry, sewing on a button, presentable grooming/dressing, healthy cooking on a budget, a fitness routine, returning an item to a store, changing a flat tire, making a doctors or other appointment, etc… As these opportunities present themselves, take the time to begin and continue with the instruction. Sometimes you will have to demonstrate and other times they can try on their own with some constructive feedback. Be approachable and let your kids know that no question is too silly.
Dinner table conversation can provide a more relaxed opportunity to discuss the learning of these life skills and the very real concerns young adults have as they prepare to launch. Using stories of other’s successes and struggles are perfect ways to teach the lessons of life with compassionate and thoughtful responses.
Learning these skills, essentially developing a bag of tricks, at a steady pace throughout childhood gives them the ability to focus on tougher, inevitable unknowns when out on their own, and enables them to launch with confidence.
Any transition in life is an opportunity. Nature gives us many examples of the process of change and evolution – we do not plant seeds underground in order to create dormancy – we plant seeds to come to fruition. In order for a seed to bear fruit it must go through numerous transitions, some stressful, some natural and easy. Parenting is the same process. This is Part II in continuing with the tough topic of the “Successful Launching” of your young adult children. We call this part the “hard sell”.
The “hard sell” is used to quickly and efficiently get your young adult child unstuck and on track. It can happen when there hasn’t been honest and straight forward communication about the future or when unexpected events or emotions have changed the original plans.
Having both parents in agreement with the expectations is a very positive position to begin this process - whether you are all in the same house or if you have two separate households; it takes some consistent communication to get the launch completed. It cannot be the same for each child, just as discipline has to be modified; different children mean different interests, abilities and issues!
It is not atypical for 18 to 24 year olds to be “stuck”. Many parents assume that since the child doesn’t seem like they are making any attempts at momentum, that they are unmotivated. Don’t instantly go to mad or frustrated. Simply asking them what they are anticipating in the next month, 6 months and year, is a great way to open up the conversation without it appearing to be an attack. The discussion of self-sufficiency should happen with ground rules in place for having a civil series of conversations. Civil meaning that sarcasm, frustration and walking out are not options and these rules should be set at the onset of the talks.
Financial responsibility means a young adult creates a plan for self-sufficiency – beginning with the basics of having a formal banking system to budgeting for daily necessities to short term and long term planning. It is also determining needs versus wants. If a young adult lives at home, a small rent should be required, just to get them in the habit of seeing to the financial reality of “needs”. College loans have thrown a huge wrench in independence. As parents, you can guide this debt process and offer suggestions for strategies and meeting with financial planning professionals. If they do return home, have a contract or tight verbal agreement of expectations; financial, household contributions and communication.
A very unrealistic expectation is for young adults to live a lifestyle at the same level that they have grown accustomed to. Because parents feel so uncomfortable that their child may go without something, they feel compelled to alleviate the “pain” that they perceive they are in. The healthy response to “this is hard”, should be, “yes, it is”, not “how much do you need?”. Managing adversity and struggles is a life-long process. The tough part of adversity is you rarely know when it is going to pay a visit. A parent wishing for a successful launch should differentiate between growing pains and adversity and communicate and act accordingly.
Understanding and helping to develop your child’s strengths and abilities will help you guide the goal setting process. We have decided that success is a path that is created by a series of logical and good choices. Taking a job doesn’t mean that career goals and expectations are on hold, it means your young adult is beginning to network, polish, create a routine/schedule, and stimulate his or her mind. Encourage them to make the job their own, do it with professionalism and keep their eyes open and resume prepared for the next good thing.
Putting these new strategies into place will give you some “growing pains” of your own, but should open up communication and set a joint-effort, solidly-made plan into motion.