How to Nurture a Young Adult

Wedding season is upon us. The bride in the wedding I’m attending this weekend is my daughter’s peer. Same age.

A friend just finished her mother-of-the bride stint. And, yes, the bride was another of my daughter’s friends. Again, same age.

(Disclaimer: both brides and my daughter are older than I was on my wedding day.)

I’m not only watching it unfold, I’ve been listening.

And, the transparent pins of my young, single friends and relatives of marriageable age on Pinterest tell me that next summer’s weddings are already being planned in the hearts of many hopeful brides-to-be.

This is not an announcement of an engagement in our family or a wedding planning blog post. (I do know the perfect little-known outdoor reception venue, though.)

And it’s not even a stream of anecdotes showing that not all young LDS women have left on missions for our church (even if they are going out in droves).

This is a view from the other side of young adulthood—the mothering side.

I’m simply enchanted by these mothers of the bride who’ve stepped into a new place in parenting, one where I will surely go someday and want to understand but where I haven’t yet been.

I clumsily managed my first child’s arrival into young adulthood: her senior year, 18th birthday, orientation into college life and choice to live on her own between school years. And with every step she takes she still has to hold my hand through all the places I’ve never been as a parent just as she is arriving there for the first time herself.

I may be clumsy but at least I know how to improve; I listen.

Last year I listened to the mother of a roommate unpacking the dorm room beside me. She was unpacking her last bird from the nest.

At the weddings I listen for any scoop these moms might share about how they found the balance of mom and daughter wedding planning.

No matter what the topic, I eavesdrop on these moms—those who are one step ahead—in social gatherings, at church, and even online. (If you haven’t been to Nest and Launch, you should eavesdrop  there.)

And I hang on to that enchantment of first-time experiences, along with the things I’ve overheard, to carry me through the difficult periods when I just don’t know what I’m doing in the places my older teens have carried me.

Active listening is how I learn to walk a little straighter path as a never-ending first-time mom.

Some of the listening I do is in the form of reading. Right now, that’s How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen. His business insights related to personal and home life make a lot of sense.

He said this:

“If you find yourself handing your children over to other people to give them all the experiences—outsourcing—you are, in fact, losing valuable opportunities to help nurture and develop them into the kind of adults you respect and admire.”

I’ve done very little outsourcing as a parent. Sometimes I fear I should have done more. But I didn’t want to let go of the nurturing. And, that same desire to not want to let go can also prevent me from allowing my young adult child to be an adult. I’m not a helicopter parent by any means, but as I told a friend,

“You want your children to be independent and grow to mature, self-sustaining adults. Then they start living their lives without you, which is just what you want, but you don’t get to be involved much anymore. It is hard to trust and relinquish the nurturing role, not because you don’t believe they can’t make good decisions but because their choices and life are so separate from yours.”

Honestly, my young adult seems so far away, and I just want to be a part of her life. But I’ve found that listening is the key to nurturing a relationship with a young adult.

Listen to multiple communication channels.  A variety of technology provides for different listening. We hangout on Google+ once a week with our daughter. Stay connected with the posts your adult child makes on Facebook. Comment and like them. I’m learning more about her life listening in on her social networks.  Send an unexpected but positive text and see what happens. Call just because. All of these means give me more to talk about beyond, “What did you do this week?” Just a hint, that question alone can sound like I’m checking up and she’s reporting.

Listen without judgement. For a time, once a teen becomes a young adult,  everything you say will sound like judgement to his or her ears. Don’t take it personally. My daughter told me she cleaned out her closet to update her wardrobe and had a big bag of clothes to take to donate. I said, “Oh?” with enough inflection that she quickly launched into an explanation of  why she was weeding through her wardrobe. I had simply meant, “Oh, maybe your sister wants them.” When those miscommunications happen, just say, “I meant . . . ” and leave it at that without a lecture.

Listen for depth not frequency. When children are under your roof, the communication remains constant by virtue of proximity. Outside of the house the communication must become deliberate. Don’t worry if they don’t initiate daily conversations or moments to check in. Several different forms of communication during the week can create an ever deeper connection. Even though it isn’t more frequent, it is more fulfilling. The trust begins to develop, the sharing increases, and the conversations develop back and forth instead of one-way.

Young adults still need nurturing. I still need nurturing. Nurturing is a human need. But nurturing adult-to-young adult works best with active listening that’s light on “mother’s know best” talk and weighted toward trusting that they are practicing what you’ve already taught.







  1. Loretta
    Aug 1, 2013

    Very good advice. It takes attentive patience to make it happen.

  2. Ginny
    Aug 1, 2013

    How funny and comforting that someone that I have “eavesdropped” on in order to know how to handle the next stage in my children’s lives has the same sort of strategy! Even though you’re not close by I am happy I get to read your thoughts and still learn from your example 🙂

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