The Road to Adulthood

My almost twenty-four-year-old daughter forwarded an article from The Guardian, along with a simple note…”See, Mom, it’s not my fault.

In the piece entitled “We millennials lack a roadmap to adulthood,” Zach Stafford explains and rationalizes why today’s twenty-somethings are not achieving the “five pillars of ‘adulthood’” – namely: graduating from college, finding a career, getting married, having children, and buying a home. He talks about the impact the bad economy has had on finding jobs; the self-focused nature of this demographic due to social media; anxiety and other emotional inhibitors to success; and a general delay in reaching maturity. He then tries to justify it all by saying, “Due to this new stage of exploration, our deadline for getting our acts together is now around 30 or later, and not earlier, like in prior decades. And with longer life expectancies, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are taking our time growing up, since we now have so much more life to live.”

Uh, huh. I have to laugh. While elements of Zach’s opinion may have merit, he omitted one important thing. It’s today’s forms of parenting that have caused this phenomenon, not the notion that previous generations reached maturity sooner. (Although my parents WERE old and settled down before they turned thirty!)

When my siblings and I were younger, our parents made it clear that they weren’t our friends. They didn’t tiptoe around and worry about our egos or self-esteem. They didn’t care what our friends were doing and didn’t worry about whether or not we were part of the “in” crowd. They made us eat whatever they put on our plates (no sushi back then); whenever it was served. They didn’t encourage us to “use our words” to explain how we were feeling. They didn’t negotiate with us as a means to urge appropriate behavior. They never imagined time-outs as a form of discipline. Nope. One immediate, swift smack or a clear, “I mean business” shout or a threat of the belt and that was that. They didn’t coddle or give too many options. The roadmap of life was clearly laid out.

And, guess what. Somehow, all four of us managed to survive and stand on our own two feet after college. (As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that any one of us ever even contemplated returning home after college to save up our pennies.) Three of us were married by the age of twenty-two, and the fourth by twenty-eight. We all had at least one child before we turned thirty. We established careers (and even changed them a few times) without much anxiety or fuss. And, we all managed to put roofs over our heads. For the most part, I think it’s safe to say that staying the course didn’t hurt us and — while we might have done a few things differently if we got a “do-over” — we don’t seem to have many regrets.

But how have we parented our own kids? Differently. (My mother says she would like to come back – i.e. be reborn – as one of my kids.) Now, while I don’t believe I was a “helicopter parent” or overly engaged in my children’s every breath, I do acknowledge that they lacked very little by way of educational, travel, social, and material opportunities. It also is true that my husband and I were – and remain – very interested and invested in their trials, tribulations, and accomplishments. One of us is always on-hand and available to supply advice, marshal resources, or facilitate networking. We all are part of the same team.

I think an interesting by-product of the ways in which my husband and I parented, however, is that we actually are the ones who have encouraged our kids to take their time (e.g. “don’t rush to get married or have kids”). Maybe as a reaction to our own upbringing and the paths we chose, we want our kids to explore what life has to offer; to try new things; to find careers that they will find to be fulfilling; and to enjoy living. Marriage is hard. Raising good kids is harder. Finding a successful long term career that is fufilling takes time. Why rush it all?

Our door is open if the kids want to live at home for a while to save some money while they dabble in a new career. We urge them to rent apartments, instead of buying homes that may not appreciate. We even are okay with subsidizing their lifestyles a bit until they finish graduate school programs or internships or a few years of entry-level jobs. Bottom line: if my kids are delaying “adulthood,” it’s because we’ve allowed it. Pure and simple.

So, to my sweet daughter I say, “You’re right. It’s not your fault. It’s Dad’s and mine. Enjoy the ride!” But we are cutting you off on your 30th birthday.

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