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


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.