In over 33 years of being a parent coach, I have spoken with many parents of struggling adult children. These parents typically reach out to me when they are at their wit’s end. This post highlights why it is so heart-wrenching for parents of struggling adult children and five guiding strategies for these parents.
Parents In Pain
Witnessing their adult children face challenges in areas such as college failures, employment problems, relationship instability, or mental health issues can evoke a deep sense of helplessness and frustration. Parents’ desire to provide support and guidance clashes with the realization that their adult children must navigate their paths, making it difficult for parents to strike a balance between offering assistance and allowing independence.
I have repeatedly seen how the prolonged and unpredictable nature of these struggles can exacerbate parents’ anxiety, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how best to help their grown children find stability and fulfillment.
Parents are not puppeteers who can pull their adult children’s strings to control their choices. Yet, they can engage their adult children with a healthier mindset to increase self-care while providing positive guidance.
Lowering Parents’ Pain Through a Helpful, Guiding Mindset
Constructively helping your struggling adult child requires a nuanced and multifaceted approach. It’s crucial to balance emotional support, encouragement for seeking professional help, and practical assistance. Amongst the suggestions below, open communication, understanding, and reducing the stigma around mental health is particularly important.
While researching the third edition of my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, I added scenarios with the struggles of adult children, I found stuck, frustrated parents of adult children need to transform themselves into empowering emotion regulation coaches.
The five strategies below form the foundation of becoming that all-important calm, firm, and non-controlling emotion regulation coach for your struggling adult child. Please consider the following suggestions as a supportive mindset versus a strict formula or script.
1. Promote Self-Empowerment and Independence
Encourage your adult child to take an active role in addressing her challenges and finding solutions. Elaine, for example, helped her 27-year-old daughter Emma to identify her strengths and capabilities, fostering a sense of empowerment. This involved setting small, achievable goals and celebrating her successes, no matter how minor.
Encouraging self-empowerment can boost her confidence and motivation. In Emma’s case, with Elaine’s encouragement, Emma initially volunteered at a pet shelter, then got hired at the front desk and is now pursuing a vocational certificate in veterinary care.
2. Establish Boundaries and Self-Care
While providing support, it’s essential to maintain healthy boundaries. Recognize that you cannot solve all of your adult child’s problems or carry the entire burden for them. Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and decisions. Additionally, emphasize the importance of self-care for both you and your child. For example, it’ll work better for the parents of Alex, age 24, if they say,
“Alex, I know you are feeling anxious, yet would you agree that you owe it to yourself to get a job so you can have more structure to help you feel better.”
“Alex, how many times do I need to tell you that you should have gotten a job by now.”
3. Connect With Support Networks
Encourage your adult child to build and maintain a support network outside of the family. Friends, support groups, or mentors can provide different perspectives and additional emotional support.
One of my parent-coaching clients helped arrange for a former military veteran to help her adult daughter explore options for a military career. This adult child began to feel part of a potential new community. This helped reduce feelings of her isolation. She subsequently saw a recruiter and joined the army with a focus on training for a cybersecurity career.
4. Monitor Progress and Adjust Strategies
Regularly check in with your adult child to assess their progress and adjust your support strategies accordingly. Due to how our brains are wired with a negativity bias to quickly see threats, we tend to overlook those all-important personal victories.
Recognize that overcoming challenges is a dynamic process, and what works at one point may need modification as circumstances change. Stay flexible and adaptive in your approach, considering the evolving nature of progress over their struggles.
5. Educate Yourself on Relevant Issues
Olivia’s parents became aware of her struggling with a substance use addiction. They took time to educate themselves on those issues. They found that attending virtual and live meetings dealing with codependency helped them understand the nature of Olivia’s struggles. The knowledge they gained also reduced their misconceptions and contributed to creating a more supportive environment for Olivia to enter helpful treatment.
Remember, every individual is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting a struggling adult child. Patience, empathy, and a willingness to adapt your strategies will be key elements in helping them navigate their difficulties and work towards a more positive future.