Q: Despite our best parenting efforts, our adult son has developed a talent for making dumb decisions and behaving irresponsibly. He recently financed an expensive car he couldn’t afford, only to total it three weeks later – after he’d cancelled the insurance. He’s now in serious financial straits and may lose his job for lack of transportation. We’ve tried to support and help him in similar situations, but things just get worse. What should we do?
A: Unfortunately, even good parents often see their adult children make poor choices. Our role as parents should change as our children enter adulthood, but our purpose should not: To encourage them to become mature, self-controlled, self-regulating, responsible, and independent adults. In this case, we would suggest that means allowing your son to come face to face with the real-life consequences of his choices. Here are three principles to keep in mind:
- Don’t make your child’s problem your problem. Maintain appropriate boundaries by respecting his right to be his own man and make his own decisions. To assume his problems is to deprive him of adult autonomy. That’s almost always counterproductive.
- Don’t make yourself the solution to your child’s problem. It’s not your job or responsibility to fix everything that’s broken and right every wrong in your son’s life. Experience is the best teacher, and you need to give your son the opportunity to learn from the consequences of his decisions.
- Maintain the relationship. Avoid damaging your relationship with your son by “sticking your oar in” where it isn’t wanted or needed. Uninvited interference and “I told you so’s” can inspire resentment, and resentment will destroy the all-important heart-connection between parent and child. Keeping the lines of communication open is the best way to maintain a strong and positive influence.
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