This is the moment you’ve been waiting for: Your child is a graduate. Or maybe it’s the moment you’ve been dreading. Graduation is such a mixture of emotions for parents.
For 18 years, you have parented through what seemed like a maze of joys and laughter and confusion and bruises. God brought you both through and now it’s here. Your child is a graduate.
Whether that means heading off to live on a college campus, staying home to attend a local school, entering the workforce, or joining the military, changes are ahead. Big ones. Just like you had to make changes in your parenting when your kid learned to walk, went to kindergarten, and then learned to drive. Okay, now that you’re crying about the memories … you’ve got to make another big change now.
There are some exciting times ahead—and some steep challenges, too. You want to help your adult child through the years ahead, but you don’t want to be so involved your voice is like static they could live without. The following do’s and don’ts can help you relate effectively with your new graduate who is an emerging adult. This list will help you walk that delicate line with confidence.
1. Do listen. Don’t preach.
Until now, your child has had to listen to you whether they wanted to or not. Now they have a choice.
How can you still keep the door open for communication? Listen. Your young adult will have successes and difficulties, and they need an ear to bend, not a boatload of advice.
We found with our children, if we were willing to listen and keep our mouths shut, our young graduates could often arrive at a good conclusion on their own. (That shouldn’t be a surprise! We spent 18 years teaching them how to make good decisions!) You might have to bite your tongue—just try to keep from bleeding.
2. Do encourage. Don’t pressure.
New friends, new environment, assignments, tight money, exams, finals—there will be a lot of pressure on your young adult in the next phase of their journey to adulthood. You can add to the pressure by telling them they need to study extra hard and get a high GPA. But your child may stop calling you if you do.
They want to succeed. They just need someone who believes in them. Since there won’t be a lot of encouraging voices, parents, fill this gap instead of adding to the stress.
3. Do coach. Don’t control.
Watching your kids grow into adulthood feels like flying a kite with no string. They can go about any direction and you have no control.
What’s our tendency as parents of new graduates? Try to control anyway!
On the other hand, a good coach patiently advises and then lets the team play. A coach doesn’t try to micromanage the players. Too much coaching can be detrimental—watch for signs you’re overdoing it.
4. Do ask. Don’t pry.
Do you want to know every detail of your adult child’s life? Of course! You may have even thought about hiring a private investigator (maybe we shouldn’t have given you that idea).
Parents need to come to the realization that their adult kids need the freedom of not having to tell you everything. On the other hand, it’s great to be interested and ask good, open-ended questions about things they mention. If they’re in some kind of trouble, they’ll be much more likely to talk about it if they sense you’re a good listener and you trust them.
5. Do communicate. Don’t nag.
How much are you studying? What time are you going to bed? Where did you spend all that money? To your young adult, these are nagging questions. You can wear them out and cut off communication in one fell swoop.
So what do you do? At an appropriate time, sit down face to face with your graduate and talk about expectations for school, money, phone calls, etc. You need to reach some reasonable expectations you both can agree to. Hopefully, that will help keep them on course.
On the other hand, if they’re consistently blowing it, you may need to have a serious talk. Don’t be afraid of confrontation if they’ve gone off the track—just be sure to talk to them respectfully.
6. Do point them to Jesus. Don’t push them to resistance.
A sure-fire way to get your kids going a certain way is to push too hard in the other direction. Pushing seldom works with adult children. Attraction is much more effective.
Live out your faith in front of them. They need to see that walking with God and trusting Him works. If you talk to them more about their GPA than Jesus, you need to readjust your priorities. If they aren’t resistant, encourage your child to join a Christian campus group or attend a church to grow and fellowship with other believers.
7. Do pray. Don’t worry.
Yes, your fears may keep you awake at night. Thankfully, prayer is an effective alternative to fear. Dennis Rainey has always said, “God hears the prayers of a helpless parent.”
You’ll never feel more helpless than when your kids actually leave home. God says we should pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). You can also pray regardless of what your kids think about your opinions and beliefs. Find a prayer partner as well—your spouse is a great choice if they are agreeable.
Will you make mistakes? Of course, everyone does. Apologize if you blow it. Will they forgive you? Most likely. You have 18 years of relational equity you’ve built with your child and that counts for a lot.
These are challenging years, but they will also have great rewards. Stand behind your adult child no matter what happens. Whether they’re facing triumph or discouragement, they need to know their biggest fans—their parents!—are always on their side.
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