You did everything right. You were (and continue to be) a loving, present parent. You weren’t always perfect but you did your best. You provided your child with a safe home, food, clothes, toys and the latest clothes and electronic devices so they could “fit in” with the other kids.
So you ask yourself, “why…why…after doing everything that I was supposed to do to launch this kid…are they now lying on my couch, eating my food and mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook feed!?”
Where Did I Go Wrong?
You’re probably aware that your situation is not uncommon. According to the Census Bureau in 2015, 1/3 of young people or 24 million (ages between 18-34) lived with their parents.
As a therapist and coach for twenty-somethings I can tell you your child wants to feel like an adult. They just don’t know how to start.
At the same time, your patience is wearing thin and you don’t know how much longer you can have the same conversation with your now adult child about responsibilities and the reality of being a grown-up. If you feel like you’ve tried everything to help your kid launch, there may be something else going on.
In this two part blog series, I’m going to help you determine what is going on with your child; are they lacking motivation, are they stuck or are they potentially clinically depressed.
In Part 1, I’m going to help you understand if your child needs a “good kick in the pants” or if they are struggling with something more serious. I’ll give you the steps you need to take to help your child through this transition.
In Part 2, we’re going to look at today’s world and how the impact of social media has affected the average twenty-somethings ability to make decisions, feel good about themselves and understand that fear is a normal part of life.
Is My Kid Depressed of Just Lazy?
If your once vivacious happy kid is now sleeping all the time, seems listless and can’t seem to remember to do the one thing you asked them to do that day, this question may be a the forefront of your mind these days.
As a therapist, I often have to identify and diagnose individuals with depression, I too struggle with the question of, “is this person clinically depressed or is something else going on?” First let’s start with the formal diagnosis of depression.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the diagnostic criteria to be formally diagnosed with Major Depression is, “five or more of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2 week period and represent a chance from previous functioning: at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.”
Here is the list of symptoms:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day
- Weight loss or decreased appetite; or the opposite weight gain or increased appetite
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Recurrent thoughts of death, thoughts of suicide
There are certainly days when we all experience one or more symptoms of depression for various reasons. Life is hard. It can be overwhelming and stressful one day and the next day you wake up feeling more hopeful. Being unemployed creates feelings of worthlessness and can make the motivated and upbeat person feel helpless.
This is why identifying and understanding depression is so difficult.
The key factor is whether or not your child has lost interest and pleasure in activities that they once loved and whether or not their mood fluctuates or simply remains depressed, sad, and they talk about feeling hopeless.
When you’re depressed you feel like your drowning and can’t see the water’s surface. That’s the level of sadness and unhappiness that you need to be looking for.
How You Can Help
If your child has been showing most of these symptoms, every day for more than 2 weeks straight, then you need to have a serious talk with them about seeking professional help. Your child needs to see a therapist and/or a psychiatrist now, especially if your child is expressing thoughts of harming self or talking about death.
1) Help your child explore their options. Ask if they need your help finding the right therapist. Explore the option of group therapy or possibly meeting with a psychiatrist regarding medication.
2) Therapy and medication are only one piece of the puzzle. They may also need support and guidance in learning how to improve their daily lives. Talk with your child about what you can do to support them. Does it help when you invite them out for a walk? Would they rather you give them space and let them figure it out.
3) Talk about the short-term and long-term plan. If your child is struggling with severe depression it may be hard for them, in the short-term to look for a job. What is a short-term plan that allows your child enough time to start to feel better and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re child may never launch.
4) You still need to set some perimeters so your child can launch. If you’re going to support your child during this time then you and your child need to agree on what is expected of your child as they begin to tackle their depression. Whatever treatment plan you decided on, they need to keep their end of the deal. They need to go therapy weekly, attend any groups they enrolled in, take their medication as prescribed and that they need to work on improving their depression on a daily basis.
What If It Isn’t Depression?
If your child is exhibiting the symptoms of low energy, fatigue and they’re always sleeping late but they still hang out with their friends and love the same hobbies and activities.
Well, this may be laziness. That was a tough sentence for me to write. I wrote it, rewrote it and then just decided I had to state the truth. This is hard to talk about because “laziness” is a judgment and I’m not here to judge you or your kid.
While the DSM doesn’t have a specific diagnosis for “laziness” here are some symptoms to look for:
- Sleeps too much
- Inability to make decisions
- Avoids responsibilities
- Interested in only activities that are immediate and pleasurable (playing video games, watching movies or TV)
- Lack of motivation, not willing to change current state
- Expresses a lot of fear about the future
- Not helping around the house, reverting back to teenage years
If this is your child, then do not despair and try not to judge. We all go through periods of “laziness” in our lives.
My guess is that your child has had enough time to “relax” and it’s time to get moving. Your child is unable to produce the internal motivation needed to get a job or find a job that will allow them to move out of the house.
How You Can Help
1) This is the time to set some boundaries. If you do not have an agreement between you and your child regarding how long you will be supporting them, then you need one immediately. You must set firm boundaries on how long you will be supporting them financially.
2) If he/she is working part-time and earning any money they need to contribute to the household. You need to start charging them rent. It doesn’t have to be much, come up with a figure that feels fair to both. (You can always take the money, put it in a savings account and your child can use it as first/last/security for an apartment.)
3) Your child needs to be doing chores and kept accountable. No excuses.
4) You can help your child gain motivation. Your child doesn’t want to be lazy, they want to be doing more but they don’t know how to manage their life now that they are out of school and there are no more deadlines. Strategize with your child about the best way you can support them. Help them create an action plan to look for a job, help them set daily goals and create more structure in their days.
So what if your child is not depressed and they’re definitely not unmotivated, but they are still at home with you and you don’t know how to help them? There’s something else going on and it’s got to do with today’s climate and being a twenty-something is harder today than ever before.
It felt so good when you watched your child walk across that stage to accept their college diploma. You not only felt a tremendous sense of pride, you felt relief. Not only are you free from paying those big tuition bills each month, but you know you’ve done everything you could to provide your child the tools they needed to get out there and create their own lives.
You don’t understand why your child, who was once a star student and athlete can’t seem to “get it together” and make it on their own. You have every right to feel utterly frustrated right now. Maybe your kid came home right after college with the promise of “getting a job and an apartment,” only to still be sacked out in their old room acting like they’re on an endless summer vacation.
A Whole New World
The rites of passage for twenty-somethings are changing. It’s no longer just about getting your first crappy job and apartment with hopes and dreams of the future.
Young people today still face these same rites of passage yet social media is inundating them all day, every day, informing them that everyone is doing much better than them. While technology has made our world more “global” and exposed us to a world that used to feel “out of reach,” it has made twenty-somethings feel like they have failed before they even started.
There was once a point in our history that if you weren’t married or at least engaged by the age of 22 you were some kind of loser. For your kid, it feels like if they haven’t developed an app that Google is willing to buy, that will not only make them millions but also cure cancer, well than why even bother trying.
While you and I know that becoming a multi-millionaire before the age of 25 is rare, very, very rare. Your child sees it as the norm.
Despite the false image of success that is playing in your child’s head, they still want to forge ahead and get a job so they can move out. This is when the next big issue sets in…making decisions.
One of the best and worst parts of my twenty-something years was the number of choices available to me. I wasn’t married, I had no children, and I didn’t even have a pet, too much responsibility! I could live anywhere, do anything and be anything. While all that freedom was exciting, it was also intimidating and I often wondered if I was “making the right decision.”
For the 20-something today, any option or choice can be explored with the click of a button. That’s it. All those choices that would have gone in one ear and out another for you and me, they are now bookmarked on your kid’s computer. Choices for a twenty-something in today’s world are truly limitless.
You’re asking yourself, with all these choices, why is my kid still stuck?
The problem is that making choices and decisions for your kid is a double-edge sword. On the one hand they feel like their choices are limitless which is an exciting but overwhelming feeling.
They get stuck because once they decide to choose a certain career path to go down, they’ll be giving up all the other options available to them. Despite their excitement for the choice they’re making they still feel like they are losing something. Even though the thing they are losing, is not your kid’s dream and you know they would hate every minute of it, it still feels like a loss.
That feeling of loss makes them doubt their choice. Because of their youth and inexperience, they instantly mistake that feeling of loss for regret and then the decision paralysis sets in.
You know that sometimes we just need to make a decision and go with it. You know that a job, an apartment, a relationship isn’t a prison sentence. You know that you can take a job, find out its not quite right and then find another one that suits you better. You know that, I know. They don’t know that.
Your kid just hasn’t had enough of those experiences yet. They still think every decision is “the one” and that if they choose A then B is forever off the table.
What Can A Parent Do?
If you haven’t set specific guidelines and expectations for your adult child while living in your home, then you need to start now. Bottom line, your adult child cannot act like they are 16 again in your home and this is a temporary situation, not a permanent one. If you need help with this, go to Part 1 and under “how you can help” if your child is struggling with motivation, there are some guidelines you can start to implement.
Do you remember reading those parenting books when your kid was 4 or 5? The book would tell you to “crouch-down” so you could look your child in the eye, tell them that you understand they are hurt or upset but “this is the rule” or “this is how the world works.”
I know you may be thinking right now, “Tess…you’ve got to be kidding me…my kid has been living rent free, eating my food and watching Netflix non-stop for over a year now and you want me to ‘understand their feelings!’”
I want you to understand your child’s mindset and what they are up against as they navigate the rough waters of being a young adult. I’m not here to make excuses for them or to tell you how much harder they have it then when you or I were trying to establish ourselves.
I want you to be able to see things from your child’s perspective in order to understand how to communicate with them better and ultimately how to help them get out of their heads and into action.
You know your child better than anyone else in the world. My guess is you know that they are feeling lost, confused and completely unsure of themselves. Some people respond to ultimatums, firm limits and deadlines.
Take a minute and put yourself in your child’s shoes.
What would you want someone to say to you? What help, motivation and support would you crave? That’s what your child needs. Here are a few things to start with:
1) Help them Get Realistic
Your child needs to help to understand what are realistic expectations for an average twenty-something. Talk with them about how you achieved your success and what it really takes to be “an overnight” sensation. Help them see that they need new mentors and role models other than Mark Zuckerberg and Beyonce.
2) Help them Understand Decision-Making
Help them see that there are no “right or wrong” decisions, just the decisions they make. Tell them about a decision that you made that you felt sure of that ended up being not quite right. How did you handle it? Tell them about a decision you made that you weren’t sure of but turned out to be great in the end.
Now that you can see the dilemma that your child is in when it comes to making decisions, how can you help them see that while decisions can be tough, it’s how we move forward in our lives and in our careers.
3) Normalize their Fear
Your child is afraid. Not like when they were young and afraid of the dark but scared they will never find a meaningful career that they’re any good at. They’re afraid they will be alone forever and never find “the one.” They’re afraid that they won’t be able to provide for their children the way you provided for them.
Your child needs to have a healthy amount of fear because if they don’t feel any fear, they’ll never leave the house. You want to normalize for them that fear is both a good thing and a bad thing. That it’s OK for feel afraid when it comes to making a certain decision that this fear is a part of the process of taking chances and growing as a person.
Even if their actions don’t always match their behaviors, your child wants to launch. Your child wants to feel good about themselves and wants to an active member of society.
They’re facing a very scary world out there and while I believe in boundaries and I believe that everyone needs to contribute and “pay their way,” sometimes the answer is remembering your child is, in many ways, still a child and needs you to look them in the eye and tell them that everything is going to be all right.
Tess Brigham, MFT is a licensed therapist and Board Certified Coach. She specializes in working with twenty-somethings navigate the years from ages 20-30, especially those going through the dreaded “quarter-life crisis.” In addition, she helps the parents of twenty-somethings who are struggling to launch. Check out her website at www.tessbrigham.com. If you want to speak with her further about launching your twenty-something, email her at [email protected].