It’s a pattern I see everywhere among my friends: people with adult children who can’t let go and permit their grown kids to find their way. “It’s a terrible economy,” said one whose son moved out briefly and then moved back in. “I never had to face the kinds of challenges he does back when I was 23.”
So if that is the case and the world has changed so much, are these parents really doing their kids any favors by shielding them from the realities of their era? What will teach them more and grow them up faster: to stay at home, where Mom still stocks the fridge and dad is there to watch football games with them — or to learn to navigate life and live in Spartan conditions for a while?
It’s an adult decision to go to college and commit one’s self to getting a degree. By the same token, it’s an adult decision to decide not to finish college or perhaps not to go to school at all after throwing high school graduation caps in the air. All of those decisions affect the timing of full-fledged adulthood, when adult kids should be looking for ways to create their own livelihoods, do their own laundry, cook their own meals, pay their own rent and face their own paths in life.
Problem is, the baby boom generation has a tough time watching their kids struggle.
My daughter, an academic short-cutter who could make great grades without trying very hard, was one of those “different drummer” kids who had to make sense out of everything before she found her motivation to excel. If any adult set up arbitrary rules she saw no merit in following, conflicts would arise. And while she was a relative loner socially, it was brought to my attention that she had become some kind of unwitting trendsetter as well, evidenced by those who told me how much they admired her independence.
After a trial and error period when she fled to the Northwest at age 18, my only offpsring returned to my vicinity determined to find something she could do that did not include answering to anyone else. I encouraged this quest. That livelihood presented itself as she became more Internet savvy and today she is finishing her 20s having created her own thriving business.
But what if I had insisted she stay with me until she found a good-paying job? Would she have learned as much by coming home to a place she had always known and delaying taking her chances in the world? Or did she learn more by taking jobs, eliminating the types of work she could not fathom doing, learning something different from each one, and moving on, all the while renting rooms in houses with others who were also trying to find their way?
Watching that period happen in my now-grown daughter’s life was one of the most gut-wrenching things I had to do as a parent. Occasionally I mailed a check to help her make her rent or volunteered to help her move from place to place. Despite the lack of modern conveniences and pretty surroundings I would find, I had to repeatedly remind myself that my role was to support her — not to criticize her or pity her. We both somehow know that her moving in with me was not a viable option, as relieved as I might have been to know she was safe.
Of course, no one should judge what other parents do with their adult children, since no one knows anyone else’s individual situation. But I do think many parents sell their kids’ abilities to face the future short. I think they fail to give them credit for having the capacity to try, fail and recover from life’s challenges – something they will spend the rest of their lives doing.