Should you make a communication agreement with your adult child?

Mar 14 / Michelle Arseneault

Why you need a communication agreement

Let me set the scene…
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Cory and her parents are in the kitchen. Dad is making coffee while Mom is looking through the mail and Cory is glued to her phone.
Young person looking at her phone
Mom: “Cory. What are your plans for the day?”

Cory: (Not looking up from her phone) “Huh?”

Dad: “Cory. Pay attention to your mother.”

Cory: (Let’s out a loud sigh and puts her phone down to look at her mom) “What?”

Mom: “I asked you what you have planned for today.”

Cory: “I dunno. Probably watch some TV or something. Maybe I’ll go down to Sarah’s. Why?”

Mom: “Oh, no reason. (pause) I just thought maybe you could update your resumé or something.”

Cory: (Immediately gets angry) “Mom! It’s Saturday! I know I have to do that. We talked about it like 12 times last week! Quit nagging me!”
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A couple of things are likely happening here.

The mother has obviously brought this up several times and isn’t seeing any progress being made by her daughter. She is trying to give her daughter gentle nudges to help her move forward.

The daughter is aware of what she has to do but hasn’t set a deadline for herself or hasn’t expressed a deadline to her parents. She’s annoyed by her mother bringing it up all the time. She may feel like her mother doesn’t trust her to do it or she may be struggling to get it done and is putting it off so she doesn’t have to deal with it.

So, how can they fix it?
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How to create a communication plan

You can, and should, figure out how you want to communicate about any progress being made, or not made, by your adult child as they start to build their independence.

The purpose of a communication plan is to set rules and boundaries for all family members so that you can avoid nagging and fighting while still being allowed to discuss it.

You could:
  • Agree on a specific day of the week where you all sit down together for 20 minutes and discuss plans and progress, not being allowed to bring it up outside of this time. It can help to treat this time like a business meeting.
  • Agree to set deadlines on tasks so there’s no need to keep asking until the deadline arrives.
  • Agree on what can and cannot be discussed. For example, if your child hates when you bring up past failures as examples when talking about moving forward, you can make that a rule. You could agree that the discussion will end if that happens.
These are just some examples. As a family, you need to make a plan that works for you.

And then you need to put it in writing and sign it. And then figure out how to enforce it. My family created a “you broke the law” jar. Whenever a family member broke our agreement, they had to put $5.00 into the jar. You could use big housework jobs as a fine. Or come up with something that would work for you.

The point is, with this type of written agreement, everyone wins. Why not give it a try?
courses for families

Help your family learn to communicate with each other in a way that will strengthen your relationships.

Make living together a positive experience while your older teen or young adult child prepares for adulthood. Your family will work together to create a communication agreement for talking about current and future their plans.
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