As I discussed in last month’s article, more and more parents seem to be actively parenting their adult children these days. How do you parent an adult who needs some support while also taking good care of yourself?
A first question might be, “Does the adult child really need my help?” Too often I observe parents jumping in and “fixing” things for their kids instead of supporting them in figuring out their own decisions, messy as they might be. If a young adult is genuinely working hard to establish herself and can’t find a good job, it may be reasonable to allow her to live at home with certain guidelines until she can become more solvent.
My suggestion would be to give a timeframe (which can always be revisited!) as well as setting expectations for participation in the household. Often I see parents still doing their kids’ laundry and allowing them to keep all the money they earn for manicures or entertainment instead of contributing to household bills.
How will they learn to be responsible for themselves if we don’t teach them to budget? Obviously if they only make $100/week, they will only contribute a small amount; but this helps them learn to appreciate the value of their own—and your—money and time. Sitting down to discuss these issues will help.
For instance, you can explain to your adult child that though a curfew may seem ridiculous, you are doing this to alleviate your own anxiety. Together you can hash out an agreement that will honor both of your needs. Remember: if you are exhausted, stressed, or broke, you won’t be much help to them!
What if the situation is more complicated, and an adult child has dependents, an ex who is still prominent in his or her life, is unemployed, etc.? Again, you can help this person as long as you are honoring your own needs in taking care of them. A favorite yoga teacher, Judith Lasater, once suggested asking yourself this question before you do anything, small or great: “Does what I’m about to do include taking care of myself?”
So before you agree to babysit full-time or cash in your IRA to pay your adult child’s attorney’s fees, take some time and be assured through discussion and contemplation that your child is doing everything to his highest ability. If, for instance, he or she is experiencing depression (a common problem), it is reasonable for you to help pay for counseling but also insist that your child follow through with treatment, or you are both likely to get stuck in this mire for years.
I have seen older adults develop severe depression themselves from trying to “rescue” their adult children for years on end. Obviously this is a very short discussion of a complex issue.
I suggest you ask yourself two things:
- Will I be able to take care of myself psychologically, physically, and spiritually if I provide support at this time?
- Does my decision to help represent the best possible way to help my child not only in the moment, but in his or her future as a responsible adult?
You can always revise decisions. But it is much easier to err on the side of enforcing and maintaining boundaries in the beginning and relax those boundaries if things are going well than it is to try and impose them later. Good luck!
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