Sara Pauff: When to ask for help from your parents

December 5, 2011 

Can you help me?

I have a hard time deciding when to ask my parents that question. I’m an adult, so I want to be independent and figure out some things on my own, but not every problem can be solved by trial and error and a little Internet research. So when is it okay to ask for help?

Recently I came across an article on NPR about the book, “How to Raise Your Adult Children,” by comedy writer Gail Parent and psychotherapist Susan Ende. The book includes tips for parents helping their 20-something children navigate adulthood -- basically how and when to help to your children when they’re not really children anymore.

I see how the book could benefit parents who don’t understand why their 20-something children are taking so long to decide on a career path, putting off marriage and not buying property. We’re different generations, with different sets of priorities and that’s bound to cause some tension between parents and kids.

But I’d also like to see a companion book for 20-somethings: How to Be An Adult When You Still Feel Like A Child Sometimes.

If I wrote this book, prominent topics would include how to establish boundaries when you have to move back home (or in my case, move only an hour away), when to ask for your parents’ advice and when to say, “It’s okay, I can do it myself.”

When I first moved out on my own, I called my parents a lot for advice on everything: how to handle problems with my new apartment, problems at work, problems with my car; questions about health insurance, taxes and student loan bills and just advice about life in general. But after a while I realized that I didn’t need to pick up the phone every time I had a question or a problem. I could figure out the answers if I just thought about it for a while.

I still ask for advice on some things, because I think you never really stop taking advice from your parents. But there are some projects I like figuring out for myself, because I get certain thrill, like I’m racking up “adult” points, simply by accomplishing them. I put together my dining room set! I changed the brake lights in my car! I did my own taxes! 50 adult points!

I know it sounds ridiculous, but I really think it’s the small, insignificant milestones that make you feel like you’re getting somewhere, that make you realize you’re not a child anymore. This is the only reason I am determined to tackle my next project -- hanging curtains in my apartment -- by myself, even though I don’t own a drill or a level and have never hung curtains before. That’s okay. I can Google “how to hang curtains.” I can figure out where to get a drill, a level and probably some spackle, in case I make a mistake and drill too many holes in the wall. And if I really make a mess, I can always call my parents for help.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469 or For more commentary, read her 20-something blog

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