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Want to participate in a survey of parents of kids 21-35? I’m writing a new book about how and why the relationship between baby boomers and their adult children is different from the one we had with our own parents - specifically, how much more connected (and in what ways) we are to our kids and they to us than earlier generations were. I’m interested in the hows and whys, in what the best and worst things about it is, in whether your grown kids are “co-residing” with you and how long they’ve been back at home. If you’d like to take my survey, please drop me an email at janeadamsphd@gmail; if you’d like to be interviewed too, please mention it.
I've never been a Luddite, just a laggard, a latecomer rather than an early adapter to the wonders of the modern age. My first computer was a Kaypro and in the 25 years since then I've upgraded to newer models fewer times than Donald Trump changed wives.
The first time I was aware of cell phones they were called car phones, but I confused them with CB radios. The only person I knew who had one of those was my brother-in-law, and since I didn't want to sit in my car and talk to him, why bother? Besides, everyone I actually wanted to talk to could call my home phone (which is what we called it then), and leave a message on my answering service (which is what we had then ) if I didn’t pick up.
I finally got a cell phone when I began to live part of the year in New York, about the time the last working pay phone in Manhattan expired, in the late 90's. I've only had one replacement since then, and it's the second dumbest phone extant – all it does besides make and receive calls is do texting, but on a tiny qwerty keyboard it's not exactly a time-saver.
I neither envy nor admire the digiterati, whose fingers skip nimbly over their smart phones, conjuring up the nearest sushi bar, social messaging like crazy, checking in at 4-Square and talking to a sweet-voiced entity named after Tom Cruise's daughter (and what's up with THAT?) But I've been toying with the idea of upgrading to a slightly smarter cell phone since a friend's cell phone's built-in GPS helped us find our way when we were (truly) lost in the woods.
I've even been thinking about giving up my land line and depending solely on my cell phone to keep me connected to the world. Frankly, I haven't been satisfied with my home telephone service since there was only one company supplying it. But first I had to choose a phone and a plan, which I finally did.
My new phone has arrived, and my new plan, with enough bytes to keep me from getting lost, let me check my e-mail, and play Words With Friends (but only if Tina Fey will play with me) went "live" as soon as I activated it. In order to justify the expense of this vastly more superior (or at least newer, which in the tech world is usually the same thing) instrument, I have to let go of what I've come to think of as my life line – my land line. The prospect gives me a galloping case of separation anxiety. Irrational, I know –i’s not my identity I’m giving up, just that thing that always works, even when the power fails. It's not even the phone number I've had for three decades, the same number in two houses and four different apartments; within days those digits by which my oldest, nearest and dearest reach me were magically teleported to my smart new cell phone. I'm not sure yet whether the telemarketers, phone spammers or political phone bankers will come, too – that remains to be heard.
Giving up my land line is scary. What if I lose my cell phone? What if I forget to charge it and I miss the call I've been waiting for? What if someone really needs to reach me but can't find my number because it's not in the white pages any longer? What if there's some kind of terrorist attack that wipes out all the cell phone towers or networks? What if my phone falls into the wrong hands and anyone can do anything with it, especially all the things I don't know how to do yet and probably never will?
(I think now I really understand why advertisers aren't interested in selling to people my age.)
All parents worry about their kids, and that doesn't stop when they grow up. But the nature and duration of our worries has changed since we ourselves were kids...mostly we worry about whether they're happy. Our parents, children of the depression, cared more about our security than our personal contentment, but we've always worried more about their inner happiness than their external achievements. That's as true of the second wave of boomers who began raising their children in the mid-eighties and nineties as it is of us first wavers who did it in the seventies.
We worry about them almost as intensely as we did when they were younger; a recent University of Florida study reports that while the focus of adult children's worries overwhelmingly centers on their parents' health, parents have many diverse worries - their children's health, finances, relationship issues and problems in balancing work and family.
Most of us did our final stretch of growing up out of sight, if not mind, of our own parents. But today, even if we don't co-reside with our grown kids and/or their families (which a growing number of us do) we're much more involved with them than we were at the same age with our own parents, who were generally content with carefully edited reports of only what we wanted them to know about our lives. And current research as well as contemporary practice indicates that adult children want, need and welcome parental support– financial, logistical, and emotional. Kids between 20 and 35 are more dependent on their parents for a longer time than ever: a child's third decade will cost its parents a third of the total they spent on the first two. Yet as the MacArthur Foundation Network recently confirmed, the relationship between emerging adults and their parents remains uncharted territory; virtually nothing is known about how it's renegotiated as they become adults, especially during a longer, more complicated passage to maturity in a competitive, high-stakes world.
Today it's tough to know when the parenting years are over, because the meaning of both parent and adulthood has changed. The prevailing opinion is that the faltering economy and the growth of co-generational living is the reason, but the condition I call "Permanent Parenthood" © is much more multidetermined. We want honest, authentic, intimate relationships unlike those we had with our own parents (at least, we think we do). Technology – the availability of 24/7 electronic communication – has tightened the ties that bind us together. So have demographics – over half of first wave boomers were single parents during part or all of their kids' childhood, which changes and intensifies the parent/child dyad. The desire for inclusiveness – to be part of the dominant culture - is different from the wish to maintain our youth, and as we age and grow ever more socially invisible, it becomes even stronger. And for many of us, whether divorced or widowed, the most intimate relationship we have is with a grown child.
Worrying about our kids is partly habit, but at this stage of our lives it reflects our investment in the relationship. Both generations feel positively about their relationships when the other party worries about them and conveys their concerns, but when we express ours, we need to do so in a way that doesn't undermine their autonomy or make them feel that we perceive them as incapable of managing their own affairs. And the more often we repeat and discuss our fears with them, the more negatively they view the relationship.
One of the things I miss most since my mother died is the emotional sustenance I used to draw from the knowledge that someone, somewhere in the world, was thinking about me and wondering if I was okay. I used to tell her not to worry about me so much – after all, I was a grown up. And when my own grown-up kids tell me the same thing, I reply just the way she always did: "Why else do you think none of the things I worry about have happened to you?"
Postparenthood is the time between launching your kids and accepting not only the adults they've become but that they're adults, for better or worse, whether you like it and them or not – "the Lost Years," I call them, between when they should have grown up and when they actually do. When you still worry about them, maybe even with good reasons, but a) don't think, anymore,that you can do anything that will make a difference,or b) allow it to keep you awake all night. Whatever talk-show hosts, experts and others are calling your should-be- but-aren't-adult offspring, Postparenthood is your new life stage, conveniently tucked in between perimenopause, a midlife crisis and what were supposed to be your carefree, if not golden years.
Like all life stages Postparenthood has its own crises or passages, which are closer to Elizabeth Kubler Ross's denial to acceptance than to Erik Erikson's despair to integrity. In the course of writing three books about parents and their adult children "":http://www.amazon.com/books/ and coaching many baby boomers through the unexpected challenges of this period in their lives and muddling through it myself, I've learned that even the most frustrated parent can help an almost-adult by exercising the power and control over herself that she no longer has over her 20-something.
Even if you can pass up a bon-bon or a bargain without blinking or stick to a New Year's resolution past January, it's extremely difficult to control your thoughts, feelings, judgments, behavior and communication with grown kids, even when they're not in the immediate vicinity. It's even harder to change those things. But if you want to stay in your kids' lives in healthy, nurturing, positive ways, thus improving the odds they'll make the kind of choices that will bring them happiness,you have to.
I coach my clients through the Six R’s of Postparenting - Reframing, Reflecting, Releasing, Reality Checking, Reinforcing and Reimagining. They‘re cognitive strategies that anyone can learn and practice, and what they change isn’t just your behavior but your perspective. Because at this point in their and your lives, that’s all you can change. And it can help you survive the most worrisome, aggravating, frustrating, unexpected, disappointing or difficult times with an almost, not quite or even fully adult child without losing your mind, security, or sense of humor.
A cover story in the New York Timesmagazine asks "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" and answers with a reassuringly familiar phrase – It's just a stage they're going through. Emerging adulthood, the new nomenclature for the third decade of life, isn't merely an extended sojourn in the limbo between adolescence and adulthood, but its own life stage. Aided by brain researchers who've come to the unsurprising conclusion that neurological processes that improve cognition and impulse control continue well into the 20's, baby boom parents can relax – it's not our fault our grown kids are taking so much longer to get a life than we did, especially one that includes marriage, a career, and a home of their own.
Outlining the economic, cultural and sociological factors involved in this generation's delayed independence (while hesitantly raising the possibility that some parents may enable it for their own narcissistic reasons),the article offers a close-up look at a residential facility for the psychiatric treatment of post-adolescent ADD- addiction, depression, and dependence – as well as more severe mental illnesses common in this age group.The goal of treatment is variously described as watching the behavior unfold, helping meet the demands of imminent independence, helping empower agency, and coping with the challenges of this life stage without coddling or rescue. It costs $21,000 a month to encourage kids to separate from their parents – or, as they call it, teach them how to know when to stand alone and when to accept help.
The blogosphere is buzzing with commentary about this article. In summary, it seems that most of us watch the behavior unfold without paying experts to do it for us. We judge parents who can and do with envy or scorn according to our own life experience. We all know kids who've tripped and fallen, detoured or even dead-ended on the way to independence. Some of them are ours.:http://www.amazon.com/books/when-grown-kids-disappoint/ But most of us are holding our breath, wondering, worrying and hoping. It's our new life stage - Postparenthood.
As I read GETTING IN,Karen Stabiner's novel about parents and teenagers navigating senior year and the college transition I wasn't sure who I felt sorrier for; the families who invest their hopes,dreams, and success as parents in where their kids get in to college or the kids themselves, seniors at Crestview, a prestigious LA prep school, on whose slender shoulders rest the burden of fulfilling those expectations.
In a nod to merit, diversity and demographics, Crestview's entitled, Ivy-seeking preppies are supplemented by a couple of public school kids;one whose Harvard application essay tidily telegraphs the pressure she feels to live up to her immigrant parents' sacrifices,and another whose newly single mother can’t afford to keep her at Crestview for her senior year.
The kids themselves are less incisively drawn than the stereotyped (or maybe satirized; it's hard to tell) grown-ups. This may be intentional, since all teenagers are shape-shifters in search of an identity, anyway, but if not, Stabiner defines them for us the same way Ted, the head Crestview college counselor, does; by their SAT scores, extra curricular activities, a few mercifully brief excerpts from their essays, and his assessment of their chances of being accepted by the colleges of their (or their parents‘) dreams.
According to the author's bio, her own daughter left for college in 2007. Presumably Stabiner wrote this to keep her sanity during the preceding year. Or maybe writing was how she found it again later. Depending on what stage you're in of parenting a teenager through the transition to college you'll find GETTING IN a comedy, a tragedy, or both.