Your Child’s Transition to Adulthood: Managing Your Anxiety

Posted June 3, 2015 by

Your Child’s Transition to Adulthood: Managing Your Anxiety

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 in the US. In Canada, you can contact the 211 Helpline by calling 1-800-836-3238 or by visiting


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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  1. Laura Report

    Thanks for that great article. It comes at a good time for our family and helps us stay consistent in the type of support and encouragement we offer our college age children.

  2. Momma Meserole Report

    I am the mother of 7 children and every one is unique.  I am now at the point where only 3 of my children are under 18.  I find that simply practicing deep slow breathing when I become anxious over my adult children’s choices really helps me to accept what I cannot change.  Our adult children are very likely going to make mistakes and do things in ways we would not prefer.  But our best chance at having an influence toward better choices in their lives is to respect their freedom to make those choices and be prolific with our love and acceptance of them regardless of their choices.  Parenting is a daunting task, and it gets even more challenging as they pass through adolescence and into adulthood.  With patience, courage and lots of love, it can be a very rewarding!
    Patricia Meserole

  3. tiffanygibbs1982 Report

    Ok so i have a 19 yr old step son. We have always been close and he has always shown me respect until the last yr. He started dating a girl and she has changed him so much. Now he curses at me and threatens me and has even tried to hit me. His father is so scared of losing his youngest son that he will not back me up or make him do anything here. He quite his job and moved back home without even asking me if it was ok. Now he comes and goes as he pleases, refuses to do any chores or pay any bills, calls me names and still gets to use his fathers suv and his father gave him a cell phone the other day. He was in my face spitting and screaming at me with his finger in my face because i told him he couldn’t ride any of.our horses because they are sick. His father still wont defend me. What should i do? I am seriously thinking about leaving the man i love and the only father my 12 ur old has ever known. I dont feel safe in my own home!

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I hear you. It can be hard to know what to do when someone’s
      behavior seems to turn for no reason, harder still when that person is your
      stepson and your husband doesn’t seem to be on the same page. One thing you
      might consider doing is sitting down and talking with your husband during a
      calm time about what expectations you each have regarding your adult stepson
      living at home. It may be helpful to work with a marriage or family counselor.
      Many people in similar situations have found working with a neutral third party helpful
      for working through differences. Even if your husband chooses not to go, it
      could still help you decide what next steps you can take. The 211 Helpline
      would be able to give you information on counseling services and other supports
      in your area.  You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling
      1-800-273-6222. You can also find them online at
      Truthfully, you’re not going to be able to control the choices your husband or
      stepson make. You can control how you respond to them, though.  If you’re
      not feeling safe in your home, then it may be a good idea to develop a safety
      plan you can implement when your stepson starts to become abusive towards you.
      Leaving the room, or the house, can help to de-escalate the situation. For more
      ideas, you can contact your local crisis response. Good luck to you and your
      family moving forward. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions.



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