Imagine Sunday night youth group at a big suburban church. We’re in the gym and its “Parent’s Night.” The high schoolers, some of them reluctantly, have agreed to let their parents join them in the hopes of building a little understanding between generations. We’ve done a few icebreakers and no one has died of embarrassment yet. Now all but a chosen few parents have gone off into another room for a Q&A on why teenagers act the way they do. Here in the gym those four parents sit on folding chairs in front of the bleachers. A restless, but curious, crowd of teenagers falls mostly quiet as the youth minister reads off index cards written by the high schoolers. There are questions — funny and sweet — about chores and homework, getting along with siblings and “What’s the biggest difference from when you were young?” Then comes an unexpected showstopper for the parents on the hot seat:
“Why don’t you trust us?”
The room falls completely silent. The question hangs in the air. One dad, in a moment of vulnerability and connection, bravely takes up the challenge. “It’s not that we don’t trust you.” he pauses, “It’s that we don’t trust ourselves.” The crowd of young people is puzzled. He forges on, “It’s our job to prepare you to make the right choices when you’re out there on your own. What if we haven’t prepared you well enough? The consequences are so dire. They could be devastating. We’re terrified of losing you.”
You could hear a pin drop. There’s a near silent but palpable, “Oh.” that ripples through the gymnasium and for perhaps the first time, these young people begin to understand both the depth of their parents’ love for them, and the terrible fear that is built in to being a parent.
Any of us who have parented a teenager know that dad’s response in our bones. Praying that our child will choose good friends, hoping that the values we think we’ve imparted are the ones we’ve actually passed on, these are the doubts and questions that hover over us as we lie awake waiting for the sound of the car in the driveway at curfew.
Those of us who have already walked through that particular fire, now know that there’s yet another one beyond it — parenting twentysomethings. Parenting a young adult is challenging in some of the same ways as parenting teenagers is but has some new rules too. Give enough advice but not too much. Be interested, but don’t be nosy. Be available, but don’t hover. Believe in them, but not so much that it feels like pressure. Treat them like the adults they are, but let them, every once in a while, still be your kid when they need to.
That youth group dad’s words still ring true for parents of young adults,
“It’s our job to prepare you to make the right choices when you’re out there on your own. What if we haven’t prepared you well enough? The consequences are so dire.”
Despite being the most connected generation in history, Gen Z is also the loneliest one. A recent study showed them higher than any other generation on UCLA’s Loneliness Scale by anywhere from three to ten points. (A score of 43 is the benchmark for official loneliness. Gen Z scored a 48.3 overall, Millennials (45.3), Gen X (45.1), Baby Boomers (42.4), Greatest Generation (38.6).) This loneliness puts them at greater risk for everything from addiction to suicide.
The good news is that parenting isn’t over when our kids become adults. We can still be there to support, challenge, love, pray for, teach, encourage, and fill in the gaps. The gaps of what we didn’t get a chance to teach them in those busy childhood and teen years, or the things we would like to revise now that we’re a little older and wiser.
There’s a saying that’s attributed to Saint Augustine:
Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.
As a parent and as a veteran youth minister I hang onto this bit of saintly wisdom. I do my absolute best but I know that I will fall short sometimes. That’s why I’ve got back up.
I wrote The Twentysomething Handbook because I wanted a tool that I could send along with those young people as they head out into the world that would remind them of all the things we had learned together — how to take good care of yourself, make choices you can be proud of, find your purpose, and tend your relationships. I wanted to offer them practical advice on work, food, money, love, family and I wanted to help them dream big dreams about what’s possible for them. More than anything though, I wanted to remind them that they’re not alone.
A Word from Nora
Written for Faith.Full by Nora Bradbury-Haehl, author of The Twentysomething Handbook.
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Are you a parent of a twentysomething? Or love a twentysomething? Especially in these days, it’s a challenging season! So many unknowns and choices to make. We want our kids to do life well and honor God and yet we can’t butt in too much! We love them so much, right?! Come share your thoughts and prayers with us. — Laurie McClure, Faith.Full