It's easy to establish parental authority with small children who rely on their parents for basic care. The role of a parent becomes less defined when the child in question is actually a young adult. Parenting a 20-year-old woman who is just beginning to find her place in the world can be daunting, but if you treat your daughter with respect, set boundaries and show plenty of love and compassion, you and your daughter should enjoy a healthy relationship.
Living with Young Adult Children
Parenting a 20-year-old daughter is especially complicated if you live under the same roof. With rising post-secondary tuition costs and difficult job markets, it is increasingly common for young adults to live with their parents well into their mid-20s. If your daughter is still living with you, treat her as an adult, but make it clear that she has to follow certain ground rules. Even though she is technically an adult, she is still under 21 and must follow any applicable laws pertaining to alcohol use, gambling or other prohibited activities. Tell her what you are comfortable with and ask her to respect your wishes if she wants to stay in the house. Also set clear expectations about how she needs to contribute to the household, either by paying a small amount of rent or helping with household chores.
Dealing with Conflict
At 20 your daughter is an adult, but she may still carry some of the attitudes or angst that she experienced as a teenager. Many young adults still engage in fights with their parents, so be prepared for conflict, especially if you question any of her life decisions. While you still have the instinct to protect her, sometimes you'll need to step back and offer support rather than criticism. Rather than forbidding her to do certain things or insisting that she follow a certain career or academic path, try to engage her in adult conversations and help guide her to make smart decisions for herself.
Helping with Struggles
Inevitably, most 20-year-old women go through a certain amount of strife. Whether your daughter is going through relationship problems, feeling lost in college, having trouble finding a job or struggling with other problems, you will need to be there for support. Help her to set goals and devise a realistic plan to deal with her troubles. If her problems are financial and you are able to help, set out clear expectations on what you expect in terms of repayment. If her struggles continue, try not be judgmental. Treat your daughter with compassion and let her know that you love her even if you are not always able to solve her problems or bail her out financially.
If you feel like your daughter is using you as a crutch and is failing to take responsibility for her life, set some clear boundaries. Let her know that your love is unconditional and that your door is always open, but that as she grows to be an adult your relationship will change. Also keep in mind that 20 is a relatively young age and your daughter has likely not made a complete transition into adulthood, especially if she is still in college. Do not make your daughter feel like you would abandon her if she needs your help, but the sooner you define her responsibilities, the sooner she will branch out on her own and thrive as an adult.