| Family Reflections |

Building up Grown Children

The more you believe in your young adult, the more he’ll believe in himself


"My mother doesn’t get me. She thinks I’m a lazy, selfish, spoiled brat. I know this because she tells me so all the time. If she sees me lying on the sofa, she tells me that I’m wasting my life away and won’t ever get anywhere because I do nothing all day. If I go out with friends, she tells me it’s time to stop fooling around and get serious about my life, and if I stay home, she tells me I’ll never get married because people will forget that I exist,” says Rochel.

Does Rochel’s mother dislike her? Or does she care so much about her that she tries to “help” just a bit too often? It’s hard to know. But what’s certain is that the nonstop criticism doesn’t feel loving, even if it’s well-intended.

“Listen, she’s still living in my house. I can’t just sit by silently and watch her destroy her life before it even gets off the ground! She needs to clean up her act. Who wants to marry a girl who lazes around all day like she does? Yes, she has a part-time job, but big deal: It pays peanuts and a monkey from the zoo could be trained to do it. And yes, she is spoiled. If her father and I weren’t paying all her bills, how would she live exactly?”

Lost in Translation

Clearly, Mom is worried. But can her unpleasant, insulting remarks really motivate her daughter? Is her parenting approach on the right track?

“I know how little my mother thinks of me, and you want to know the truth? It hurts. Why should anyone love me if my own mother thinks I’m so despicable?” thinks Rochel.

Hmmmm. Mom’s message seems to have gotten lost in translation. Rochel isn’t feeling the love. Instead of feeling more ready for life, she’s becoming more insecure and less confident. It’s not even her mother’s words that are getting to her (although those are nothing to write home about), but rather the look of disgust on her face whenever she corrects her (which is all day). When someone looks at you like that, everything shrivels inside, even if you don’t believe everything they’re saying.

Might there be a better way for Mom to positively influence her adult child?

Successful Strategies

There are some communication strategies that tend to bring out the best in older kids. We want our child to feel good about him or herself because high self-esteem lends courage, confidence, and energy to personality. These traits allow young adults to take the risks that are so necessary at this time of life. Dating, studying, applying for jobs, learning new skills, functioning independently — all of this requires that a person anticipates success as they enter the adult world. When a child’s own parents convey that he is a loser, then he sometimes comes to believe this story and promptly collapses.

Therefore, the first communication rule is the 9–10 Rule: Nine out of ten of a parent’s communication should feel good to the child. Positive feedback, interesting stories, active listening, joking around, and other lighthearted, warm, and loving exchanges definitely help the child feel worthy enough to start life.

Keeping bad-feeling comments (like criticism, complaint, correction, lectures, harsh looks, and so on) to an extreme minimum helps ensure that the good feelings won’t get “undone.”

Another important communication strategy for adult children is encouragement. “You can do it,” “You’d be great at that,” “That’s your gift,” “No harm in trying,” “Go for it,” and such phrases convey the parent’s belief that the child can take and survive a risk. Leaving out warnings, threats, and dire predictions is important in order for the effect to be achieved.

Finally, parental happiness is a communication strategy of its own. When parents replace their gloomy, stressed countenances with happy-looking, relaxed, and cheery appearances, they automatically inspire and motivate their kids. Life looks like fun — why not join in?

Many times, parents save their best looks for friends, colleagues, and other adults, casting worried and disapproving glances only at their child. Increasing awareness of one’s own facial expression and tone of voice when speaking to one’s adult child can help.

When parents are doing all this and their adult child is still “failing to launch,” outside professional help can help.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 722)

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