An Old Dog Takes Liberties

Kudos to Stump, the Sussex spaniel who took “Best in Show” last night at the Westminster Kennel Club show.  Stump is ten years old, the oldest dog to have ever won the title.  In 2004, a health ailment almost caused his demise and his owner decided only last week to enter him in this year’s Westminster show.  I am thrilled for Stump and acknowledge that with advancing age comes a certain “je nais se quoi”,  an emotional maturity and an ample dose of wisdom.

I have come to rely on my age, experience and judgment in my daily observations.  One of my pet peeves in today’s world is the co-dependent relationship I have observed that exists between some parents and their adult children. It is not a healthy situation for both sides.  The numbers of independent children outweigh the dependent ones by a mile, so please do not construe the following to be a condemnation of an entire generation.  It is not.

The Cosby Show from twenty years ago was chock full of pearls of wisdom regarding the proper upbringing of children.  One episode clearly stayed in my mind.  Bill was having a discussion with his teenage son Theo about something or other that Theo wanted.  Theo said, “But Dad, we’re rich.”  Bill retorted, “No Theo, you are not rich. Your mother and I, who have worked hard for many years and continue to do so, are rich.”  I have observed that too many (in my book, one is too many) young adults pushing thirty remain living with their parents.  By “living” I mean a definite financial and usually, total, dependency of the child on the parent.  Recognizing that we are in unprecedented and dire financial times, I must say that this phenomenon existed in good times as well.  Oftentimes, this co-dependency can be found in financially well-off families.

This co-dependency needs to be examined.  I have observed fellow Boomers, when talking about their continued financial support of their adult children, use this practice as a measure of ego-gratification for themselves.  They are bragging about the support they give their offspring as if to say, “See?  Not only can I support my own lifestyle, but also I can support my kid’s lifestyle to guarantee them one that is equal to my standard of living.”  This is terrible parenting and a potentially harmful disservice to the kids involved.  When the parents of dependent adults use their largesse as bragging rights, an injustice is being done to those children. Personally, I become a bit embarrassed for these  parents  and can not fathom the basis for their self-satisfaction.  But hey, that’s just me.

Let us move on to the other side of this co-dependency: the young adults.  The key concept that is missing in this situation is self-respect.  Their priority is not to achieve a real independence from their families.  Instead the kids rather gladly sacrifice their reliance on themselves and thus, any iota of self-worth, for a dependence on their folks in order to maintain their parents’ standard of living.  This trade-off will not be productive for these young adults.

How can this symbiotic, misguided relationship be altered?  Three quasi-solutions, all grounded in more realistic expectations, come to mind.  First, the young adult must accept that any job opportunity probably will not be his “dream job.”  Maybe, if an individual is very lucky, his dream job will come along once in a lifetime.  Despite young people’s myriad college and post-graduate degrees, which came at a fantastic monetary price and with prestigious university names attached to them, this is not a guarantee of one’s perfect  job , especially in this economy.  This is called reality.  There must also exist an appreciation that entry- level positions, while not delivering immediate gratification of one’s job expectations,  are frequently the necessary gateway to higher levels of employment satisfaction.  Hours, benefits, wages and career betterment that do not live up to the young adult’s anticipations are not an excuse for him to decline the job.  After all, even a part time job would lessen the monthly out-of-pocket parental costs currently being offered to subsidize the child.  Underemployment is more advantageous than unemployment; something is certainly better than nothing.  Further, the excuse that the lesser job would prevent the individual from pursuing a better offer holds no sway with me.  The majority of people in this country have to work two and three jobs at a time just to keep their heads above water.  This young adult should consider his pursuit of better employment as his “second job.”

Secondly, the young adult might have to forgo living in a sexy, upscale metropolis.  He may have to look at different geographical sections of the country for employment opportunities.  His history of living where and in the same lifestyle of his parents might have to change direction.  That too, is called reality.

Lastly, in order to change the expectations and thus, the outcome, of both the enabling parents and the dependent child, consideration must be given to limits, specifically financial limits.  For example, any job is better than no job.  Period.  If the parents, while still living, choose to gift or transfer assets over to their children, it should be done in a responsible manner.  Contrary to expected thought, this should happen when the child is financially stable.  The child should have a reasonably long-term, steady employment history, plus a good record of sensible spending and saving habits.  A parent would have to be out of his mind to turn over a large sum of capital to an unemployed, generally depressed and possibly wasteful child without a track record of independent living.  Once again, just my opinion.

Also mandatory to alter expectations and outcomes is that the parents can not in one breath, set limits for the kids and then, in another breath, shower them regularly with abundant and topnotch -quality material goods and other accoutrements of an extravagant life.  Clearly this is sending the kids a mixed, conflicting message.  This strategy will almost guarantee the continued presence of the child as a permanent fixture in the parent’s home;  it is “intermittent reinforcement”, which in psychological jargon, is the hardest form of behavior to extinguish.  Just like the slot machine that keeps on paying out jackpots irregularly, the parents must not continue to provide indulgent “necessities” to their kids.  The kids, in true behaviorist responsive fashion, WILL stick around to wait for their jackpot, never mind that they do not know when or in what form it will hit.  That is precisely why they will hover.  It is like any drug or gambling habit, totally alluring and daring and stimulating, and downright intoxicating.

Forgive me if I have sounded preachy.  This is not a big issue worthy of national or worldly consequence.  I, however, react strongly to ANY situation that has to do with ANY child at ANY age being thwarted in his own development. It hurts me to watch a young person not actively engaged in shaping his own life because initially, he might have to give up some creature comforts.  These observations are just an instance of my taking liberty with my age, living experience and role as a Mom.  I mean no offense to anyone.  In no uncertain terms, most of the young adults I know in the same generation as my own children are shining examples of responsible, concerned, productive, independent individuals bursting with much-deserved self respect.

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One Response to “An Old Dog Takes Liberties”

  1. Christina Says:

    This is an interesting post that highlights a lot of important things to consider when parents have adult children living at home, or for families where adult children are being forced to move home now due to job loss.

    It’s key for everyone to remember that the adult children are still adults, and should be treated as such. Treating them like they are still teenagers makes the relationship unhealthy and makes it much more difficult for them to leave when the time is right.

    We provide some good information on how to set boundaries with your adult children in our book, which can be found at http://www.adultchildrenlivingathome. We even recommend parents sign a contract with their children to establish firm guidelines that will not become wishy-washy over time.

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