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From day one, parents take on the role of nurturer for their children while teaching the importance of independence. As children grow up, though, it can be hard for parents to let them soar on their own, to a place where mom and dad may not be able to protect them. "Most parents who are enmeshed in their adult children's lives have good intentions, and they have a strong sense of wanting to be there or support their children," says Rachel Thomasian, a Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist. "Sometimes what they don't understand is that one of the best ways to help your children as they become adults is to allow them to be independent." For those adult children, showing your parents how well they've raised you is a necessary start to establishing independence on your own.
Break Free From Helicopter Parenting
If you still feel like a kid even as an adult, you're not alone. "This generation of young adults reports feeling like adults later and later in life, and helicopter parents are one of the reasons why this is happening," says Thomasian. "Helicopter parenting prevents people from becoming adults because they have not learned to trust themselves and make their own adult decisions." In other words, Thomasian says, if you don't have to grow up, you are not always going to seek that independence. It's much easier to depend on your parents if they provide your every need, both financially and psychologically.
Making a conscious decision to gain your own independence, make your own decisions and support yourself financially is the first step toward breaking free from helicopter parenting. If you lack the skills to exhibit complete independence, now is the time to gain those skills. Stuart Kaplowitz, a family therapist in Chino, California, recommends setting goals, writing a plan for the future and learning about independent living. "Many counties offer independent living skills classes on money management, such as how to open a bank account and manage a checkbook," he says. "Filling out job applications, practice interviews, shopping and other essential life skills are discussed. These classes can be wonderful ways to learn these everyday skills."
When you find yourself contemplating a decision and wondering what mom and dad would do, stop and explore how you feel about the situation. "Take stock of how the enmeshment between you and your parents could possibly be causing harm in your life," says Thomasian. "Start by making decisions without consulting your parents. It's an important skill to be able to trust your gut and engage in the process of making an informed decision."
Thomasian recommends starting with small choices and building up to heavier, more important decisions to gain confidence in your abilities to make decisions. “Your parents might not need to be involved in every aspect of your life," she says. "Try telling them a little bit less about intimate details than you normally would."
Think, too, about why you need them to support your decisions. If mom and dad are the only ones you consult with, it may be time to seek out peers you trust or friends to discuss your decisions. "Parents can be amazing, but when your relationship is too enmeshed and hindering independence and growth, maybe that relationship needs to be altered a bit."
Openly State Your Needs
If you've never discussed your need for independence with mom and dad, give them the benefit of the doubt and let them lend an ear. "Some parents are able to handle listening to their children discuss their need for independence," says Thomasian. "These children should have a conversation with their parents to openly state their needs, in a way that is not hurtful to their parents."
Begin the conversation with something like, "Mom, you have always been there for me and I know you always will, but I'm practicing making good decisions for myself. To help me with this, I ask that you try to stop yourself when you feel like you're about to give me advice on decisions I make." It's best to always start with a compliment and start the conversation on a positive, lighter note. You may be surprised to learn that your parents just want to help, and if they learn that backing off a bit helps you, they will likely be willing to oblige.
If mom and dad are resistant, Thomasian recommends emphasizing the importance of your need for independence. "Emphasize how learning this new skill is really important for your life, self-esteem and mental health," she says.
Adult children need to be clear themselves about the boundaries with their parents, says Dr. John Duffy, a Chicago-based psychologist and the author of "The Available Parent." Even though your life is full of change right now, it's important to understand that your parents may be fearing the inevitable change in your relationship.
Use loving phrases to let your parents know what will not change. Explain your feelings with phrases such as, "I love you, Mom. That is never going to change. But given the fact that I am now an adult, we will be in less contact and see each other a little less frequently. I need this not because I feel any differently about you, but I need to find my place in the world."
Duffy also recommends putting a physical distance between you and your parents, if possible. "It's important that adult children move out of their parents' home," he says. "This boundary alone redefines adult relationships between parents and children."