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Let's Level on Adulting's Lie of "Alone"

Tess Brigham

You’re not alone.

I want to say that again - you’re not alone. 

Even if you’re in a huge fight with your best friend, your parents seem like they don’t care about your anxiety, and you can’t find anyone at work who can give you the answers you need… you’re not alone.

But this is what adulting does - it makes you feel like you’re the only one.
The only one who’s ever doubted a decision.
The only one who’s ever felt that giant fear before you go into a party.
The only one who feels like an imposter on the job (yes, even after all that training…)
The only one who’s felt completely LOST since college.
The only one who hears that little negative voice in your head whenever you get ready for a date.
The only one who’s ever faced what you’re facing right now.

The reason I know that you’re not alone is because I’ve heard these things from so many others just like you. 

Adulting can be really hard. It can be the thing that keeps you from happiness and the thing that keeps you from what you want out of life.

But you’re not alone. If others are feeling this way, too, that means there are solutions.

You can feel confident about making decisions, calm about the work you do, magnanimous about your family, forgiving of your best friend, and rock-solid about the direction you’re going in your life.

If others have felt awful and turned it around, you can, too.

Because you’re not alone.

What is "Adulting," Anyway?

Tess Brigham

In my practice, I counsel and coach 20-somethings who struggle to launch and/or struggle to create fulfillment in specific areas of their lives. Whether it’s dating, finding success at work, or just overall motivation, there is a definite pattern of confusion or feelings of failure.

There’s a term out there right now that I’m not certain I’ve ever really used: “adulting”. The term refers to the idea that being an adult or making adult decision is too difficult. Now, don’t take this the wrong way: 20-somethings are some of the best and brightest, the most hard-working individuals I know. However, they struggle with a feeling of ‘stuck’ or a feeling that they’re doing it wrong - another part of the meaning of the term “adulting”.

And while adulting is certainly a new term, it’s not a new concept. All generations find the transition from teenager-hood into adulthood to be tricky. But previous generations had a different outlook and a different level of support for their challenges. (I’m not talking about ‘better’ here, just ‘different’. This isn’t a commentary on anyone’s ability as a parent!)

So, all this month, I’ll be talking about ‘adulting’ and the whys and hows 20-somethings struggle with it. I’ll also be sharing a few tips for encouraging your 20-something to take a leap and try flight, instead of doubt… 

If you’d like to join in, comment below with how you first heard the term ‘adulting’ - or head over to my Facebook page and join in the conversations there.

The Apprenticeship Is Over: Letting Your 20-Something Take the Lead

Tess Brigham

Today we’re talking about the shift in the parent/child relationship.

Actually, the relationship between a parent and their children is constantly evolving and changing every day. Think about the wants and needs of a baby vs. the wants and needs of a 3rd grader. 

While the baby and 3rd grader still need their parents on a daily basis, the 3rd grader is able to walk to the fridge and get a glass of milk, not an option for a baby who is completely dependent on their parents for every single thing.

So what happens when that baby becomes an adult? Yes, for the parent that “adult” still can feel like your “baby” at heart, but you know that you can no longer treat your child, well... like a child. You’re both adults, and both of you need to treat each other like adults if you want your relationship to evolve and grow.

The problem for both parents and their children is: how do we shift out of these roles and into this new “normal?”

I think the easiest way to think about it is in business terms. For the past 20 years, parents, you have been the CEO of your child’s life. As you know, the CEO runs the show. They determine the philosophy and direction of the company, and they have the last word on all decisions.

With your kid in their 20s, you get to step down as the CEO because it’s time for your now-grown adult child to determine the direction of their own life. You’re not out of a job yet, you have just moved to a new role: consultant. Being a consultant is an important job, but very different from being the CEO.

The consultant has valued expertise that this company needs. Consultants have a tough job, because they are necessary for demonstrating positive and healthy behavior when a new company hires them. This means that your first job as your child’s consultant is to model healthy “adult” behavior. 

In the business world, consultants are usually hired for their expertise in a certain area. Your expertise is how to be an adult, which is something your kid needs to learn right now. This might feel overwhelming, but it shouldn't! Remember, you’re the absolute best person to be this consultant because you have the specific expertise your kid needs. You’ve been the CEO for 20 years. You know the ins and outs of just how this company (a.k.a. your kid) works.

You’re modeling adult behavior and providing direction on navigating adulthood, not doing the work for them. Your son or daughter needs to be the one to send out resumes, feel the pain of not having enough money to barhop with their friends, and the excitement and fear that comes along with interviewing for a job they really want. 

However, this new consultant role is not an easy one either, because according to the latest cognitive science research, no matter their age, kids will always perceive a parent’s thoughts as “judgments.” This is where you newly-adult children come in! Because in order for your parents to start to treat you like an adult, well, you need to act like an adult.

This means not asking your parents for help with every single stumble that comes up in your life. No more asking mom or dad to do your laundry, lend you money when you spent too much on clothes because now you can’t pay your phone bill, and definitely no more expecting your parents swoop in and “save the day.”

This adulting thing ain’t easy, but if you fall back into your old parent/child dynamic, you just make it harder for yourself to truly master adulthood. 

On the other hand, even if you’re handling adulthood completely on your own, your parents might still treat you like a child sometimes. As a parent myself, it’s tough not to jump in and “catch” my son when I can see he’s about to fall down. It’s just this weird parent instinct so instead of getting upset right away, take a breath and forgive your parents, they’re just trying to help.

Now, this doesn’t mean you allow them to keep treating you this way. Those are your chance to show them your “adulting” skills by gently pointing out their mistake,  and setting firm limits or boundaries of what kinds of help and advice you’re comfortable with at this time. Being an adult means you tell people how you feel in a kind and patient manner, and then you hold firm to your request. 

There is always a moment in every child’s life when they discover that their parents are actual human beings. Flawed human beings. This discovery usually happens when kids are young adults. It means that your parents made mistakes along the way, and while they weren’t perfect, they did their best. At some point, you have to forgive your parents for those mistakes they made, and simply focus on all the good things they have done for you.

Now that you’ve come to the realization that your parents are people, ask them about themselves. Call them up and say hello, not just when you’re in a crisis, but when you just want to see how they’re doing

This might shock you but your parents would love to be asked how they’re doing. They have stresses and struggles just like you, and it’s nice when someone you truly care about wants to see how you are. You might even be just the right person to give them some needed grown-up advice! You don't have to always be parent and child anymore. One of the best parts of being in a parent and adult child relationship is that you also get to be friends.
 

5 Tips for 20 Year-Olds to Tackle Their Own Problems

Tess Brigham

March Madness continues and this week we’re talking about how to solve your own problems. I know…it’s not a very sexy topic but it’s vital for young people to learn how to solve their own problems. And before any parents out there jump in to agree or disagree with me…some of you are part of the problem. 

In school we’re taught how to think critically. We learn how to look at a particular issue from various sides in order to determine the best possible outcome. So, why is it so hard to apply that same critical eye to our issues? 

It’s so easy to see your best friend should dump her loser boyfriend. It’s so simple to see the perfect career path your kid should wander down. It’s easy to see that if your sister stopped drinking so much soda, she’d lose weight.

It’s simple and easy for you, but certainly not for the person who’s struggling. The person struggling is in love with her boyfriend or scared about what it would mean to pursue that career path or isn’t ready to give up daily comfort for long-term success. 

Maybe you’re a young person who needs to figure out how to approach your problem without relying on hours of input from your parents, friends, co-workers and the guy at Starbucks. Or maybe you’re a parent who hates to see their kid flounder when you know exactly what they need to do. Either way problem solving is never easy or simple, but it is something you must learn to do on your own.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

When you’re young learning to address and solve your own problems can feel like the day your parents told you it was time to take off the training wheels of your favorite tricycle.

It’s new, it’s awkward and it can feel like you may fall over any second. There are just so many decisions to choose from when you’re young. You’re away from your parents, out of college, maybe unmarried with no children; you can travel the world, move across the country or even dye your hair 15 different colors. 

For some young people all these choices excite and challenge them but for other young people it can create fear and overwhelm.

If you fall into the “fear and overwhelm” group, that’s OK. This is why young people struggle so much making choices, not only are the possibilities endless, you haven’t had a lot of experience making big life decisions.

If you’re a parent, this may be the moment when you would normally swoop in and start “fixing” things for your kid. The problem is your “kid” is now an adult and this is no longer your job.

When your son or daughter was growing up he or she needed a secure base as they explored unchartered territory and when they were younger, that was you. While your heart is in the right place, your “baby” is all grown up and it’s not helpful long-term for children to use their parents as their first and only means of solving their problems.

By helping your kid every time they get stuck you’re inadvertently giving them two messages: 

1) “I’m available to solve all your problems” and
2)“I don’t think you can solve them on your own.” 

Now I know that was never your intention but now it’s time to gently tell your son or daughter, “I love you kid but you gotta figure this out on your own,” without making them feel as if you don’t care.

Don’t worry about what you think you should be doing…worry about the issue right in front of you.

Many young people have been dreaming of “adulthood” for years and they have a lot of expectations of what they think their 20-something years are “supposed” to look like. 

This is where I see most twenty-somethings get tripped up. They feel this pull to create a life that they “think” they should have, instead of creating a life that feels authentic to them.

First, you have to remember that while you haven’t made as many “adult” decisions that your parents have made, you have made several choices and decisions for yourself up until now. You’ve chosen the kinds of friends you have, your clothes, your hobbies, the food you eat, your college and major, and the list goes on. 

There are few decisions in life that cannot be change, corrected, or reversed. You can leave a job, you can leave a city, you can leave a relationship, and you can leave an apartment. Don’t let fear keep you from solving the problems and issues right in front of you.
If you’re kid comes to you asking for you to solve the problem for them, it’s time to have a conversation with your kid and explain while you’ll always love and adore them you can no longer be on-call to solve all their problems. This conversation may be tough but it’s critical for both you and your adult child.

There’s never an “ideal time” to have this conversation but don’t wait for the next crisis call to have this talk. If you do it when they’re in the midst of a crisis, they won’t be able to hear what you’re saying and could easily misinterpret your intentions. So, pick a neutral time when all is well to start this conversation. 

During the conversation, be transparent and honest and admit you made the mistake of not talking to them sooner. Let them know it’s in their best interest to learn how to solve their own problems and to learn how to manage uncomfortable feelings on their own. 

Make sure to tell them you wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place if you didn’t think they could take care of themselves. Tell them you know they’re a smart, confident, resourceful person and by you solving their problems and comforting them every time something goes wrong, you’re not doing your job as a parent. 

Reassure them this doesn’t mean they can never call you again or you’re no longer available to talk but you’re asking them to not automatically call you when they’re struggling. 

Once you start, just keep going…you’re going to be OK

For all the 20-Somethings, if you’re struggling to solve a problem, here’s a quick exercise you can try:

1) Write out exactly what the problem is so you can clearly see all sides of the issue. If you’re struggling to see a particular side of an issue, a good question to ask yourself is, “What else could be true?”

2) Now that you have all the facts, ask yourself, “What decision or choice feels right to me?” If you find yourself using words like “I should” or “I suppose” that’s a good hint that the choice doesn’t feel authentic to you.

3) Write out how you want to solve this problem.

4) Now walk away. Give yourself some space. Do something, anything, but think about this problem.

5) Come back to your decision and see how it sits with you? Does it still feel right? If so, you have your answer. If not, go back to step 2.

There is no magic formula when it comes to solving problems or making decisions. A vision is not going to come to you in the middle of the night. The big “aha” moments you read and hear about are few and far between in life. Most likely you’ll get your clues on what choices to make in small and subtle ways.

If you’re a parent and you’ve had “the talk” with your kid about solving their own problems, you will continue to get phone calls from your son or daughter frantically asking for your help. Accept that now. 

When they do call, this is your opportunity to help them help themselves. It may feel odd at first but during these conversations challenge yourself to only ask questions. That’s right, you’re just going to ask questions. No statements, no suggestions, no advice and certainly no criticism. Just questions.

The goal is to keep putting the responsibility of solving the problem back on your child. If your child isn’t able to come up with any solutions, don’t give in, just ask, “Who else can you talk to about this?” 

Sticking to your boundaries is going to be the hardest, but most important, step of this process. You must continue to bite your tongue and ask those questions. Change never happens overnight and you’re going to be tested many times and you may even slip here and there. 

While these conversations can be tough, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The light is this new relationship you’re building with your child.

Real Talk: How Addiction Impedes Your "Adulting"

Tess Brigham

March Madness continues…this week’s topic is all about drug and alcohol use and abuse. This is a tough topic to discuss with both 20-Somethings and their parents because everyone starts to become fearful.
 
This topic can make the most mature 20-Something morph into a sullen 15-year-old, bracing him or her for a long, boring lecture why they should just say, “no.” Parents start to feel that fear and anxiety they used to feel when their kid would run out of the house saying their going to so-and-so’s house to study, making similar excuses they made to their parents years earlier.
 
My intention isn’t to lecture or to promote or condone certain behaviors; my goal is to make young adults aware of the realities of excessive drug and alcohol use. For parents I want them to be prepared if they believe their kid is struggling with substance abuse.

If you’re a 20-Something: Just the cold, hard facts…

I’ve worked with hundreds of young adults who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and while many of them may not fit the criteria of being an alcoholic or addict, many of them make excuse after excuse for their actions and behavior while intoxicated.
 
We spend our entire lives waiting to become a full fledge adult, only to discover how tough adulthood really can be. The reality is becoming an adult means that you can’t make excuses for your behavior forever and you have to be willing to make changes if your life isn’t going the way you planned.
 
The truth, plain and simple, is if your addiction is negatively affecting your relationships, your work and/or your health, you need to find a way to stop. Addiction is a progressive disease and your usage will only increase. One of my favorite excuses is that many addicts don’t want to stop using until they haven’t hit their “bottom” yet.
 
I always tell my young clients that you don’t want to get anywhere near your “bottom.”  Do you want every relationship in your life either gone or destroyed? Do you want to do things for drugs/alcohol that cause you shame? It’s only a matter of time before you end of doing something that cannot be undone. Bottom means everything in your life worth having is gone and you are out of options.
 
If you make the choice to get sober young, you can still have a life. You can repair your current relationships, you can get your career back on track and you can go back to school and finish your education. You can still have all the things in life that you dreamt about as a kid.
 
Unfortunately for those who are much older and finally getting sober, the damage is usually much bigger and the time to recover and repair is shorter.
 
Excessive drug and alcohol abuse takes a toll on your body and mind. While you may be done growing physically: your brain is not fully formed until you are 25. Your frontal lobes, cerebellum (which affects coordination, muscle control and balance), and hippocampus (this affects memory) develop the slowest and are especially sensitive to drugs and alcohol. You need to recognize that your drug and alcohol use is hurting you in ways you cannot see.
 
You may feel like you need alcohol and drugs to feel better about yourself and “fit in.” After years of studies, it has been found that self-esteem is not developed with affirmations but mastery. In other words, you’re not going to feel better about yourself because people like you and tell you you’re the life of the party.
 
You gain self-esteem and happiness from mastering challenges, working successfully and overcoming adversity. You will not be able to master anything if all of your time and energy you are abusing drugs and alcohol.
 
Finally, drug and alcohol addiction keeps you stuck and impedes with your social and emotional development. If you have been using drugs and alcohol to manage every difficult and uncomfortable situation in your life since the age of 16 (or whenever you started using), you are emotionally a 16 year old. Addicts do not develop the tools they need to manage life’s ups and downs because each time they faced a tough crossroads, they use.
 
Even if you’re not an addict, you can take steps to either stop drinking and using completely or severely cutting down. The sooner you make these changes, the sooner your real life can start.

If you’re a Parent: Help me, help you…

Every parent has different beliefs about drug and alcohol use. My guess is you probably had “the talk” while your son or daughter was a teenager. Whether you’re worried about your adult child’s use or not, it’s important to know what to look for if you start to see a change in your son or daughter’s behavior.
 
While your adult child is probably at least 21 and can drink legally, how do you feel about them drinking at home? Inviting friends over to drink in your home? How do you feel about them being out late many nights a week and coming home intoxicated? How do you feel about marijuana use, especially in your home?
 
You might also have to look at your own alcohol and drug use. Are you creating rules that you don’t follow? Are you modeling the adult behavior you want your child to uphold? This is especially important to take stock of if your child is abusing drugs or alcohol.
 
If you believe your son or daughter may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, here’s what you need to do to seek help:
 
1) Get them an assessment. It’s possible that your son or daughter needs drug/alcohol treatment and you need a professional assessment to determine if treatment is appropriate and, if so, what level of treatment would be best.
 
If they do have a problem, the tough part for you is that since they’re over the age of 18, you can’t make them go. If you ask your son or daughter to go to a treatment program and they refuse, it’s not a time to be easy on them. I highly recommend that you insist that they complete whatever treatment is recommended at the assessment.
 
Because they’re over the age of 18, you can’t force them to do anything, but you can play the one card you do hold, that they’re living in your home and as such you’re supporting them.
 
2) Once they’re in a program you can work with your son or daughter’s counselor (they will be assigned a therapist/case manager when they enter treatment) about how you can support them during this process. Most treatment programs have a family component, and I would take advantage of any family nights or family support groups the facility has to offer.
 
3) If your son or daughter attends an outpatient program (they go to the facility during the day but sleep at home at night), then educate yourself about the best way you can support your child while they’re in the program. Most outpatient programs want their clients to attend outside AA or NA meetings.
 
4) A lot of feelings will come up for your adult child during treatment and after, it’s going to be challenging for them not to use drugs and/or alcohol when they experience stress or frustration. Help them find a therapist who understands individuals in recovery to work with them.
 
5) Seek your own help. Al-Anon is a program that was created to support those who have a family member, spouse, or friend who struggles with addiction. Al-Anon, like AA or NA, is free and open to anyone who would like to be part of the group. There are local Al-Anon meetings all over the country. Go to http://www.al-anon.org/ to find a meeting near you.

A Map of Career Advice that will Surprise You

Tess Brigham

Career Management

In case you missed last week’s post - in the month of March I’m focusing on both 20-Somethings and the parents that love them. This week we’re talking about career advice….wait, wait…don’t leave me yet…I know talking about your career with your parents may make you run for the hills.
 
I get it. I’ve been there. Even though I’m in my 40s, with my own family, when my mother gives me advice, my eyes glaze over, I instantly get defensive and before I know it…I’m 14 again. I’m sure my mother’s advice is pretty good (I think…I wasn’t listening) but the problem is I just can’t hear it. I don’t want to listen to my mother and my son doesn’t want to listen to me. Aaaah…parenthood.
 
So, how do parents and kids talk to each other about the trials and tribulations of work and career? Well, it’s a little like that old joke, “how do you kiss a porcupine?” Answer…very carefully.

What Parents Need to Understand About the Current Work Climate

It’s no secret that high school and college graduates entering the job market for the first time are facing pressures. My first job out of college, my boss called me and said, “Why don’t you come in for the day and we’ll see how it goes.” That was the interview. I went in and stayed at that job for over 2 years.
 
Today, job interviews are a multi-step process where there’s a phone screening, then a Skype call, then you come into the office and meet 14 different people, then you come back and meet the 20 more people. You get so excited about this job and you feel like you’re soooo close, only to get an email 3 weeks later saying the position was eliminated and thanks so much for your time.
 
That’s not only exhausting; it’s mentally draining and tough to go through 3, 4 or maybe 5 times in a row and that’s if you get the interview.
 
When a young person enters the workforce today, they need more than an impressive resume. They need a strong sense of self, an idea of where they want their first job to take them, and the ability to think outside the traditional 9-5 job. There are jobs and careers that are not even on your radar and simply having a college degree or “being the smartest” in your class don’t hold the same value it once did.

What 20-Somethings Need to Understand About Work in General

Yes, the world is very different now than when your parents first started their career, but there are some things about work that don’t change…trust me. Even though technology is integral to every industry, so are people.
 
People are complex and learning how to interact with different kinds of personalities is crucial to career success and this is something your parents can help you with.
 
Got a boss that yells? At least one of your parents has worked under “the yeller.” Got a co-worker who doesn’t seem to do anything but keeps latching onto your projects and ideas? They’ve dealt with “the lazy latcher.” Your parents have something you don’t have yet…experience.
 
Ask them how they’ve handled difficult bosses over the years. Even if you don’t take the advice, it always feels good to know you’re not the only one.

What Parents Need to Understand About Giving Advice

I’m sure all of the career advice and thoughtful suggestions you’ve been sharing with your son or daughter has been really good. I’m sure that if they could “hear” you and would actually take some of the guidance coming their way, then they would be out of the house by now.
 
Unfortunately, as parents, we’re not always our child’s best coach/therapist/career advisor. This can be a difficult realization, believe me, I know! But just like your daughter's Little League coach helped her with pitching, sometimes it takes someone else, someone with expertise in helping people improve on new skills, to be a neutral force for good.

What 20-Somethings Need to Understand About Getting Advice

You know what the best thing is about advice? You can take it or leave it. Remember what I mentioned earlier, your parents have much more life experience so it may be worthwhile to hear what they have to say.
 
If you’re absolutely convinced that neither mom nor dad know a darn thing about your industry or the culture of your company, well, you can smile and say, “That’s great advice. Thanks.” or “I’ll consider that. Thanks.” Anything pleasant with a “thanks” after is perfect.

What Parents Need to Understand About Letting your Kids Fail

Failing an important part of life and in order to achieve success, you have to fail…a lot. Part of becoming an adult is breaking away, and you want to let your kid take responsibility for their choices.
 
While you may have mixed feelings of your kid’s dream of becoming a YouTube star, you want to continue to focus on the limits and boundaries you’ve set around how long you plan to let your child live with you and how long you plan to support them financially.
 
The best way for you to help is to help them see all their options and allow them to ultimately decide on their future. Don’t forget, you’ve been instilling good values, integrity and confidence since the day they were born, you’ve done your part, it’s your son or daughter’s time now.

What 20-Somethings Need to Understand About Failure

Embrace the fact that you will fail at some point in your career now and it’ll make it a lot less scary and heartbreaking when it actually happens. Everyone fails and I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of Instagram quotes about how “Failure is the best teacher.”
 
What I will say is it’s tough for your parents when you fail, even if they’re the ones that warned in the first place. Parents have no desire to say to their kids, “I told you so.” So, if and when you do fail, don’t be afraid to let your parents know what happened.
 
Everyone experiences career ups and downs, what really matters is persistence. You’ve got to just get up the next day and keep going. It will get easier, trust me or go ask your parents.

3 Keys for Breakthrough Conversations with Your Adult Child

Tess Brigham

This month I’m doing things a bit differently. When I sit down to write I always have a reader in mind. Since I work with 20-Somethings and the parents that love them, I’m either thinking about what it’s like to be a 20-Something or their parent. Well, March Madness doesn’t just refer to basketball because, this month, I’m speaking to both of you!
 
So, whether or not you see or talk to each other every single day or if you live 3,000 miles apart and don’t talk much, you’re both entering a new phase of your relationship. Any new phase is tough and you’re both wondering what you should be expecting from the other one.
 
This week we’re going to talk about expectations because we all have really expect a lot. We expect a lot from ourselves. We expect a lot from other people. We expect a lot from our jobs. Heck, we expect a lot from the hair care products we purchase and it’s because of these expectations that we suffer.
 
The biggest problem is we set expectations that only we’re aware of and so, when that other person doesn’t meet our expectations, we feel hurt, slighted and unfairly treated. Yet, we have no one to blame but ourselves because we set these expectations up for ourselves.
 
When our expectations are not met there’s a sense of “all is not right in the world.” There’s a sense of frustration and/or a feeling of being disrespected or disregarded.
 
So if you want to save yourself a lot of fighting and heartache as you transition into this new phase of your relationship, you both need to learn how to manage your expectations of each other and of yourselves. 
 
Here are the 3 ways to manage your expectations:
 
1) Be mindful so you can figure out ‘why’ you expect something
 
The thing to understand about expectations is this; they tend to stay in our unconscious until it’s too late. Most of the time we don’t even think about our expectations because well…we just expect certain things to happen or not happen. This is why we get so disappointed when things don’t work out the way we planned, we basically blindsided by something we didn’t even realize we were hoping for.
 
This is why it’s so important to check in with yourself so you catch those unrealistic expectations before it’s too late and you’re already disappointed.
 
The idea of becoming more “mindful” can feel a bit overwhelming but don’t worry you don’t need to start a daily meditation practice to become more mindful of your thoughts and feelings. The easiest way to start is to stop right now and “check-in” with yourself. How are you feeling? What are thinking? How does your body feel? No judgment. You’re just taking your emotional temperature.
 
Once you know what you’re thinking or feeling, you can do something about it or make a note to yourself to address that thought or feeling later. It’s amazing what happens when you start to become more aware of your feelings. The biggest thing you’ll be able to do is recognize if you’re expecting a certain outcome. Now you can assess if it’s an unrealistic outcome or how will you handle it if it doesn’t work out the way you planned?
 
 
2) Don’t assume you know, because you don’t
 
We all know that saying, “when you assume…” We all know we shouldn’t make assumptions, yet we still do, because hey, we’re humans and we assume at times.
 
Remember what I said earlier…awareness is everything. Any time you enter into a new phase of any relationship, there is going to be a steep learning curve, which means that you both need to watch your assumptions.
 
You may be thinking, “Hey, I’ve know this person over 20 years, I know what their thinking…” And you may know what the other one is thinking, you just don’t want to assume you do which means you both need to ask questions…a lot of them.
 
Questions like, “I’m moving back home for a while, am I expected to pay rent?” or “I’m going to help you pay your rent and all your bills while you look for a job but only for 3 months and then we can revisit this discussion.”
 
3) Communicate…because true adults talk to each other
 
Being an adult has its plusses and minuses. You get to stay up as late as you want and you can even eat oreos for breakfast! (Well that’s how my son sees adulthood.) The downside is that you have to well, act like an adult, all the time.
 
And adults communicate with each other. Well, actually, many adults don’t do this but if you’re reading this blog my guess is you want to be the best version of you, so you’re going to strive to be a mature adult who communicates their thoughts and feelings.
You can’t be afraid to talk to each other about how you’re feeling. You just want to follow some of the golden rules of relationship communication.
 
Always use “I” statements, not “You” statements. For example, “I want to be a part of your life and when I don’t hear from you for weeks or you don’t return my texts, I feel hurt and I also worry about your safety.” That will go a lot farther than, “You never call me back and you never return my texts, so I assume you’re in a ditch and you don’t care about my feelings.”
 
Take a moment to put yourself in the other person’s shoes aka have some empathy. Empathy goes a long way and it’s a very powerful tool to tap into. Anytime we can stop for a moment and think about where the other person is coming from, we’re bound to understand why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling.
 
Finally, always remember timing and tone. Don’t bring up big topics and issues when you know the other person may be just getting off of work and may have had a lousy day. Unless the house is on fire, you can probably wait until the other person has had time to decompress. Our tone of voice is big so don’t have big talks via text or email. Wait until you can talk on the phone or even Facetime so you can see each other’s expressions.

Part Two: It's almost noon!?! How can you still be sleeping?!?

Tess Brigham

A Different Approach to Helping Your Adult Child Launch
Part 2

It felt so good when you watched your child walk across that stage to accept their college diploma. You not only felt a tremendous sense of pride, you felt relief. Not only are you free from paying those big tuition bills each month, but you know you’ve done everything you could to provide your child the tools they needed to get out there and create their own lives.

You don’t understand why your child, who was once a star student and athlete can’t seem to “get it together” and make it on their own. You have every right to feel utterly frustrated right now. Maybe your kid came home right after college with the promise of “getting a job and an apartment,” only to still be sacked out in their old room acting like they’re on an endless summer vacation. 

In Part 1 of this blog series we determined if your child is struggling with depression or they are possibly having trouble motivating themselves. If your child doesn’t fit into either of these categories, then it may be something else. 

In this blog we’re going to discuss how today’s world influences your child’s inability to launch and how a different approach can help.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

The rites of passage for twenty-somethings are changing. It’s no longer just about getting your first crappy job and apartment with hopes and dreams of the future.  

Young people today still face these same rites of passage yet social media is inundating them all day, every day, informing them that everyone is doing much better than them. While technology has made our world more “global” and exposed us to a world that used to feel “out of reach,” it has made twenty-somethings feel like they have failed before they even started.

There was once a point in our history that if you weren’t married or at least engaged by the age of 22 you were some kind of loser. For your kid, it feels like if they haven’t developed an app that Google is willing to buy, that will not only make them millions but also cure cancer, well than why even bother trying.

While you and I know that becoming a multi-millionaire before the age of 25 is rare, very, very rare. Your child sees it as the norm. 

Despite the false image of success that is playing in your child’s head, they still want to forge ahead and get a job so they can move out. This is when the next big issue sets in…making decisions.

One of the best and worst parts of my twenty-something years was the number of choices available to me. I wasn’t married, I had no children, and I didn’t even have a pet, too much responsibility! I could live anywhere, do anything and be anything. While all that freedom was exciting, it was also intimidating and I often wondered if I was “making the right decision.”

For the 20-something today, any option or choice can be explored with the click of a button. That’s it. All those choices that would have gone in one ear and out another for you and me, they are now bookmarked on your kid’s computer.  Choices for a twenty-something in today’s world are truly limitless. 

You’re asking yourself, with all these choices, why is my kid still stuck?

The problem is that making choices and decisions for your kid is a double-edge sword. On the one hand they feel like their choices are limitless which is an exciting but overwhelming feeling. 

They get stuck because once they decide to choose a certain career path to go down, they’ll be giving up all the other options available to them. Despite their excitement for the choice they’re making they still feel like they are losing something. Even though the thing they are losing, is not your kid’s dream and you know they would hate every minute of it, it still feels like a loss. 

That feeling of loss makes them doubt their choice. Because of their youth and inexperience, they instantly mistake that feeling of loss for regret and then the decision paralysis sets in.

You know that sometimes we just need to make a decision and go with it. You know that a job, an apartment, a relationship isn’t a prison sentence. You know that you can take a job, find out its not quite right and then find another one that suits you better. You know that, I know. They don’t know that.

Your kid just hasn’t had enough of those experiences yet. They still think every decision is “the one” and that if they choose A then B is forever off the table.

WHAT CAN A PARENT DO?

If you haven’t set specific guidelines and expectations for your adult child while living in your home, then you need to start now. Bottom line, your adult child cannot act like they are 16 again in your home and this is a temporary situation, not a permanent one. If you need help with this, go to Part 1 and under “how you can help” if your child is struggling with motivation, there are some guidelines you can start to implement. 

Do you remember reading those parenting books when your kid was 4 or 5? The book would tell you to “crouch-down” so you could look your child in the eye, tell them that you understand they are hurt or upset but “this is the rule” or “this is how the world works.”

I know you may be thinking right now, “Tess…you’ve got to be kidding me…my kid has been living rent free, eating my food and watching Netflix non-stop for over a year now and you want me to ‘understand their feelings!’”

Well…yes. 

I want you to understand your child’s mindset and what they are up against as they navigate the rough waters of being a young adult. I’m not here to make excuses for them or to tell you how much harder they have it then when you or I were trying to establish ourselves.

I want you to be able to see things from your child’s perspective in order to understand how to communicate with them better and ultimately how to help them get out of their heads and into action.

You know your child better than anyone else in the world. My guess is you know that they are feeling lost, confused and completely unsure of themselves. Some people respond to ultimatums, firm limits and deadlines. 

Take a minute and put yourself in your child’s shoes.
What would you want someone to say to you? What help, motivation and support would you crave? That’s what your child needs. Here are a few things to start with:

1) Help them Get Realistic

Your child needs to help to understand what are realistic expectations for an average twenty-something. Talk with them about how you achieved your success and what it really takes to be “an overnight” sensation. Help them see that they need new mentors and role models other than Mark Zuckerberg and Beyonce.

2) Help them Understand Decision-Making

Help them see that there are no “right or wrong” decisions, just the decisions they make. Tell them about a decision that you made that you felt sure of that ended up being not quite right. How did you handle it? Tell them about a decision you made that you weren’t sure of but turned out to be great in the end.

Now that you can see the dilemma that your child is in when it comes to making decisions, how can you help them see that while decisions can be tough, it’s how we move forward in our lives and in our careers.

3) Normalize their Fear

Your child is afraid. Not like when they were young and afraid of the dark but scared that they will never find a meaningful career that they’re any good at. They’re afraid they will be alone forever and never find “the one.” They’re afraid that they won’t be able to provide for their children the way you provided for them.

Your child needs to have a healthy amount of fear because if they don’t feel any fear, they’ll never leave the house. You want to normalize for them that fear is both a good thing and a bad thing. That it’s OK for feel afraid when it comes to making a certain decision that this fear is a part of the process of taking chances and growing as a person.

Even if their actions don’t always match their behaviors, your child wants to launch. Your child wants to feel good about themselves and wants to an active member of society. 

They’re facing a very scary world out there and while I believe in boundaries and I believe that everyone needs to contribute and “pay their way,” sometimes the answer is remembering your child is, in many ways, still a child and needs you to look them in the eye and tell them that everything is going to be all right.

Part One: It's almost noon! How can you still be sleeping!? 

Tess Brigham

You did everything right.

You were (and continue to be) a loving, present parent. You weren’t always perfect but you did your best. You provided your child with a safe home, food, clothes, toys and the latest clothes and electronic devices so they could “fit in” with the other kids. So you ask yourself, “why…why…after doing everything that I was supposed to do to launch this kid…are they now lying on my couch, eating my food and mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook feed!?”

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

You’re probably aware that your situation is not uncommon. According to the Census Bureau, the number of Millennials living with their parents in 2015 is 15%.

As a therapist and coach for twenty-somethings I can tell you your child wants to feel like an adult. They just don’t know how to start. At the same time, your patience is wearing thin and you don’t know how much longer you can have the same conversation with your now adult child about responsibilities and the reality of being a grown-up.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything to help your kid launch, there may be something else going on. In this two part blog series, I’m going to help you determine what is going on with your child; are they lacking motivation, are they stuck or are they potentially clinically depressed.

In this post (Part 1), I’m going to help you understand if your child needs a “good kick in the pants” or if they are struggling with something more serious. I’ll give you the steps you need to take to help your child through this transition.

In Part 2, we’re going to look at today’s world and how the impact of social media has affected the average twenty-somethings ability to make decisions, feel good about themselves and understand that fear is a normal part of life.

IS MY KID DEPRESSED OR JUST LAZY?

If your once vivacious happy kid is now sleeping all the time, seems listless and can’t seem to remember to do the one thing you asked them to do that day, this question may be a the forefront of your mind these days.

As a therapist, I often have to identify and diagnose individuals with depression, I too struggle with the question of, “is this person clinically depressed or is something else going on?” First let’s start with the formal diagnosis of depression. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the diagnostic criteria to be formally diagnosed with Major Depression is, “five or more of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2 week period and represent a chance from previous functioning: at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.”

Here is the list of symptoms:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day
  • Weight loss or decreased appetite; or the opposite weight gain or increased appetite
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, thoughts of suicide

There are certainly days when we all experience one or more symptoms of depression for various reasons. Life is hard. It can be overwhelming and stressful one day and the next day you wake up feeling more hopeful. Being unemployed creates feelings of worthlessness and can make the motivated and upbeat person feel helpless.

This is why identifying and understanding depression is so difficult.

The key factor is whether or not your child has lost interest and pleasure in activities that they once loved and whether or not their mood fluctuates or simply remains depressed, sad, and they talk about feeling hopeless. When you’re depressed you feel like your drowning and can’t see the water’s surface. That’s the level of sadness and unhappiness that you need to be looking for.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

If your child has been showing most of these symptoms every day for more than 2 weeks straight, then you need to have a serious talk with them about seeking professional help. Your child needs to see a therapist and/or a psychiatrist now, especially if your child is expressing thoughts of harming self or talking about death.

  1. Help your child explore their options. Ask if they need your help finding the right therapist. Explore the option of group therapy or possibly meeting with a psychiatrist regarding medication.
  2. Therapy and medication are only one piece of the puzzle. They may also need support and guidance in learning how to improve their daily lives. Talk with your child about what you can do to support them. Does it help when you invite them out for a walk? Would they rather you give them space and let them figure it out.
  3. Talk about the short-term and long-term plan. If your child is struggling with severe depression it may be hard for them, in the short-term to look for a job. What is a short-term plan that allows your child enough time to start to feel better and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re child may never launch.
  4. You still need to set some perimeters so your child can launch. If you’re going to support your child during this time then you and your child need to agree on what is expected of your child as they begin to tackle their depression. Whatever treatment plan you decided on, they need to keep their end of the deal. They need to go therapy weekly, attend any groups they enrolled in, take their medication as prescribed and that they need to work on improving their depression on a daily basis.

WHAT IF IT ISN’T DEPRESSION?

If your child is exhibiting the symptoms of low energy, fatigue and they’re always sleeping late but they still hang out with their friends and love the same hobbies and activities. Well, this may be laziness. That was a tough sentence for me to write. I wrote it, rewrote it and then just decided I had to state the truth. This is hard to talk about because “laziness” is a judgment and I’m not here to judge you or your kid. While the DSM doesn’t have a specific diagnosis for “laziness” here are some symptoms to look for:

  • Sleeps too much
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Avoids responsibilities
  • Interested in only activities that are immediate and pleasurable (playing video games, watching movies or TV)
  • Lack of motivation, not willing to change current state
  • Expresses a lot of fear about the future
  • Not helping around the house, reverting back to teenage years

If this is your child, then do not despair and try not to judge. We all go through periods of “laziness” in our lives. My guess is that your child has had enough time to “relax” and it’s time to get moving. Your child is unable to produce the internal motivation needed to get a job or find a job that will allow them to move out of the house.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

  1. This is the time to set some boundaries. If you do not have an agreement between you and your child regarding how long you will be supporting them, then you need one immediately. You must set firm boundaries on how long you will be supporting them financially.
  2. If he/she is working part-time and earning any money they need to contribute to the household. You need to start charging them rent. It doesn’t have to be much, come up with a figure that feels fair to both. (You can always take the money, put it in a savings account and your child can use it as first/last/security for an apartment.)
  3. Your child needs to be doing chores and kept accountable. No excuses.
  4. You can help your child gain motivation.  Your child doesn’t want to be lazy, they want to be doing more but they don’t know how to manage their life now that they are out of school and there are no more deadlines.

Strategize with your child about the best way you can support them. Help them create an action plan to look for a job, help them set daily goals and create more structure in their days. So what if your child is not depressed and they’re definitely not unmotivated, but they are still at home with you and you don’t know how to help them?

There’s something else going on and it’s got to do with today’s climate and being a twenty-something is harder today than ever before.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

The 4 Steps to Helping Your Adult Child Help Themselves

Tess Brigham

Question: “At what age are kids completely self-sufficient and no longer need a parent’s help?”

Answer:  “That’s a great question…let me think…oh hold on a sec, my 26 year old daughter is calling me again.”

If you found this joke funny then I’m going to guess you have a 20-Something in your life; maybe they’re even texting you right now.

This is a very exciting time in your adult child’s life and, while you’re happy your kid is out of the house and taking the world by storm, they’re still calling you, every day, sometimes multiple times a day, seeking your help and support on a wide range of issues. You thought your job as full-time parent was over, only to discover you have a new parenting position. You’re now running an on-call 24/7 “help for whatever my kid is struggling with right now” hotline.

When your kid was growing up he or she needed a secure base as they explored unchartered territory and when they were little that was you. While your heart is in the right place, your “baby” is all grown up and it’s not helpful long-term for children to use their parents as their first and only means of solving their problems.

By helping your kid every time they get stuck you’re inadvertently giving them two messages, 1) “I’m available to solve all your problems” and 2) “I don’t think you can solve them on your own.”

Now, I know that was never your intention but now it’s time to gently tell your son or daughter, “I love you kid but you gotta figure this out on your own,” without making them feel as if you don’t care.

Easier said than done, so here are the 4 steps to teaching your adult child to solve their own problems (and only call you for the big stuff):

One: Admit There’s a Problem.

The very first thing you need to do is have a conversation with your kid and explain while you’ll always love and adore them you can no longer be on-call to solve all their problems. This conversation may be tough but it’s critical for both you and your adult child. There’s never an “ideal time” to have this conversation but don’t wait for the next crisis call to have this talk. If you do it when they’re in the midst of a crisis, they won’t be able to hear what you’re saying and could easily misinterpret your intentions. So, pick a neutral time when all is well to start this conversation. During the conversation, be transparent and honest and admit you made the mistake of not talking to them sooner. Let them know it’s in their best interest to learn how to solve their own problems and to learn how to manage uncomfortable feelings on their own. Make sure to tell them you wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place if you didn’t think they could take care of themselves. Tell them you know they’re a smart, confident, resourceful person and by you solving their problems and comforting them every time something goes wrong, you’re not doing your job as a parent. Reassure them this doesn’t mean they can never call you again or you’re no longer available to talk but you’re asking them to not automatically call you when they’re struggling.

Two: Ask Questions, Lots of Them.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, one I’m sure you know already, you’re kid is going to keep calling you. They may spend a few minutes trying to problem-solve but your phone will still be ringing. When they do call, this is your opportunity to help them help themselves. It may feel odd at first but during these conversations challenge yourself to only ask questions. That’s right, you’re just going to ask questions. No statements, no suggestions, no advice and certainly no criticism. Just questions. The goal is to keep putting the responsibility of solving the problem back on your child. If your child isn’t able to come up with any solutions, don’t give in, just ask, “Who else can you talk to about this?”

Three: Be Consistent.

Sticking to your boundaries is going to be the hardest, but most important, step of this process. You must continue to bite your tongue and ask those questions. Change never happens overnight and you’re going to be tested many times and you may even slip here and there. If you do, don’t beat yourself up; just remember how important it is for your adult child to be their own problem-solver.

Four: Build a New Relationship.

While these conversations can be tough, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The light is this new relationship you’re building with your child. Since they’re no longer calling you in crisis all the time, when you do get on the phone you can get to know them as the person they are today. Maybe you could even pick their brains for some good advice.

When my sister turned 40 she gave our mother a refrigerator magnet that said, “The first 40 years are the hardest.”

It doesn’t matter how old your child is or how far away they move, you’re always a parent. Knowing this is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to be the best parent for your child every step of the way.