Parenting Adult Children During a Pandemic

April 17, 2020
Many adult children are living back at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. BBH Senior Advisor Ellen Perry provides advice on how parents can best navigate this new dynamic.

In this most exceptional time, we all are highly motivated to keep our kids safe and give direction, regardless of their age. When our adult children find themselves struggling to balance taking control of their own lives and taking our advice, we need to be particularly aware of the tensions between our legitimate concerns for their safety and their appropriate need to feel independent. This dichotomy is particularly relevant now when our adult children are justifiably fearful, annoyed, confused and disappointed. In many instances, our college kids and young adults are living back at home, assuming some of the roles they had as teens and creating complicated home lives for all involved. While you shouldn’t be making decisions for them, you can and should engage them in describing their decision-making process. Offer to be a thought partner as they work through the options before them.

So, how can we help our adult children deal with these dynamics?

  • Listen Well. Parents should appreciate that this disruption is a tremendous disappointment for young adults who had begun to experience independence and freedom. Not only are they separated from their friends and social lives, but also from their work or school relationships and experiences that gave meaning and joy to their lives. Despite social media and technology, they are coping with isolation, boredom and feeling disconnected. At this stage of life, they are hardwired to be gaining independence and freedom – until now. Parents should appreciate and sympathize with that struggle. Even though many parents find this unexpected family reunion a silver lining to the pandemic, don’t hover or require more family interaction than your adult children are capable of in this moment. Let them set the pace and intensity of the interactions throughout the day. If they want to stay in their rooms working, let them.
  • Be Clear About Safety. While parents should indeed be sympathetic to this disruption, they should not allow young adults to have in-person social interactions with friends. It’s non-negotiable at this time. We all have a moral and social obligation now that they need to abide by. Help them think about what they will do when the travel bans are lifted and schools and jobs reopen. For adult children living alone, parents can and should make clear plans with them for what to do if they get sick.
  • Accept Their Pace. Some parents want to encourage their kids to use this time for personal growth, learning a new skill, language or taking an online class. This is a great idea – if, and only if, the young adult wants to do this. Many of us are either bored or overwhelmed, so, for some, this new existence is a welcome opportunity to learn and grow. For others, it’s another obligation and pressure. Don’t push your kids on this – they will have other opportunities to grow and learn in their still-young lives. Ask them what self-care routines will help them, and then try not to use your own measuring stick to measure their choices. If they do want to take an online course, parents may want to be generous and pay for it.
  • Give Everyone Space. Family dynamics are front and center for many these days. The constant togetherness and close quarters raise many of the underlying issues that have been softened by distance and time. Sibling rivalries are often reawakened or replayed, and parents, desiring calm and peace amidst the stress, find sibling spats distressing. Parents should stay out of the sibling struggles. Let them negotiate for themselves. You are not the mediator anymore. Trust that they will figure this out – even if it takes some time.
  • Be Flexible. Check in every few days with family members to see what is working for them and what isn’t going so well. Be willing to make changes in mealtime, chores, routines, quiet times, family time, and so forth. Appreciate that this is all new, for all of us, and it is evolving – as should we!
  • One last suggestion. Ask your children the following question: “What can I do more or less of that will make you feel closer to me?” And then listen intently to their answer. Try not to become defensive or explain why they might be mistaken. Just thank them and think about what they said. They just might give you an unparalleled opportunity to truly connect.

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (“BBH”) may be used as a generic term to reference the company as a whole and/or its various subsidiaries generally.  This material and any products or services may be issued or provided in multiple jurisdictions by duly authorized and regulated subsidiaries. This material is for general information and reference purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice and is not intended as an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy securities, services or investment products. Any reference to tax matters is not intended to be used, and may not be used, for purposes of avoiding penalties under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, or other applicable tax regimes, or for promotion, marketing or recommendation to third parties. All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed, and reliance should not be placed on the information presented.  This material may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted, or any of the content disclosed to third parties, without the permission of BBH. All trademarks and service marks included are the property of BBH or their respective owners. © Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. 2020.  All rights reserved. PB-03502-2020-04-16

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