"Mom, it took me forever to get to work, and I didn’t get to stop for dinner.
You know how awful I feel when I don’t eat, and I don’t have any breaks to go
out and get something. Can you pick up a burrito and drop it off?"
This was not a request from a high-schooler but a call from my 24-year-old
daughter who worked 35 minutes away. Whoa, I thought. Had I
unknowingly advertised free dinner delivery service?
Food deliveries aren’t the only request on the table for parents of college
students and young adults. Through e-mail, text messages, phone calls and over
lunch, many parents of adult children face appeals for room and board, laundry
or chauffeur service, short- (or long-) term loans.
Some parents have bonded to their children in such a tight way they are
sometimes called "helicopter parents" because of their tendency to hover and
jump in to help at the first sign of need. Many parents love the notion of
family closeness and an abundance of support. Other parents, however, are afraid
the apron strings will never be cut, so they refuse to give any help lest they
interfere with their child’s developing self-sufficiency. Even experts disagree
on the amount of involvement that is beneficial without smothering.
How can young adults launch their own life while maintaining a close
relationship with their parents? And how do parents switch their role from
caregiver to prayer partner, listener or consultant yet still offer
Like any other aspect of parenting, one size does not fit all, but some
general principles can help.
Start early. Gradually transfer responsibility to your YA
(young adult). By the senior year of high school, expect him to be able to get
himself up, juggle his schedule, do his own laundry, turn in his homework on
time and manage his money. Some parents also lift curfew to prepare for the
college years ahead.
Wait it out. It is easy to call "just to check in" or e-mail
an offer, "I’m going to the store; do you need anything?" Letting your YA be the
initiator pays off in the long run. Similarly, refrain from jumping into a
conversation with offers of help. Your YA might just be thinking out loud and
not be asking for assistance at all.
Pass it back. Practice active listening. Questions like
"What do you think?" work well when your YA is asking for advice. "You
are putting a lot of thought into this" builds confidence. Asking, "How can I
pray about this for you?" leaves it in their court and gives you something to
Believe in them. Assure your YA that you believe in him and
his abilities and skills to make good decisions. My parents watched me, their
only daughter, head off to a short-term missions project instead of the job
market. It must have been the source of some worries, but I never heard about
them. They showed confidence in me.
Enjoy the new dynamic. If you count the years, you’ll notice
that you will spend most of your life alongside your child as an adult. Laughter
and fun can enrich this season of life. Enjoying it starts with letting go of
your primary role of instruction and embracing your new role of influence.
Considering my daughter’s request for dinner delivery, I wasn’t initially
sure how to respond. I finally said, "Let me get back to you about this in a
minute." A quick prayer for wisdom and direction followed, and I knew what
response I needed to make. Some parenting tools never change.
Edition of the June, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine.
Copyright © 2008 Letitia Suk. All rights reserved.