With graduation season in full swing, and all the parties and open houses that go along with this time of year, a frequently heard question posed to graduates and their parents is, “So, what are you going to do next?” While many graduates have an answer memorized detailing further education, a job opportunity, an internship or service work, others do not know what their next step will be. So what can you do as a parent, when your kid doesn’t know what they want to do?
First, understand that it is completely normal to feel various emotions when your child appears to lack a plan for moving forward and creating their own life. Without a clear path for your child to follow, what can frequently happen is that your anxious mind starts to fill in the gaps and predicts the worst case scenario: long term unemployment, mounting debt, dependence on you to continue providing for them for their entire life, and so on. Resentment and jealousy are also common emotions, as you see what appears to be all of your child’s peers becoming more independent and pursuing their goals. Many parents also feel guilty and blame themselves for their child’s apparent lack of direction, focusing on opportunities they were not able to provide, or perhaps thinking about how they could have provided additional support in some way during childhood.
While all of these emotions are common and valid, it’s helpful to also understand that parenting from this emotional state can have a definite impact on how effective you are able to be when setting boundaries with your teen or young adult. The thing is, it’s pretty normal for most people in this stage of life to want to explore various opportunities rather than commit to pursuing one goal. Discovering one’s interests, in addition to figuring out what they are not interested in doing, is part of this developmental stage.
No one can predict the future and what it will hold with any sense of finality. My own life is a prime example of this process of discovery. When asked at different points in my teen and young adult years about my career plans and life goals, I stated with equal conviction that I wanted to go to medical school, obtain a law degree, and become a research chemist, among other options. Through various opportunities and experiences, I have discovered that none of these were the right fit for me and my interests. I almost passed out when observing a surgery as part of a pre-med program. Through my time working in a courtroom, I received first-hand knowledge of how frustratingly slow the wheels of justice can turn, if at all. After spending long hours in the chemistry lab, I yearned to be outside and away from the test tubes and beakers. The process by which I came to be here coaching parents has been far from a direct path.
Of course, none of this means that you cannot set boundaries around the amount of support that you are willing to provide for your child’s journey of self-discovery. After all, once your child becomes an adult, anything you decide to provide is a choice for you and a privilege for your child. This includes things like food, clothing, housing/rent, a car, tuition and spending money. If your child is refusing to find a job outside of a desired field, starting and quitting jobs in rapid succession, or switching majors every semester, you can let them experience the natural consequences of those actions. If your young adult is open to it, you can problem solve with them about possible next steps, or help them find local resources such as career counseling or volunteer programs.
It is often said that the only constant in life is change, and the transition to adulthood is rarely a smooth one for kids or their parents. Even though it might appear that every other kid but yours has it all figured out, chances are those other families may also be experiencing anxiety and doubts about the future. By creating and assessing your boundaries, you can provide the parameters for your relationship with your child as they enter the adult world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information about available resources in your area, contacting the 211 Helpline could be a good place to start. The 211 Helpline is an information and referral service which connects people with resources and services in their community. You can reach them by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting www.211.org in the US. In Canada, you can contact the 211 Helpline by calling 1-800-836-3238 or by visiting www.211.ca