Parenting Kids Over 18:The Stakes Are Higher

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When parenting was more tiring, but easier.

I really enjoyed reading an article about parenting kids from age 18 to their mid-20s from the NBC News Think website. I’m sure it’s because it hit home to me. It’s a whole different type of parenting from when they were toddlers. I’m treading water trying to figure out how to be there for my kids, offer support, but not take over. From the time they left for college, I felt like the stakes were so much higher and I had less control than ever. I’m trying to relax and let them live their lives and just listen without jumping in to solve problems or tell them what to do.

In Parenting kids over 18 is still parenting. You just get less control and the stakes are higher, by Meagan Francis, she echoed my worries and concerns.

I once looked forward to my kids’ legal adulthood as a kind of finish line, but I now I know how delusional that vision was.

When my five kids were small, I naively saw the age of 18 as the light at the end of the tunnel. During that sleepless stretch in which my life felt like an endless blur of night feedings, diapers, bandaging boo-boos and navigating piles of sippy-cups and sippy-cup lids that never seemed to match, I looked forward to my kids’ legal adulthood as a kind of finish line. Once they’d crossed it, I figured, I could relax and celebrate having gotten past the hardest parts of parenting.

Now, with two of my children well past voting age and their three other siblings hurtling ever-faster toward that benchmark, I can look back at my former self and say with the benefit of hindsight: Hahahaha!

Instead, I often feel like I’m learning “how it works” all over again. Parenting older kids is still very much parenting — only you get even less say, the results are more public, and the stakes are higher. The lines between appropriate helping, spoiling and enabling are often difficult to define and the concept of parenting “to the child” rather than following a one-size-fits-all plan starts to feel less conceptual and more necessary.

It’s true that my two eldest sons, ages 20 and 22, are less dependent on me now. When they were young, my entire existence seemed to revolve around stopping them from doing certain things while compelling them to do others. Today I no longer need to teach them basic life skills, like how to cross the street without being annihilated by a garbage truck or why showering every day is a good idea — though, let’s be clear, there are days I ponder reviewing that particular lesson — and I have neither the responsibility nor opportunity to monitor their schedule minute-by-minute.

But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Nor that my duties are behind me. Despite all the bold statements I made when they were 8 about tossing them unceremoniously out of the nest the moment they turned 18, I have since realized my smug error in thinking they would be fully formed adults ready to be thrown out into the world without repercussions.

That’s largely because, while the government may tell us that once you’re 18, you’re an adult, neuroscientists now know better. Emerging research on brain development shows that a young adult’s brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25.

Developmental psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls this period — the seven years between the day a kid legally becomes an adult, and the day they have the reasoning power and impulse control of an actual adult — “emerging adulthood.” And navigating it can be tricky for both children and their caregivers.

“Parents are often glad their kids are more mature and can do more things for themselves,” he notes, “but at the same time you often realize they’re making decisions that aren’t wise, or that they aren’t ready to make.”

This can be particularly difficult because those decisions often carry larger weight. Arnett compares it to the damage done if a toddler takes a spill while learning to walk versus when an adult falls. “Questions like whether to move in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, drop out of college, choose a major — those choices have big, long-term implications,” he says. “Naturally, you have ideas about this — and not unreasonably, they also feel like it’s their life to live.”

That’s why it’s important to listen as much as instruct, according to Lisa Heffernan, co-author of “Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults.”

“Since our ability as parents to mandate and control our kids’ decisions is lessened, it’s time to switch to listening and modeling adult behavior,” she says, suggesting acting like a “sounding board” for them. “Getting kids through this stage is all about showing them what adulthood feels like and sounds like and looks like — literally walking them through your decisions and explaining, ‘This is why I did it this way; here’s what happens now.’”

Taking cues from my kids, I am trying to be a better listener. When they call and complain about a co-worker or roommate, they are not necessarily asking for my advice. They want to vent and explain to someone who loves them what is on their minds. When they want advice or my opinion, they always ask for it.

I tend to be a worrier. When I don’t hear from them, they are most likely okay, but I worry. When they tell me their problems, I worry more. With an attitude like this, it’s amazing they tell me what’s going on in their lives at all!

What do you find easier, raising young children or young adults?

 

How Wealthy Parents Are Cheating Their Kids

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My adult kids.

Did you work part-time when you were in high school? We all did when I was growing up. My brother bagged groceries at Safeway. I worked after school and summers in my dad’s dental office. My friends picked strawberries, worked for their family businesses or at fast food places. We all worked.

Now, in contrast, how many of your children’s friends have jobs — especially if they come from families who aren’t worried about money? In an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Tim Grant wrote about the fact kids aren’t working because of sports, SAT prep classes, homework and other activities and how it’s affecting kids entering adulthood.

From helicopters to bulldozers, wealthy parents clear their children’s path

Many of the high net worth clients that Pittsburgh wealth manager Matt Helfrich has worked with over the years can trace their strong work ethics back to summer jobs and after school work they did in high school and college.

Yet the opposite may be true for their own children.

Mr. Helfrich said that over the last decade of advising rich clients on their financial affairs, he has come to recognize a definite trend: their school-age children don’t work. 

“More and more, we are seeing kids not doing high school jobs,” said Mr. Helfrich, president of Bridgeville-based Waldron Private Wealth, which manages $2.4 billion in assets for 220 clients.

Instead of punching a time clock in their free time, he said most — if not all — of his clients’ children are preoccupied with sports, test preparation, volunteer assignments or high school study abroad programs.

Not that those activities don’t have merit. 

But they don’t provide young people with life lessons about the value of a dollar or skills that come with budgeting their own hard-earned money. Mr. Helfrich said he believes when children don’t take any responsibility for their own financial outcomes, it gives way to a phenomenon called the “bulldozer parent.”

“Bulldozer parents flatten all obstacles in their child’s way,” he said, explaining that bulldozer parents keep their wallets ready to foot the bill for major purchases like college, cars and housing so that their children need not worry.

By directing these bills away from their children, parents are robbing them of the opportunity to learn about budgeting, making financial choices and building their own credit.

“We’ve had adult children  of our clients try to get a mortgage or even a credit card, and they can’t get one because they’ve never had credit in their name before,” Mr. Helfrich said.

I am proud to say my kids worked in school. My son tutored, he worked as a swim coach and he was paid to design and maintain a website. In middle school, he was an assistant lifeguard and would be sweeping the pool or washing down the deck. My daughter was swimming all the time and didn’t have time for work outside of coaching and swim clinics. But her swimming turned into a job that paid for her college education and she now has a career in the swim industry.

In college, my son worked retail, maybe more hours than he should have. My daughter worked as a lifeguard, swim coach and swim camp counselor. I never even thought it was odd that they would work while at school. After all, that’s what we all did back in the day. I would find it strange if they weren’t working.

“About once or twice a year I will meet with a family who has the issue of an adult child who has become ‘infantilized,’” he said. “And over two decades, that’s a lot.”

“This approach to parenting, at best, fosters learned helplessness,” he said. “Typically, it fosters entitlement. And at worse, the child becomes so dysfunctional that they depend on and drain everyone they know.

“They try to turn everybody into their parents and expect everyone to behave like that. That’s not life.”

In worst-case scenarios, Mr. Chaney said he has seen children grow up with parents doting on them, then when the parents died, the child’s life spiraled out of control to the point of draining their trust fund.

The college years, he said, can be a defining period. Children from wealthy families often don’t need to work and get a monthly stipend.

The article goes on to give good advice to parents on how to help them build credit, make financial decisions and learn budgeting. You can read the parent tips and more of the article here.

What is your experience with kids working in high school and college?

Why is my daughter so annoyed with me?

My kids not wanting me to take their pic.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic.

I wrote this in 2015 and it gets read more than any of my other posts. Our kids do find us annoying at times, just for being moms and dads and doing our best as parents.

I understand how she feels. After all, I was once 19 years old. I remember it very clearly.

Everything my mom did, I found unbelievably annoying.

I’ll never forget sitting with her in the car, getting ready to shop at Bellevue Square. She had parked the car. She was fumbling through her purse, making sure she had what she needed. She reapplied her lipstick. Dug through her purse for her wallet to look through credit cards. Searched several times to check where she placed the keys.

Mom and me in the early 90s.

Mom and me in the early 90s.

Would we never leave the car? Would I be stuck all day? I must have said something to her quite snippy, or flat out mean. A few tears rolled down her cheeks. Which made me more upset with her.

Isn’t it a sad feeling, transitioning from a mom who could do no wrong—from changing diapers to cooking their favorite spaghetti to taping treasured colorings on the fridge that were made just for you—to being the person of their abject disdain?

It’s a tough new role. Let me tell you.

But, having gone through these feelings myself, I understand. I’m visiting my mom this week in her assisted living center. I talked about it with her, what I’m going through now, and what I felt like when I was 19. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember me ever being a snarky 19-year-old.

For some reason, I’ve gained more patience throughout my life and that has been a blessing. I’ve also learned forgiveness.

Something else, I’ve learned through the years of parenting: this too shall pass.

It’s called independence and freedom. We want our children to grow and become separate human beings that can stand on their own. Sometimes they need to separate from us. A good time to do that is during their senior year of high school, or their freshman year of college. It’s a good thing. I keep telling myself that.

However, we also want to be treated with respect, and once again—someday—to be cherished.

A beach day with my daughter.

A beach day with my daughter.

I wrote more about separating from our kids and the experiences we go through when they leave for college here.

What do your kids find annoying about you? How did your mother annoy you when you were young?

Is Parenting Over When Kids Grow Up?

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My kids at ages 18 and 21.

How much support should parents give their kids — emotionally and financially — when they’re technically grown up? When I was young, in my early 20s, I was on my own and didn’t receive help financially or emotionally from mom or dad. In fact, I moved to California, got a job and was married within a couple years. Several months after college, I was basically on my own.

Today, parents are helping their kids by paying rent or giving monthly stipends until their kids are “on their feet.” My best friend from college explained to me, “The less you do for them, the faster they become independent.” While that may seem like contradictory advice, it’s really the truth. If you do too much for your young adults, the more dependent they become and the less likely they will grow and learn life lessons. I have two separate friends with daughter’s the same age as mine who said something like, “The Bank of Dad ends in six months after graduation.”

In a Wall Street Journal article called Parenting Isn’t Over When Kids Grow Up by Mark McConville, he explains the challenge of how to help your kids without undermining their independence.

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My daughter after she finished college.

Let’s say that you have recently launched your son or daughter toward college—or a job, or the armed services or perhaps graduate school. In any case, you are done with parenting, ready to collapse into an easy chair, pour yourself a drink and reflect on a job well done.

Then the phone call comes about an intolerable roommate or unfair professor, or hours cut back at work, or a request for a small loan for recording equipment or perhaps a donation for a three-month trek through Europe. And it suddenly dawns on you: You’re parenting in overtime.

How does this happen? Forget the myth that adulthood begins at age 18 or 21. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett has famously charted the developmental stage that he calls emerging adulthood—“a gradual transition from adolescence to full adulthood that stretches from age 18 to roughly age 30.” His research shows that only in their late 20s do most people feel like an adult “most of the time.” Young people must accomplish a host of big and small developmental tasks to help make the transition, from getting their own living quarters to changing the oil in their car. And one of the paradoxes of growing up is that true independence involves learning when and how to ask for help.

Meanwhile, for economic reasons, more emerging adults remain intimately connected to their parents than ever before. A recent U.S. Census Bureau study shows that over 30% of young adults ages 18-34 still live with their parents. A 2019 Pew Research survey found that the majority of these parents provided financial (60%) and emotional (77%) support within the past year.

So, like it or not, your job isn’t finished. But what should overtime parenting look like? Fortunately, there are some principles that can minimize your sense of powerlessness and frustration while maximizing your ability to support your transitioner’s growth.

One of the ideas I liked the most in the article was the rule that if you’re invested more than 49% of any task, financial support, etc., then in essence you own it. You’ve taken over and you’re doing more than you should. That’s a pretty good guideline to go by.

Follow the 49% rule. Most 20-somethings need emotional support and practical coaching as they face unfamiliar hurdles—filling out applications, opening bank accounts, interviewing for jobs. But however much initiative, energy, or emotional investment is required to accomplish a task, limit your contribution to 49%. Once you drift over 50%, you own it, and you’re likely to see your transitioner’s motivational investment diminish.

That is what happened with a 19-year-old client of mine the summer before beginning college. He was highly anxious about the transition, and this manifested as foot-dragging on a variety of mundane but necessary tasks: submitting medical forms, selecting courses, confirming dormitory placement and so on. His father, anxious about his son’s stalled initiative, stepped in to “help” by tracking due dates, completing forms and generally nagging his son to take care of business.

Unwittingly, his father had crossed the 49% line and taken ownership of the transition process. I said to the dad: “Think of yourself more as a consultant than a supervisor—ready with your wisdom and guidance but allowing your son space to wrestle with the key challenges of initiative and ownership.” He did, and in a few short weeks, the young man got his act together and headed off to a successful college experience.

Another important tip is to allow our children to learn from failure. If we get worked up over their failures or impending tasks and act like everything is a crisis, then we’ll probably jump in and take over. That doesn’t allow our kids to learn from mistakes and become competent adults. Life is a learning curve. I’m continually learning about how to improve — even with parenting my 20-something-year-olds. My kids should be allowed to learn at their own rate, too.

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Me at around the time I graduated college.

How do you help your adult kids and set limits so you don’t do too much?

Why can’t I stop with the unsolicited advice?

My kids

My kids

I wrote this post about unsolicited advice several years ago. I keep on repeating the same mistake. When my kids are going through an uneasy time, I jump with advice on what they should do. This especially angers my daughter and she snaps at me. My so will listen calmly and then ignore whatever I have to say. I really need to stop this constant need to fix everything in my children’s lives! They need to experience life and learn on their own. Mommy can’t do it for them. Here’s the story I wrote about unsolicited advice:

A few weeks ago, my daughter was telling me how she’d missed practice because she had a midterm and the time conflicted. Her coach wasn’t happy, she said.

“Well,” I said, “maybe you should call her and explain. Or, better yet, next time you’re going to miss practice, let her know in advance.”

“Mom, I’m telling you something. I don’t need your unsolicited advice. A simple ‘that sucks’ would suffice.”

I was offended. My feelings were tweaked, not exactly hurt. I thought, what is going on with her?

This week she called and asked for my advice about a sticky situation with a friend. I get it now. She had a problem she couldn’t solve on her own. She wanted my advice and then she would handle it from there.

In her dorm room getting settled.

In her dorm room getting settled.

My mistake has been offering advice when my perfectly capable, adult child is making her own decisions and finding her own way. She does not need her mom telling her what to do all the time.

This was reinforced again when she called with an issue with her university and paperwork for the fall quarter. I gave her a few suggestions of who to call, what to do.

“I’ve done all that, Mom. I’m just telling you about it.”

Yes, I understand now. She’s sharing the trials and tribulations in her life. She’s not asking me what to do. If she needs my help she will ask me.

With teammates after breaking the 8 and under 4 x 50 relay record.

With teammates after breaking the 8 and under 4 x 50 relay record.

I should be thankful that my daughter likes to share. That she can figure things out on her own. That she’s got a strong head and can handle the daily tasks of living in a house, paying utility bills, handling school bureaucracy, and getting a speeding ticket.

Welcome to adulthood! I guess a simple “that sucks” from time to time is all she needs.

How do you handle unsolicited advice when someone offers some to you?

How Needs and Wants Apply to Writing

 

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My writing expert a few years ago.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants to them. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level and it was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards I could answer smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they still believed it was something they needed.

I had a conversation with my son two years ago about needs and wants. I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy. My son—brilliant person that he is—suggested I look at their “needs” and “wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, he is and in literature, he explained, needs and wants take on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids and his interest and expertise as a Lit major have helped me.

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Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? If you’re a writer, how do you use needs and wants to enrich your characters?

 

How do you not “overwork” from home?

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Back when I was working from home as a stay-at-home mom with my first-born child.

Working from home is something I’ve done for years. At first, I had what is now our guest room dedicated as my office for my sole proprietor public relations and marketing biz. That’s why the kids called it the “computer room” when they were little.  I had a desktop Apple IIc something computer and heavy-weight laser printer. Back then, I also had a fax machine and a separate phone line for my work.

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This looks like the very first Mac in my home office.

My downfall with that venture was not knowing when to stop. Even though I had a separate work space, I couldn’t stop working. I had a client who loved to call me after 6 p.m. and give me work that had to be done by morning — and they were my main client! Also, this was pre-email days and internet. I had to transfer files to the people who changed my files to film over a modem. Then the film had to be picked up from these mom and pop shops and I drove them to the printer. I’m talking newsletters, flyers, brochures and veloxes for newspapers. Can you imagine that?

I’d wake up throughout the night and to make sure the files transferred from my modem to the film person’s modem. Sometimes a newsletter or ad file would take six or seven hours to transfer.

How things have changed from the early 1990s! Prior to that it, was a Selectric IBM typewriter I used and hand delivered copy to a print shop who then had to retype it all into columns, lay it out with my photos or artwork, give me a rough copy and finally a blueline to proof before going to print. Things are so much easier these days.

I’m still working from home and everything is so much quicker and convenient with emails and the internet. But the question still remains, how do I guard my time and not work all the time?

What’s a blueline you might ask if you weren’t alive back in the olden days? Here’s the definition I got from googling it from Dictionary.com:

blueline

bloo-lahyn ]SHOW IPA

nounPrinting.

a print made on light-sensitive paper and used as a proof for checking the position of stripped-up negatives or positives and copy prior to platemaking.
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What are your solutions for separating a life from working hours when you work from home?