About a year ago, I started getting calls from parents seeking divorce information for their adult children. At first I didn't think much about their inquiries. Then, I realized I was not interacting with a normal, concerned parent. Instead, I was witnessing a dreaded twosome -- the boundary-less, overbearing helicopter parents and their notorious, coddled adult trophy children.
Trophy children, in case you don't know, are a subgroup of young people (now ages 11 to 30 years old) who were raised with constant praise (deserving or not) in order to avoid damaging their self-esteem. Making matters worse, they were not given the opportunities to learn how to manage life's problems. Their parents did that for them. While this created a childhood utopia, as the children approached adulthood, they may have encountered significant problems because the real world was nothing like the culture in their homes.
A helicopter parent is someone who pays close attention to their child's experiences and problems (aka hovering), whether their children need them or not. This micromanagement, unfortunately, defeats the parent's loving goal of helping their children succeed in life because it prevents the development of two important skills for adulthood: the ability to be independent problem solvers and learning the consequences of their behaviors.
My frustration with this unfamiliar type of clientele led me to a book that promised a solution, The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace by Ron Alsop.
I soaked up every word and change my approach instantly. I learned how to reframe what I perceived as weak traits and utilize them as strengths that benefited mediation. Whether you are a mediator or an attorney, you may consider using the tips below in the divorce process:
Work with the decision maker: Enlist the parents to help make a smooth transition by giving them current, legal information. This way, when their adult kids ask for input about child support, custody, division of assets and debt, it will be based on correct information. This helps tremendously when the trophies negotiate with the other spouse.
Use praise. Divorce requires people to think of the needs of the children, the other parent and of themselves. This is a challenge for the self-focused trophy child. To help, encourage the helicopter parents to praise their children when they show even the slightest bit of movement toward of thinking about someone else's needs. Being successful in mediation requires flexibility in order to come to a settlement that both spouses can live with.
Utilize social networking. Most trophy children believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong. To help trophies gain a new perspective on sensitive issues, it can be very helpful to have them turn to their social networks online. For instance, if the wife thinks she is the only one who can care for the kids, you might have her post a question on Facebook: "Is it possible for a father to care for toddler children as well as a mother?" or "I want divorced, single parents to share the positives and negatives of having full custody." Their peers will help broaden the trophy's perspective and hopefully create more flexibility in mediation.
Help them find the payoff. Trophy children are motivated when they are able to see how they will benefit from a situation. In order to find the divorce payoffs, trophy kids should spend time brainstorming what they want when the divorce is final. Do they want 50 percent custody? If so, creating a plan of action to make that goal realistic might be needed. This may require the parent who wants that payoff to make adjustments in order to make it happen (i.e. cutting back on hours, relocating near the kids). Having a clear vision of payoffs will help them learn the steps necessary. At that point, the choice is up to them.
My view of adult trophy children and helicopter parents has radically changed over the last year. Today, I view them as I do any culture and respect who they are and how they interact with the world. All it took was getting educated about how to work with their traits to help them find the most productive way to divorce. You can do the same.