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For parents who blame themselves when their adult kids go astray

mujer, depresión

Shutterstock/kei907

Cerith Gardiner - published on 11/14/22

It's very hard for a parent to watch their older children being influenced by less than desirable sources.

Recently I had to comfort a friend who was at her wit’s end about what to do with one of her children. In fact, she was so frustrated and anxious about her 26-year-old daughter’s behavior that in between her tears she asked me: “What have I done wrong? I didn’t bring her up to be like this.”

It’s the sort of reflection I’m hearing more and more from other parents of young adults; parents who are rightly concerned that their children seem to be lacking direction, drive, and a strong work ethic.

My friend — we’ll call her Liz — has been working full-time since she was 18. She devotes her time to caring for her family, including an infirm elderly aunt. She projects kindness and generosity. She is devout in her faith, which has been the cornerstone of her life.

Her daughter abandoned her studies, has no job, and is driving around the south of France without a care in the world, having inherited a lot of money from her late father. When Liz asks her daughter about her plans, she snaps at her and tells her that it’s none of her business (even though she relies quite heavily on her mother).

It’s a tricky situation, and Liz and I have spoken about it at length. It’s easy to say, “She’s an adult, let her get on with it.” But Liz still feels responsible for her daughter, and that her daughter’s behavior is all her fault.

It’s easy to say that her daughter will mature and find her way. After all, I do believe that children only begin to be independent and responsible in life once they have to contend with the realities of the adult world.

But Liz’s daughter is putting off this moment for as long as she can. And while Liz is questioning what she’s done wrong as a mother, I suggested looking at what she’s done right — after all, it’s easy for any parent to beat herself up, and her daughter has many positive traits.

Negative outside influences

I also pointed out that society today is very different to previous generations, and far further removed from the realities of our own childhoods. When we were growing up our parents could rely on three solid institutions to influence their children: the Church, the family, and the school system.

Moms and dads could determine the school environment and religious education they wanted to give their children, and this helped provide the solid moral grounding and direction children needed to carry them through to adulthood. Now, decades later, these institutions have far more influence than parents imagine.

The growth and spread of the internet has opened our children’s eyes to things we could never have imagined growing up. For our kids there is a constant stream of aggressive opinions flowing onto their phones and computer screens. There’s also permanent access to news flooding in from every corner of the world from so many different outlets. It’s overwhelming, and can have a detrimental effect on a young person’s mental health.

Young adults today are also part of the “influencer” generation — where almost celeb-like social media gurus gather millions of followers and try to influence their buying behavior, their leisure choices, their physical appearance, and much more.

So if a young adult is lost or apathetic, they don’t have to look far to find someone who will justify their choices, an “influencer” who will provide them with the strength and reasoning to continue what they’re doing — or in Liz”s daughter’s case, not doing. You could describe it as a cult-like phenomenon.

In the past, kids were still influenced by technology such as TV and the radio, but there’s something far more invasive and insidious about the internet.

People can hide behind their screens or Instagram handles to share their thoughts or opinions, which can be highly misleading or damaging. It’s a potentially dangerous territory that our children have access to, and as they grow older, parental controls fall by the wayside.

While I don’t have the solution for Liz, it’s important that she realizes that she has done so much good for her daughter over the years. She can take some comfort that the time she was able to have a great influence in her daughter’s life has not been wasted.

Liz can also turn to some powerful intercessors for her daughter, as well as maintain a dialogue with her daughter. She’s stopped criticizing and berating her daughter for her life choices, and is focusing on having positive conversations on issues that are conflict-free. Hopefully she can build on this and eventually guide her daughter very gently back to a meaningful life.

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Mental HealthParentingTeens
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