What Your 20-Something Wants to Tell You (and Needs to Hear From You)
This may be one of the most important posts ever to appear on Empty Nest Blessed. When the idea came to me about a month ago, I immediately took it to my 23-year-old assistant, Natalie, who agreed that it was a critical topic that could really make a difference in the lives of her peers and their parents. She agreed to take the lead, and we both set about talking to lots of 20-somethings. We asked them, “What do you want to tell your parents and what do you need to hear from them? The answers were astounding.
Throughout this post, Natalie’s words will be in regular font, mine will be italics, and quotes will be in blue.
Once you become a young adult, your relationship with your parents completely changes. This is natural, as children become more independent, but it can also bring about unexpected challenges in terms of the way adult children and their parents relate. The 20’s are a decade full of change, struggle, triumph, confusion, and critical life decisions that don’t occur at any other time in your life. My generation faces struggles that our parents and grandparents never had to deal with.
Differences like these can sometimes cause a disconnect between our generation and the ones before us. Even when our older family members and friends only want the best for us, it can be difficult for them to know what we’re feeling or what we need to hear. Although we may not speak up as much as we should, we 20-somethings do have a lot we’d like our parents to know.
What Your 20-Something Wants To Tell You
1. Sometimes We Just Want You To Listen
Sometimes we just need you to “hold the bucket.” Many young adults are facing a load of stress and feel like they can’t speak up. Sometimes, we feel like our parents are waiting for us to finish talking so they can give us advice. Deep down, we know this advice is coming from a loving heart, but sometimes we just need to vent. We need a listening and non-judgmental ear. We get that some of the issues our generation faces seem insignificant compared to what you faced, but they can still negatively affect us. This isn’t to say that we don’t ever want your advice, but sometimes, we just want you to listen.
When our 20-something daughter was home during the COVID quarantine, this was an issue for us! After several (numerous!) frustrating conversations (Me: “I don’t know what you want from me…”), I asked her if she could let me know what she was looking for before she started talking. Was she seeking advice or did she just need to vent? This was a huge help! In fact, even though she’s not at home anymore, she’s still helping me out by letting me know! #grateful
2. We Want You To Accept Where We Are Right Now
Everyone our age jokes about the pestering questions thrown our way each time we see family at holiday gatherings. Questions like,
- Why aren’t you in a relationship?
- When are you going to get married?
- When are you going to have kids?
- Did you lose/gain weight?
- What’s your long-term plan?
- Are you sure that’s a good idea?
- Why don’t you live closer?
- We haven’t seen you in_____months! That’s too long for a mom!
These questions are often asked lightly to inquire about our lives, but they can come across as judgmental, especially if the topic is something we’re already feeling insecure about. Answering questions like these and receiving unsolicited advice can feel overwhelming and even make us hesitant to visit home! We want you to trust that you raised us right and that we’ll be able to make decisions about our lives on our own.
“Sometimes I wish that my parents would be fine with just spending time with me when I come home to see them. I know they love me and just want to know what is going on with my life, but I feel like I can’t come home and rest. I always have to answer their questions about my relationships, or school, or job, or anything else. I worry enough about that stuff as is and just want to come home to my loving parents, without the interrogation…”
Grandparents can be guilty of this too! As a parent, do what you can to help your adult kids navigate these conversations with older members of your family.
3. Our Lives Are Very Different From Yours
Growing up in the age of technology and social media means comparing ourselves to others is something we’ve always known, and dealing with unrealistic standards of appearance, achievement, and life progression can be challenging. The way we communicate with others is different too. We grew up with technology playing a big part in the way we meet and communicate with others. Changing careers and locations is easier than ever before, so often young adults will make career moves that older generations would consider foolish.
My dad was with one company until retirement. My husband has been with the same company for over 30 years. This generation is different! Educate yourself on the differences between your generation and that of your child’s. Things you see them doing—like phone/computer usage, waiting later to get married/have children, or changing careers multiple times—may alarm you, but they’re societal norms now. Here are two posts that might help:
- On the Heels of the Millennials: Understanding Gen Z
- Parenting Adult Kids | Understanding Your 20-Something Kids.
Here are some resources I’ve found helpful
4. We May Need Practical Help With Finances & Money Management
One of the most common complaints I hear from my peers is that we weren’t taught many essential life skills. Somewhere along the way, we didn’t learn things like managing finances, doing taxes, and budgeting. Building good financial habits at a young age could help so many people once they reach their 20’s and 30’s.
As the helicopter parenting generation, we may have felt we were showing love to our kids by doing things FOR them instead or requiring more FROM them????. We even apologized to our kids for not doing a better job of this! That humility opened the door, and now they feel comfortable asking for help and advice.
“I wish my parents would go over with me how to do important tasks, such as taxes, before I move out and am expected to do them on my own. That would be so helpful.”
5. We’re Struggling With Nutrition and Health
The “Freshman 15” is a long-standing joke. But many of my college-aged peers found sudden food freedom away from home to be a challenge to our physical and mental health. My friends and I wish someone would have taught us the wholesome reasons behind striving for optimal health, nutrition, and wellness. (It isn’t all about being thin!) Abusing your body with too much alcohol, lack of sleep, or lack of exercise is commonplace among 20-somethings.
“When I got into college I felt like I could just eat whatever I wanted. I was surrounded by a bunch of amazing dining hall food and quickly started feeling sluggish from my diet. Then in my second year of college, I joined a sorority. I felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of beautiful, skinny girls, and that I should change to be like them. I started a diet and ate next to nothing each day. It quickly turned into several years of disordered eating that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. I wish that someone had taught me more about eating well to care for my body and not just to gain or lose weight.”
6. Social Media is a Driving Force in Our Lives
Social media has become such a big part of our lives that our generation has almost lost the ability to be present. There is a reason meditation seems to be the hottest wellness trend for our age group! Sometimes we need a gentle reminder to give ourselves a break and get outside.
Encourage the face-to-face contact you know your 20-something needs by asking them to FaceTime, meeting for lunch or coffee, taking them shopping, or even on vacation. These things will serve as a gentle reminder that there is no substitute for being present in the moment.
“I have such a hard time comparing myself to other people my age. I see people posting pictures with their boyfriends or girlfriends on Instagram, or of their vacation, or their fun job…my life isn’t like that. Sometimes I get really down from seeing what everyone else is doing and feel like I’m doing something wrong. I wish I could tell my parents about this, but I think they might find it insignificant. But if they only knew how big of a problem this was for people our age!”
What Your 20-Something Needs To Hear From You
1. You’re Right Where You’re Supposed To Be
Social media, highlight reels, and an overload of communication can cause anxiety and depression, as we compare ourselves to everyone else. We constantly see the edited, best version of other people, and it can lead to feeling like we’re lacking. We need to hear that we’re loved and appreciated unconditionally. We need to hear that there will be time to make new memories, meet new people, and make changes in the future. Everything doesn’t have to happen right now.
Remind your adult kids of their strengths, what they’ve accomplished, and empathize by sharing that you felt the same way at their age. Tell them you’re proud of them. Bob and I often reassuringly tell our kids that we think they’re “right where they should be right now,” and that we aren’t worried about them at all. Encourage your kids to stay true to themselves and their dreams. Remind them that you love them just as they are. Two posts that might help:
- Six Ways to Show Love to Your Adult Kids
- Parenting Adult Children | Understanding Your 20-Something Kids
“I wish my parents would tell me more often that I’m doing alright! Being in your early 20s and figuring out your new normal as an adult can be a challenge and I often put too much pressure on myself to have it all figured out right away. Even though I know my parents are proud of me, it’s still nice to have that reassurance that everything will work out.”
2. You Don’t Have to Have It All Figured Out Right Now/You Have Time
Our brains developed in an age where things happen on-demand. This led us to believe that we should have everything figured out, which can be stressful when it comes to making important life decisions. If we feel stagnant or confused about our education, career, or relationships, we may need to be reminded that we’re still young and don’t need to have it all figured out right now. Having our parents reassure us that we shouldn’t feel pressured about falling behind or making the wrong decision can help ease the stress we feel. Also, knowing that our parents will accept our choices and allow us to follow our passions will encourage us to open up more.
Remind your kids that their 20’s are a time for learning and discovering! They need to discover who they are, what they’re passionate about, and what they’re good at. It’s helpful to remind them that most decisions can be undone! Reassure them that there is never really an age where you feel like you have everything figured out! ????
“I’m a boomerang child, meaning I came back home to live with my parents after I graduated. I have my degree but have no passion for the jobs available to me, and now because of the pandemic, I’m having a hard time even finding a job opening. I feel so frustrated because what I really want is to continue my education in a different field, but I already feel like such a burden to my family living at home again. And having no income to contribute on top of that makes me feel pressured to just find a menial job and move out so my parents don’t just think I’m a bum.”
3. You Are Not Alone in Your Heartbreak/Rejection
There will inevitably be a time in your child’s life when they’re rejected or have their heart broken. When struggles like these occur, we can feel alone, like no one understands what we’re going through. Our parents may not know what to say. What we really need is support, encouragement, and the comfort of knowing that you will always be there for us.
It will be difficult, but try to refrain from lecturing or giving advice! Heartbreak is universal, and we’ve all felt rejection. The best thing you can do is empathize. Don’t tell them you understand, then follow that with a story of when you were in a similar situation! Instead, sit with them. Listen, and tell them that their pain is understandable. They need to feel heard.
4. It’s Okay To Ask For Help
We need to know that it’s okay to ask for help when we need it. Everyone has something that they struggle with – mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Destigmatize mental health by letting your adult child know that seeing a therapist is okay if that’s what they need. Also, if your 20-something is struggling with their faith, don’t be alarmed! Instead, encourage them to seek counsel from a pastor or trusted friend.
If your 20-something reaches out for help or asks for advice, let them know that you’re glad they asked and you’ll love them no matter what.
“Ever since I left for college I have experienced pretty bad anxiety. I’ve tried everything to help it on my own but really feel like I need to talk to a medical professional about what’s going on. I am afraid to tell my parents because there is still such a stigma surrounding mental health. I wish that I could talk openly with them about it without feeling judged.”
5. It Is Okay To Move On / Say No
Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is okay to say “no.” In the age of FOMO and progressive acceptance, 20-somethings feel like it is wrong to say no to things—whether that means people or commitments. It’s okay to learn from a relationship and move on, or to say no to things that don’t add value to our lives.
“Ghosting,” is ceasing communication with someone, without warning or justification, and ignoring any attempts they make to get back in touch. Unfortunately, this is all too common among 20-somethings, and toxic relationship behavior is more prevalent than ever. Our generation has almost come to believe that being mistreated is normal! It’s important to remind us that we can say “no” to this kind of mistreatment. It’s okay to unfollow social media accounts that make us feel bad about ourselves or to move on from a relationship that doesn’t add value to our lives. Pursuing another course of action can be okay.
This broke my heart when I read it. Making someone feel less-than by ignoring, bullying, taunting, or rudeness is never acceptable.
6. Your Dreams Aren’t Going to be Handed To You
We grew up in an age of instant gratification. We didn’t have to work as hard as our parents and grandparents to get to this place in life. Sometimes 20-somethings need to hear the hard truth that we can’t just go through the motions in school, work, or life. It takes determination, perseverance, and hard work to be successful.
Caution! This message is best delivered to your 20-something when you’re praising them for hard work you see in some specific area of their lives. Let them extrapolate it to other areas. If you deliver it as a lecture out of the blue, it could damage your relationship irreparably.
We want to work on healthy communication with our parents, and we want them to understand the intense societal influences we feel. At times our generation may seem undeserving or behind where the previous generations were at our age, but deep down, we’re grateful for everything our parents have done for us, and we want them to be proud of us.
“I love it when my parents encourage me by saying things like, ‘You CAN do this!’ or ‘You’re going to be okay! It’s all going to work out.'”
Change is inevitable, and not easy, for any of us. Parenting a 20-something can be particularly challenging as you have to shift from parenting the way you did when they were younger and accept their independence. I hear from a lot of parents who make the mistake of placing their own insecurities about not being needed any more onto their children. Do not fall victim to this! As you can see, they are dealing with plenty! Rest assured, they still need you.
Consider sharing this post with your 20-something. Ask them it it rings true. We hope it will open a dialogue that will nourish and grow your relationship in a significant way.
If you need help adjusting to life as an empty nester, check out these posts about the empty nest, or see a counselor who can help.
RESOURCES THAT CAN HELP
Hi Suzy and Natalie,
Thank you for such a great post with rich information! I appreciate hearing the perspectives of the 20 somethings. I will be passing this on to my friends with 20 something children. I will also be checking out the books.
Thanks again for your time and thoughtfulness,
Your precious comment means the world! I am so glad you felt it was helpful! I will forever be indebted to Natalie’s friends and my kids’ friends to sharing with me so candidly. (I didn’t dare put my own kids in the situation of having to answer these questions, so I didn’t even ask them – but I asked a bunch of their friends!)
Hugs to you,
This is so great and much of it rings true for my teens, too. I am also still struggling with this as a 48 year old from my own mother and it makes our relationship difficult. Everyone should read this!
Wow! Thank you for sharing that. I am so glad you found it helpful. I’m forever grateful to my incredible assistant Natalie, for her honesty and for recruiting so many of her friends who agreed to share their feelings so honestly! She is such a treasure!
I’m so, so glad you found it helpful!
Where do I begin? I know I have a better relationship with my adult children than my parents ever had with me at that age. I’ve learned to listen without offering advice unless it’s asked. But each child is different. Today, for example, my 3rd child is struggling with her career; though she’s smart and capable, corporate shenanigans are weighing her down all combined with COVID-19 and racism. Sometimes it’s hard for her to figure out why certain things aren’t going her way. Today she called me with tears in her eyes. I listened, I encouraged her to use wisdom as she speaks and then I got off the phone and I prayed.
But I’m so glad we have this relationship where she can share with me; where she knows that she will be supported.
As parents, I think we should always be willing to learn, to adjust. And I like that advice which I’ll start sharing with mine – “you’re right where you’re supposed to be.”
Great post that applies for the adult years not just the 20s.
Thanks for this wonderful article! It’s full of so many practical ways we can show our kids respect and admiration and love. And who doesn’t want to feel admired?! I’m happy I read this, and I am definitely going to share it. Thanks again!
I so much appreciate this article. Some of the things mentioned I have learned through trial and error AND through doing it wrong with one child and correcting it with another. THanks, Suzie
I was looking thru your post for something to read… and stopped at this one! It’s perfect and I needed this, as I have 21 & 24 year old. Thank you!! ????
Comments are closed.