Ending the Great Spoon Tug-of-War

Ending the Great Spoon Tug-of-War

September 3, 2018 0 By Nancy Oehlert

I’m willing to bet that if you close your eyes you can still see the sweet, messy faces of your children as they were learning to feed themselves with a spoon. You probably even have a few photos of their grinning, sticky face.

What if you had just kept feeding them yourself? It would have been quicker, neater and they would have actually ingested more nutrition. But how would that have helped them when they went to kindergarten? Or middle school? Learning to feed oneself is essential. It’s a skill you use your entire life.

With our girls, once they could hold a spoon in their chubby little fists, there was no going back. If we were rushed for time, if they had already bathed or for some other reason I felt the need to ‘just do it myself’, they would howl in protest, and a tug-of-war with the spoon was the result.

It’s helpful to look back on milestones like this because there’s a grown-up version of this tug-of-war being played out in millions of homes.

Twenty-five percent of young adults are now living at home with their parents. These young adults are learning to do for themselves. There are skills they need to develop that will lead to independence.

For parents, the challenge is learning to help without interfering. Giving kids a safe, affordable place to develop their ‘grown-up skills’.

For young adults, it’s transitioning from an adolescent who depends on mom or dad to handle important matters to a contributing and functional grown-up.

Everyone put the spoon down and pick up a pen.

It’s critical for everyone involved to sit down together and discuss the transition. redefine their boundaries and expectations.

Each of the adults needs to share their concerns and voice their needs. Boundaries and expectations need to be redefined. This will help prevent falling back into old patterns, roles and habits.

Those old patterns of relating to each other are no longer sufficient and keeping everything the same will lead to ‘perpetual adolescence’ and ‘eternal parenting’. Nobody wants that. It wouldn’t be healthy, rather like a kindergartener who still has mom or dad spoon-feeding them.

The boundaries needed for a healthy relationship have changed. So talk!

You want me to what? I’m gonna need you to let go of that spoon.

Parents need to set clear timelines and expectations, just as a landlord or a supervisor would. This would include things such as timetables.

Do you expect your child to move out by a certain age or within so many months of getting a job?  Will they be expected to pay rent?  How much is rent and when is it due? What will everyone’s household responsibilities be? 

Remember, there is another adult in the house now. And each adult should share in the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. Will they sit down with whoever pays the bills and learn how it’s done?

Do not feel any guilt over expecting adult responsibilities. Remember that everyone’s goal is to see them become self-sufficient. Responsibilities are a huge part of that.

Young adults need to express their expectations as well.

Most young adults value privacy and this is a reasonable expectation. If their door is closed, a knock before entering is common courtesy between adults. Don’t open their mail. Don’t expect them to be at every family event.

Remember, their schedule is their own now. By all means, invite them. But if they decide not to come, let it go and respect their decision.

There are no winners in the ‘blame game’.

Parents, don’t blame yourself or your child if they are having trouble launching. This will only increase stress and pressure and will ultimately damage the relationship.

Keep in mind that the economy has hit this generation hard. School tuition is at an all-time high, and there are fewer jobs available that pay a ‘living wage’.

Remind yourselves that having them at home as they transition into full adulthood can be a huge blessing for everyone.

After all, you have another adult in the home to ease your workload. They should help with laundry, cooking, etc.  In exchange, they have an affordable option to paying full rent, utilities, groceries and so on. Everybody wins!

Everyone’s been promoted!

Parents,  recognize that the time for raising your children has passed. You are no longer the manager of their lives, you are now a consultant. You don’t get a ‘vote’ or ‘veto  power’ in their decisions any more. However, you can, with their permission, offer advice.

That being said, this is your home. You are, in a very real sense, the landlord. Therefore, it’s both reasonable and understandable that you might have a few “property rules”. Rules such as no drugs, tobacco, smoking, or overnight guests on the property.

Be very clear about these. Write them down. You might even require a signature, just as any landlord would expect them to sign a lease and agreement.

Put down the spoon and slowly step away.

This is a toughie for some, but if your adult kids can do it for themselves, don’t do it for them. It might get a bit messy. And yes, these ‘new adults’ will make some mistakes. But they’re learning.

Yes, you might be able to do it more efficiently, but that’s not the goal. Remember? The goal here is their independence. So, let go of that spoon and let them learn to do it for themselves.

Often, we parents pour all of our time and energy into raising the children to the neglect of other relationships. And when the kids are gone, we’re not sure what to do with ourselves. 

Have you asked yourself if you are truly ready for your child to leave home? Be honest. If you’re not ready, admit it. Own it. Take hold of the realization that your role must change if your child is ever going to reach true adulthood.

Photo: Paul Scott

Yes, they will make messes. No, they don’t know how to do it all yet. But you’ve got to let go of that spoon.

Let them learn and develop the skills they need to make it on their own.

Smile, sweetie!

Take a picture and enjoy this new, exciting stage in their development. Then think about the future and imagine all of the wonderful new possibilities.

Picture you and your spouse getting to know each other all over again. Imagine meeting friends for lunch and not having to rush home because it’s someone else’s turn to prepare supper.

Think about what you’ll do to relax when it’s their turn to clean or do the shopping. Live your life. Enjoy your newfound freedom. And allow your adult children to do the same.


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