Young Adult Decisions: Why Do We Call Them Mistakes?

Kestrel, Eli, Ariel
Kestrel, Eli, Ariel

Recently I was involved in a conversation about adult children. I mentioned that I was getting better at letting them make decisions without interfering.

And another acquaintance chimed in, “yep, you just have to let them make their own mistakes.”

Ow! I thought. Why do we say that? Why do we assume that young adults are making mistakes? Why can’t they just be making decisions? Making choices for themselves?

Whether we approve or not, what are we doing when we don’t trust our children’s decision-making process?

I remember being a young adult myself and being afraid to make decisions. I was sure I was going to screw things up. My growing up was pretty controlled and I was always being told when my choices were “wrong.” I certainly didn’t trust myself to head in the right direction. Consequently, I made a lot of impulsive decisions, the circumstances of which did not produce what society would label success. Instead they produced two divorces, several moves, multiple job changes, and three children that I was raising alone. The refrain rang in my ears constantly, “Another dumb mistake.”

But looking at where I’m at right now, I can’t say any of those decisions were mistakes. They got me where I am today, doing what I am doing with people who are awesome! In my opinion, we all get in tune with what’s best for us eventually.

I think when we try to control our young adult children’s decisions, we are sending them a message that they aren’t capable of knowing what they want. I think we are also undermining their process of self-discovery. We don’t teach them to trust themselves; we teach them instead to second guess their desires and perhaps be overly cautious about their choices. We confuse them, at best.

Grand Tetons
Grand Tetons

If our decisions are a large part of revealing who we are and the essence of our purpose, how can it help to judge the choices others make. It might not be the choice I would make, but how could I know what will be best for them in the long run?

I don’t want my children to be afraid of choosing (or changing their minds). I want them to see life as a crucible, where what feels right and good is distilled based on their experience, not a rigid set of rules to live by – because that isn’t how life is.

We know now that for as many people who live on the Earth, there are that many right ways to live and none of us can say what is best for someone else. When it comes to our adult children, of course we care, but really loving them might mean holding back our judgments and instead saying, I love you and trust you and I’m here for you when you need me.

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