When and How to Take Charge, Step Back, and Follow Behind
Is your adult child living at home without a clear path to independence and autonomy?
You are not alone. More than half of adults age 18 to 29 lived in their parents' household last year (citation). Even in the ideal scenario, challenges emerge when adult children return to the nest. These are exacerbated when the child is living with the effects of unmanaged mental health issues, like depression and anxiety or substance abuse.
When an adult child with mental health issues moves back in with their parents, a perfect storm occurs. It could either be a storm where everyone comes out healthier, happier, and more connected. Or, it's a storm that stalls the adult child from launching and embitters family members who feel manipulated and used.
If any of this is ringing true, I understand your struggle, and I can help you. There is no magic bullet here. However, there are evidence-based strategies to support capable young people in owning the trajectory of their lives. Motivational Interviewing is a way of talking to someone who is both dissatisfied with their current situation and uncertain about their willingness to change (citation).
Sound familiar? I thought so. Let's take a look at four key principles from Motivational Interviewing:
Partnership: People change behaviors in the context of loving and supportive partnership. This partnership can be with a romantic partner, a therapist, a coach, a parent, among others. Do you remember the last time you and your adult child were truly partners in the game of life? You might not, and that's OK. It's time to focus on developing a true partnership with your adult child, which includes learning and respecting their place in the change process. A parent in partnership engages with the spirit: "We will get through this together."
Acceptance: People change behaviors when they feel loved for who they are today. Acceptance does not mean co-signing, enabling, ignoring, or avoiding. It means embracing and loving the adult child for who they are today while holding a staunch belief that they will continue to grow, develop, and mature. It also means holding boundaries that feel safe for you in light of their current life space. A parent who accepts their child engages with the spirit: "I respect this is where you are right now".
Evocation: Evocation is the skill of drawing out your adult child's voice. Every single person wants to be heard, including your adult child. As parents, we can forget that our children have novel experiences and viewpoints. As a result, adult children spend a lot of their time listening to the perspectives of their parents. I can teach you a simple set of techniques so you can really hear your adult child's worldview and respond in partnership and love. A parent who evokes their adult child's experience engages with the spirit: "I want to hear your unfiltered reality, even if it is hard for me to hear."
Compassion: Compassion is about centering the needs and well-being of your adult child. Sometimes that might mean standing by as they make a harmful decision. Other times it might mean intervening. The decision-making process for how a parent determines their next step centers the question -- how can I support my adult child in living true to their values, goals, and preferences. A compassionate parent engages with the spirit: "My goal is to center your worldview and values, even in moments when you are distressed and in pain."
Are you interested in these principles but not sure how to apply them to your family? Join our licensed therapist, Dr. Cammy Froude, as she walks you through step-by-step in one of our live Parent Training Events! Or work one-on-one with one of our parenting experts.
O’Brien & Associates Inc. is a professional psychological service and teaching organization that provides resilient recovery for those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. We achieve our goals by harnessing the latest technology, utilizing evidence-based practices, partnering with a diverse and talented workforce, compensating our workforce with livable wages and benefits, and advancing our knowledge of mental health and substance use disorders. We endeavor to improve access to effective mental health and substance use services while improving client outcomes.