I saw this caption in a recent New Yorker cartoon and thought that it captured the way that so many of today’s parents feel about their grown children. Have children become lazier? I don’t think so. When I was growing up, you didn’t have to go to college to get a decent job, buy a house, and raise a family. Now even with a college degree, you’re lucky to find a decent job in your field after college and, even then, it still may not pay enough to save up to buy a house and raise a family.
University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg and colleagues observe that the definition of adulthood, “traditionally defined as finishing school, landing a job with benefits, marrying and parenting,” has been extended by a decade. Using this standard, 65 percent of men reached adulthood by the age of 30 in 1960, while only 31 percent had by 2000. For women, 77 percent met the standard of adulthood by age 30 in 1960, but only 46 percent by the year 2000.
This shift has had a huge effect on parent/teen relations. For example, if children are remaining younger longer, then they may need to extend the kind of rebellious, shaming and devaluing behavior—long associated with the 13-year-old to 17-year-old set–into their mid-to-late twenties (if not later). Why? Because your adult child is still working on separating from you. It’s love, not hate, that causes her to mistreat you. Now, don’t you feel better?
The consolidation of identity, long the hallmark of successful adolescence also appears to be taking longer to achieve than in prior generations. In addition to economics, the current culture of parenting may prevent children from experiencing just enough hard knocks to train them in weathering the stormy transition from living at home to living independently. Contemporary perspectives of children as fragile may cause parents to be unable to do the type of “tough love” limit setting sometimes required to force a child out of the warm, though stifling comfort of the nest into the cold, but fresh air of an independent life. Teens who can’t leave home, or adult children, who return can create shaming dynamics for both themselves and for their parents.
Our current view of children as precious and fragile may cause us to advocate for them so aggressively and diligently that they view themselves as being, and therefore becoming, overly vulnerable to the inevitable slings and arrows of life. This is part of what psychoanalyst Carl Jung meant when he wrote ,“Neuroses are the avoidance of legitimate suffering.” Parents must learn how to empathize with the more difficult circumstances that face their young adult today, while at the same time avoid protecting them too much from those circumstances.
Dr. Coleman’s most recent book is titled, WHEN PARENTS HURT: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (HarperCollins). A frequent guest on the Today Show and NPR, he has also appeared on ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, the BBC, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, and NBC television. Dr. Coleman’s advice has been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Psychology Today, The London Times, and many other publications. He is a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families and has a private practice in San Francisco and Oakland, California. Sign up today for his FREE monthly ezine at www.drjoshuacoleman.com or whenparentshurt.com