by Elizabeth M. Klaers, MSW, LSW
You just found out your emerging young adult son or daughter has made a life altering decision – it could be a pregnancy as the result of unprotected sex, a DUI after getting pulled over for drinking and driving, or being arrested for stealing. Your emotions rise without warning: fear, helplessness, anger, along with concern, worry, and confusion may simultaneously flood your system. How could they have done this? What is going to happen to them? How are they – better yet, how are you going to get through this? Questions begin to surface as overwhelm threatens your ability to stay present and effective.
Whether they live with you, or they are miles away living out of state, this kind of news can be devastating – your emerging adult son or daughter will need help, but if you are like many parents you have difficulty knowing what, if anything, to do next as you navigate the next few hours, days and perhaps months.
Start very, very close in and turn toward your immediate needs and the immediate needs of your family. Here are 5 Quick Tips to remember when your emerging adult is facing serious challenges:
Take a deep belly breath, then another. Repeat. Feel your belly rise and fall with each slow breath. Deep belly breathing (as opposed to shallow chest breathing) will signal your parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” portion of your central nervous system. When we perceive danger we often breathe more quickly and signal our sympathetic nervous system, or “fight, flight, freeze,” and the thinking, reasoning, and planning centers of our brain are less active.
Get some help. Do you have a supportive and trusted friend or family member that can hold this information with you and suspend harsh judgment towards you or your son or daughter? A good choice is someone that has a strong listening ear and is able to hold the faith for your son or daughter when you cannot. When you need complete privacy, and a safe place to explore patterns or learn strategic problem solving, see a therapist. Individual counseling or family therapy offers something that your friends and family cannot – professional training and confidentiality.
Keep the faith. It may feel as if their world, or your own, is ending – it is not. It is changing. Have faith that despite the pain and consequences there is an opportunity for growth.
Take one step at a time. Often we want certainty; we want to know they learned their lesson; we want to know we will be able to sleep at night; we want to know they are safe and wonder about what future consequences they will face. You must remind yourself to take one step at a time. If you just found out then you are simply on the step of “gathering information.” Keep telling that to yourself and to your emerging adult: you are taking one step at a time.
Do not assume the worst. Whether it is regarding the past, the present, or the future remember that you cannot possibly know everything. Imagining the worst case scenarios is not going to be helpful. Pay close attention to how your mind tries to make sense out each part of the situation and notice when the spin becomes totally negative.
For the most part it is up to them to live their life. Allow your emerging adult son or daughters’ path to be their own. Ask them questions, “What are you going to do now?” or “Is there anything you need from me right now?” And then really listen. Human beings learn through the experiences they have, not the ones parents protect them from having.
Elizabeth M. Klaers, MSW, LSW, is a parent and therapist who specializes in counseling individuals and families, both adults (emerging or otherwise) and young children. In addition to her private practice in Boulder, Elizabeth is a ProBono Therapist and Development Manager at Maria Droste Counseling Center.