Got Grit? It’s Down to You! 21 to 28 Years:
The grit stage is about BEING emancipated. During the previous teenage stage, the task was learning to become emancipated. However, this is the stage where the young adult handles their actions, making and grabbing a hold of opportunities. It is the stage where a person is required to COMMIT to themselves, their passion and their path. Kids who have done well in the previous three developmental stages are excited to get on with their life. Of course, there are some anxieties and apprehensions. But your young adult is well-prepared and ready to go… ADVENTURING!
A Brief Example:
Quite a few years ago, a young man, 21 years old, whom I had known since he was in grade school, contacted me and ask if he could stop by in order to give him a list of counselors. He was taking time-off from his university studies because things were just not working out. A few days later, when he stopped by I invited him to sit with me for a few moments in the backyard. I noted ethical boundaries in which I could not be his counselor but gave him a list of local folks that were well respected. However, over the course of about 30 minutes I presented the gardening metaphor, a basic outline of developmental tasks but focusing on the 21-28 grit time frame and then finished with a brief introduction of the essential life skills of breathing, mindfulness and decision making. He never shared what specific issues he was having. Nor did I want to hear about them because of ethical parameters. A few months later, I ran into his mother, who said, “I don’t know what you said to him, but whatever it was, he came home a completely different person.” She told me he had immediately gone and found a great summer internship position in a far-off city with a prestigious agency. He had made his own travel and housing arrangements and was now returning to the university as a senior to finish his degree.
Many years later, I re-connect and asked him if he remembered our brief chat in the backyard and what, if anything had happened? He gladly shared specifics, which are not important. But the situation was that he was overwhelmed. Things were spinning out of control and were beyond his ability to manage it all. He could feel soon it would all be crashing down. Well, he had the good sense to realize his situation and could step away from his university studies for a semester. He noted the gardening metaphor was helpful. It gave him a perspective, a framework and a process of how to fit the pieces together to make things work. He realized that there were some distractions that he needed to weed out; which he immediately attended to. Basically, he cleared out the weeds, made space for himself (the tomato plant) in order to have a better garden space in which to grow his dreams/life. He had finished his university studies, doing well, recently married and was excited about new career projects.
The Grit, The Adventure, The Grind:
There are a few unfinished items to complete during the grit stage of development. An influential item is the completion of the frontal lobe and executive functioning. Young women come into full executive capacity around age 25 or 26. For young men, the full capacity of their executive functioning is a bit later; around 27 or 28 years old. So how might this affect their life? During this time, young men and women are often finishing their education, entering the full-time job or career; and developing significant relationships. This is where they are required to take responsibility for paying their bills, being a responsible employee and taking care of all the other tasks of daily living, such as groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying bills and taking care of their toys. It is quite a task of setting up their household, negotiating relationships, activities and working. There is the excitement of career, learning and doing well at work. There is also playing hard, being adventurous, going out and staying up late at night.
This is a relatively new experience of being responsible for household, job, playtime, and relationships. For some, this can be an overwhelming and a rather anxious endeavor. For others, they pursue the opportunity of independent responsibility with gusto… but perhaps unaware of the full obligations that are required. There is a lot on the plate. The general recommendation is to take some time to grow into and find a balanced routine for these responsibilities and activities. You become established a new job or on your career path, enjoy playing hard and continue to learn about yourself and meet new people.
It is also the stage to enjoy and get comfortable with yourself, who you are, do your passions and commit to your path. The primary adventure is to finish finding out who you are. The underlying challenge (grit) is to establish your structure and routine that works for you. And now establishing a routine (grind) that works for you this is called discipline. It’s about finding a balance between work, play, relationships and time for yourself. It takes self-discipline, i.e., the responsibility for setting and following a routine that will allow you to accomplish your passions, goals and activities.
After you have taken some time to come to know yourself and are comfortable and established; then and only then, consider the added responsibility of navigating an intimate, significant relationship and/or children. You will need your full capacity of executive functioning and to have gotten some of your youthful Yaya’s, shenanigans and adventures out of the way before committing to a significant relationship and starting a family.
To the Young Women:
Give yourself a chance to have adventures, get established in a career, to live on your own, have supportive girlfriends, travel and develop your own interest and passions. This is your time! It is your time between leaving the family of your childhood and before starting your own family or getting deep into your career. It is very important to find and become yourself. However, it is also important to understand the following advice given to young men. Keep reading ladies!
To the Young Men:
Give yourself a chance to adventure, get established in a career, to live on your own, to hang out with the buds, develop your passions and interest and get your wild oats dealt with. Guys are a little delayed in the “executive functioning brain development area” and therefore in the relationship arena. Guys have a tendency toward testosterone driven adventures that borders on recklessness and endangering activities. Guys are just not ready to be responsible mates/husbands/dads before the age of 27-28 at the earliest; more realistically in their 30’s. Give yourself a chance and be adventurous and somewhat reckless… get your Ya Ya’s out before you choose to settle down with the responsibilities of being a mate and having a family. It is also important to understand the above advice to young women. Men, go back and re-read the above several times! Young women need the space to grow into themselves.
To the Young Couples: Mate Selection…
Both of you need each other to be a fully functioning and have a good idea of who you are before being able to develop a complementary partnership in your relationship. Let me repeat; having a solid foundation (or at least a good idea) of who you are, what are your values, meaning, purpose and dreams are critically important. If you don’t know you, how will you know if a potential mate is going to be a good fit?
You will have much to teach the other, support to give each other and will need to have the ability of forgiveness and tolerance of each other. Relationships are not a zero-sum game. Both of you will always invest more than your fair share. You will learn about being humble, grateful and gracious for the love and joys that you receive.
During this time, there are many opportunities for adventuring into relationships with a potentially significant other. However, it is important to figure out a partner in which you share interests, have similar values and life goals. Know that you will need to learn to work together, trust, complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and help the other grow and mature. The requirement to figure out the relationship or partnership, is you must have a good understanding of who you are! This grit stage is for you to become you; for you to do you. To really understand your wants, needs, passions and dreams. And what you can commit to becoming, to be and to share with each other.
Frequently, during emergency department consultations, I would meet with a young woman or a young man or even a couple in their 20’s. Things were just not working out how they imagined. Many times, this was because the timing was off. One or both of the person(s), the development was not quite finished. This stage is for a young adult to come into their own being. To be adventurous and establish themselves as a person within their society, community and culture. Very few individuals are truly ready to be responsible mates or partners, let alone become parents before their late 20’s. It is better to wait for until you are in your 30’s before making the commitment to being a lifelong mate or parent. I often pleaded that each person (in the couple) take some time for themselves. And if the couple’s relationship was already established, that they needed to allow and/or make space for the other to become themselves. Parents who were around during these consultations often nodded their heads and had personal stories of how their life might have been different if they had waited until their 30’s before becoming married and/or having babies.
Mate Selection: Tip
Besides the above information about having similar values, goals and dreams. In the 14-21 year discussion, there was the tip about spending with the parents of your potential mate. It is a simple concept that we base our treatment of our significant other based on what we saw how our parents treated each other. If you want to get an idea of how you will be treated, spend some time with your potential mate’s parents and family. Yes, there are movies made about this; comedies and tragedies. Do the movie… spend more time than just a holiday weekend. Is this a tribe that you wish to join… will they let you in? How do they handle stress and challenges? How does your mate act in the family, with the sibling/pecking order and such? It is an opportunity to foretell your potential future.
Your young adult still need their parents. It’s still lending an empathetic ear and they might ask you for some advice. What! My kid is asking for a bit of help or advice. It often involves specific issues of how to handle a situation at work, a relationship or how to do a brake job on their car, fix a leaky faucet, prepare a tax return, lease application for an apartment, health/life insurance, investment, buying a car or house, etc. Perhaps note from your experience as in the earlier stages, in a calm and measured manner. Maybe to give additional financial advice on debt, investments, mortgages, etc. It’s still a guidance and mentoring; with asking good questions and an empathic ear.
Basically, the sequence is:
1. Observe and listen. Create space for genuine interaction. But listen without judgement or agenda. Listen for the underlying feelings and dynamics or “why is this happening?”
2. Validate and confirm what they are feeling so that you have a correct understanding of their experience.
3. Perhaps offer a glimpse of your similar experiences. And/or share ideas or thoughts of things for them to consider… but frame it as a question. I.e., What do you think about____ (what, why, how), or have you considered____, or how do you feel about that? AND then listen to their responses (again without judgement).
4. Then ask them, “what do you think/feel you want to do?” Or what are you going to do? What have you learned? What are your thoughts about _____? What is your plan? And again, listen to their response and listen to the dynamics; are they acting or reacting out of…? (fear, anxiety, thoughtfulness). Does their plan make sense or is doable?
5. Depending on what you hear and what they note in #4 above, they may lack in some area; we all have blind spots. So you might ask a follow up question to address the blind spot; of “have you considered_____.”
Be reassuring, remind them they are smart, that they have done well in the past and they are still learning. Remember, you are their rock; you have more experience and skills. They are asking to tap into some of your experience and skills. Parents, you are passing along experience and skills they need… but your kid still wants to do it themselves.
Parents realize this is the time for separation, for flying from the nest to their big adventure. Your kid may be thousands of miles away or just a few blocks away. But they are fully involved with their life. But this doesn’t mean that there is a loss of connection. It is just now that the connection is more on their terms instead of your terms of being their parent. So, parents, this brings you the opportunity to pick up some of your long-forgotten dreams and passions; you now have the time, space and energy to do them. Your parenting is largely done, and you can focus on you and perhaps your relationship with your mate/significant other. It is a change but similarly it provides the opportunity for your next adventure. What is it going to be?
During the 20’s this is the time for a young adult to establish themselves; to become adept at navigating their social, vocational and recreational relationships and environment. This is really the first time they are on their own as an individual. They learn to interact and integrate into their chosen community. This is where they become known in their community. What kind of reputation they establish with their employer, friends and potential significant other? When they were a teenager, there were allowances made because of your immaturity. However, now that you are an adult, your reputation or image within your community becomes more accountable. This is the stage where your decisions and actions lead you in a direction during your 30’s and 40’s. Therefore, it is important to give yourself the opportunity to find out who you truly are, your passions and what your path is to become. Only you can do this; only you can do you. It is your responsibility, integrity and your sovereignty. You might blame others or note it was because of your past or your family environment/experience. But now it is your opportunity, decision and responsibility to change and go beyond the limits of your past experiences, mistakes and your childhood environment. You now can do something different. The 7-year developmental spectrum continues into old age. The rest is your adventure… I will not spoil it for you.
In my MH counseling/consulting, education and being a father of three kids who are now adults and doing much better than I did at their age. The first 28 years are the critical foundation and window that, if accomplished well; will weather all kinds of challenges. It’s their responsibility to recognize, grab and actualize opportunities to change. This foundation will lead them through a life that is full of adventure, passions and will be more than your wildest imaginations. Parents and young adults you now have a map, knowledge, skills and strategy for raising a great kid and becoming a fully functioning young adult. It is up to your intent, intuition, imagination and execution; whether as a parent or young adult. You get to decide what values, ethics, morals and cultural accouterments to encourage, i.e., what kinds of toppings are on your family pizza.
A Big Secret:
The big secret is, the past does not matter much, except from the standpoint of learning or gaining the wisdom from the experience. If you have learned what you need; forget the past, the pain and forgive the rest. Perhaps you had a bumpy childhood and things could have been better. But know this: What matters more, is where you are going, not where you’ve been. However, what matters the most is what can you do today? The secret is to COMMIT, to BE, TODAY and FOCUS on what you can DO today! And this will change each of your tomorrows.
The big picture: Teach them to read, to learn, to be curious and to use their agency. Love inspires, motivates and creates life. And fear is the corrective feedback that has provided learning opportunities. Fear motivates us to remember to “wake-up… this has happened before, you know this… and let’s try something different and use a bit of self-discipline.” Teach them about allowing and flowing with change. Therefore, they become couragous and fearless; able to abide in the gap/space where the opportunities for change happens. Teach them the gardening metaphor. It provides the framework and the process of strategic change that is both intuitive and predictable. Help them find opportunities to become rooted with meaning and purpose in their life. Essentially, you have rooted them in love that inspires a well lived life. They have experienced that “change happens” and have learned they can audaciously abide in a whirlwind because they are centered, grounded and know that it is just a storm. They are prepared and the storm will pass. You have given them the ability to navigate cycles of growth. Have provided them with an environment where they can grow from an acorn into a wonderful oak tree.
Parents, to leave you with a few more thoughts. It is important for both you as parents and for your kids to develop their personal compass points. These compass points will provide reference to orient yourself and/or kid when things become confusing or when there is a whirlwind. I encourage you to make the time and space for yourself and for your kids. These compass points help guide the day to day and moment to moment living. Of course, I cannot tell you what your compass points should be; that is for you to decide and your children to discover.
However, I will share my four compass points and how they came to be. The first compass point is to remember to breathe. Breathing is THE basic life affirming skill. Merely take a few deep breaths to create a space to center, to ground and do a quick survey or analysis of the situation. A few breaths allows you the space to figure out a strategic response for whatever’s going on. Initially, I discovered this as a rebellious teenager getting into trouble. I quickly discovered that merely reacting rarely worked well. As a crisis mental health counselor/evaluator, taking a moment to breathe and look at the situation was invaluable place in which to develop a strategy. And third being a father was being like a crisis mental health consultant trying to figure out what the hell was going on and what to do. When you don’t know what to do, sometimes doing nothing until you figure out what to do is the best option. So in the meantime, BREATHE!
The second compass point is integrity. For me, integrity means this is what I’m willing to stand up for, sign my name to and in my professional career to testify in court hearings. At a basic level, it is what I determine myself to be and how I view myself and my actions. And ultimately it’s what I choose my reality is to be.
The third compass point is compassion. Compassion means if I were in my kids’ shoes, is this how I would want to be treated? Thus, in many situations for myself I would rather be told the straight-up truth (your parental opinion, expectations and bottom line) but in a respectful and gentle manner. Meaning, it does not do me any good to be comforted, coddled or sugar-coated. I would rather have the honest feedback and opinions because that is something I can learn from and work with.
The fourth compass point is gracefulness. In my career as a crisis mental health consultant and likewise as a parent, you have a lot of power and influence. The question is, how are you going to use this power and influence? Are you going to go bareknuckle, a velvet covered hammer, candy and sweets or something else? Gracefulness is having the mindfulness to watch and recognize opportunities to help your child (and others) on their chosen path in quiet, patient and subtle manner. Gracefulness is the execution of breathing/mindfulness, integrity and compassion.
During college, I lived in a cooperative household for a few years. One of the house mates was an internationally recognized body-work healer/teacher. She was the embodiment of gracefulness and introduced the idea that it was more gentle, easier and more effective to work with people in a graceful manner. This is because there is less resistance. However, one had to have patience, be mindful and recognize when the client became open. And when this opening appeared, you can subtly and gently affect a change. Subsequently, in my career and with my kids I could see the freight train coming full speed and plowing into the train station. One option is to be Superman and go out get in front of the train and try to stop it. After trying this many times and failing on all accounts; I had to figure out something else. Eventually, I re-discovered gracefulness. It is taking a few breaths, being mindful of what was going on, surveying the situation, having the patience to wait for openings (and in preventive manner, to go way out on the tracks, way before the train even came close to the train station). Going out and meeting the train; making some slight adjustments where there was little or no resistance and then taking the opportunity to make some gentle adjustments or point out subtle options that may not have been considered or even aware of. Gracefulness is often so subtle that they do not recognize that anything had happened, but they feel different, a space has opened up for a subtle change. This is strategic prevention.
Here comes the freight train full blast toward the station. Go out ten miles and slow the train down just a tad by taking a few deep breaths together. Then notice a switch to change the tracks and therefore the direction of the freight train. By merely moving a tiny lever, the train goes off in a different direction and we avoided the enormous crash. Gracefulness operates at a level beyond power and ego. Gracefulness is the ability to expand our awareness, be mindful of the options that are available and then have the patience to wait for an appropriate opening to switch the tracks.
This handbook is an attempt to make available the ideas of being a graceful parent. It is the stuff I wish I would have known as a kid, parent and consultant. And therefore humbly present. I hope that your adventures in parenting will be some of the most enjoyable experiences of your life and for your children. And subsequently, your children having had the experience of your parenting, will then pass it along to another generation.
Despite my best efforts to avoid presenting my biases, values, etc., they are present. My perspective is biased from being a rebellious orphan, a father and a mental health crisis consultant of many years. I encourage you to seek views from others. Especially pay attention to mothers/grandmothers/women and other professionals for a more balanced perspective. Each of my kids presented different situations and challenges. The two boys differed from my daughter. And their interactions and relationships were different between their mother and myself. Realize this handbook is a brief look at parenting and child raising. There are a myriad of insights, perspectives and approaches for your consideration. This is a meager attempt to pass along some thoughts and concepts that I found useful in my experience as a mental health crisis consultant and as a father. I hope you find a nugget or two that is valuable in your parenting adventure. In a nutshell, I’ve tried to present a brief, simple and practical outline of a framework, strategy and process. Along with some insight into understanding the environment, the dynamics, and a range of factors to help your adventure of raising a happy, confident and competent child who will grow into a great young adult.
The intention of this handbook is to present information for your consideration regardless of your family structure and whether your child is female or male. Whether you are a single parent, a traditional two-parent family or some other arrangement. I encourage you to raise your children being mindful of your values, morals, ethics, culture and situation.
My sincere wish for you and your child is every blessing. If you are so inclined, please share, recommend and refer this to others. I would deeply appreciate and also value any feedback, comments or critiques/reviews. Thank You!
8/7/2022: Updated 3/26/2023