When I got into Boston University as an undergrad I was thrilled. I realized that I was very lucky to get into a college with a great reputation and to be able to afford it, too. I studied very hard and ultimately landed on the Dean’s List in my senior year. By graduation, I had run out of money (I had credit card debt) and was desperately seeking a job. So, getting a job fast was pretty important.
I landed my first real job at Grossman’s Lumber Company, a predecessor to Lowe’s and Home Depot. While I didn’t stay there long, it helped me to pay off my credit cards and learn what I didn’t want in a career job. Eventually, I found my way back into finance but there was no gap year for me. I don’t think the term had been invented yet.
Today things are very different for young people. They are taking their time to finish college and settle into their first “real” job. Gap years, world travel and other diversions are just normal for many now. Marriage and having children is happening much later in life, too. These all seem to be delays in accepting the responsibilities of adulthood. For any parent of twenty-something’s today, this can be a very frustrating time.
Why is this happening with my kids?
We are living in different times than when we were in our twenties. When we were that age there were expectations to get your career job right out of college and to go on to get promoted, get an M.B.A. and get promoted again. Today expectations are different and each generation is shaped by the changing environment. According to Jim Burns in his book, “Doing Life With Your Adult Children”,1 there are six defining characteristics of today’s generation:
1. They are shaped by technology.
2. They expect everyone to get a blue ribbon.
3. They don’t live to work, they work to live.
4. They want a healthy marriage and family.
5. They consider tolerance an essential trait of a loving person.
6. They prioritize adventure seeking.
All of these factors are different than when I was in my twenties. This can be really hard to understand as a parent of adult children. We think we know best but, in fact, things are different now. As parents we have to adapt to our new role as “consultant” to our kids.2 We also have to accept them for who they are and what they choose to be. And they will make mistakes along the way. Of course, their parents NEVER made any mistakes.
What to do now?
Meet them on their territory
You don’t have to agree with them but you can explore their territory. While my computer gaming expertise is confined to PAC-MAN or SSN-21 Seawolf, my sons are native to online gaming. Every once in a while I will ask to join them in a game. The experience is somewhere between hilarious (as dad falls off a virtual cliff before drawing his sword) and annoying (“Dad, you are too slow!”). Yet, I have to believe that participating with them occasionally matters. It is acknowledging an important aspect of their world.
Become a student of their culture
I heard a lot of stories this summer including seeing a lot of pictures on Facebook of moms and daughters going to the Taylor Swift’s concert together. Fortunately for us, Taylor Swift does not rank high with our adult daughter. (I could NEVER imagine my mom going with me to see Billy Idol perform on Landsdowne Street in Boston. That would have been too weird.—Another example of how things are different today.) But you get the point, right? Understanding their music and interests is important and it can help build a good parent-adult child relationship.
Parent with A.W.E. (Affection, Warmth and Encouragement)
After graduating from college I lived in Boston for many years. In our family I was one of the few who lived in the big city. As such, I had stories of crimes committed steps from my apartment and other big city news that never set well with my mom. But she never criticized me for walking home late at night on dark streets. She trusted that I understood life in the big city and that I would not take unnecessary risks.
She was also always very non-judgmental. Maybe it was her faith that all people mean well and sometimes they make mistakes or have a bad day. She always seemed to be willing to forgive and forget. And, as age 30 came and went with no prospects for a steady girlfriend she always reminded me that: “The right girl is out there, you just haven’t met her yet.” Of course, she was right.
Parenting our young adult kids isn’t always easy (sorry to young parents who can’t wait for their kids to turn 18). And, it is often us—the parents—that have to change the most once our kids become young adults. Give yourself some time to adjust and learn. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.
If you have questions about Empty-Nesting and want to talk, give me a call. We’re here to help. You can schedule a quick call with me by clicking HERE.
Lyman H. Jackson
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· Investing as an Empty Nester https://planwithfps.com/blog/investing-as-an-empty-nester-whats-different
· Empty Nesters: When your adult kids come home https://planwithfps.com/blog/empty-nesters-when-your-adult-kids-come-home
· Empty Nesters: Making the most of it https://planwithfps.com/blog/empty-nesters-making-the-most-of-it
1Jim Burns, Doing Life With Your Adult Children, Keep your mouth shut & the welcome mat out, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 2019, pp. 51-70.
2That means we have to stop telling what to do and wait—sometimes painfully—for them to ask.
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