How do you parent a thirty-two year old son who acts like he is fifteen? More and more parents are being faced with this concern. Traditionally, adolescence lasted until the later teens, maybe early twenties. Now many health professionals are suggesting that adolescence is lasting until the early thirties.
Why the shift? Traditionally, children went to elementary school, high school, college, then went out on their own and eventually got married. For better or for worse those life patterns are changing. A growing number of high school coeds are on the five-year high school plan, so they don't go off to college right away.
If your son or daughter goes off to college right after high school, he or she may be on the five-year plan for a four-year degree. Many students go away to school. They live on campus, have a meal plan and laundry service. Their parents send them a monthly allowance. Thus, they never have to worry about paying bills or managing any real money. Everything, for the most part, is managed for them.
College is not just a career training ground, but also a social adventure. Too often students end up on the five-year plan for a four-year degree because their social adventure gets out of hand.
In an effort to be supportive, many parents keep paying the bills without their children being held accountable for some of their expensive social choices. Too often there are no consequences for their recklessness. When that recklessness is repetitive and goes un-addressed, that is potentially dangerous.
Adolescence is further extended by the fact that many entry level professional positions are demanding a master's degree. Graduate school education is costly and competitive. A growing number of undergraduates are being drawn into staying on at their respective college or university to finish their first master's degree.
So, before our son or daughter is out on his or her own, he or she could realistically be in his or her late twenties. When they finally graduate and come home with two degrees and no job, they have the challenge of marketing themselves.
Becoming employed in our highly competitive society is, at best, a struggle, depending on one's field of education. In addition to employment, you now have to contend with college loan repayment schedules, your own health insurance, car payments, car insurance payments, a cell phone bill, personal needs and we have not even talked about rent and living on one's own. This newly liberated graduate student is just beginning to manage a checkbook and all of the headaches that go along with it.
To make life easier for your adult son or daughter, you say they can live at home for free, as long as they respect the house and you as parents. (Unfortunately, that means different things to different people.)
You have not lived together for long periods of time (beyond summer breaks) in years. It becomes clear a few weeks after your adult child settles in that this is not going to be a positive adventure. The typical things re-emerge from early adolescence like being sloppy, insensitive and not helpful around the house. You pray that the "new tenant" won't be staying too long.
Unfortunately, the weeks are now moving into months and no real career employment is emerging. You keep stressing to him or her "take anything, even McDonald's" so that he or she has some kind of income to meet his or her basic expenses.
It becomes a real catch twenty-two. You want your adult son or daughter to be responsible, but he or she does not have a job yet so you keep covering his or her expenses. He or she only seems to work enough to cover partying expenses. And the cycle continues.
When you confront this irresponsible lifestyle, your child becomes very defensive. He or she falls back on the old teenage tool of pitting parents against one another. As the Dad, you are calling your thirty-two year old son or daughter to accountability. You are getting on him or her for being selfish and self-serving. He or she then cries to your wife that you are being too harsh and that you don't understand. More often than not your wife is manipulated into taking your adult child's side and defending him or her.
That dynamic causes increasing tension between you and your spouse. Your son or daughter is so effective that you do back off, until he or she ticks you off again.
Your parental dilemma is that you want your child to leave your home the right way. You want the home of their youth to be a resource and place for your child to always be able to return to.
However, you never thought after a four year undergraduate degree and a master's degree that your child at age thirty-two would still be living at home like a sixteen year old.
What do you do to protect yourself and your teenager from evolving into that mess? As parents, we need to realize that all of life is a learning experience. When you go away to school, you should not be exempt from being socially, morally and ethically responsible. College is not summer camp. Maybe at times we make it too easy, all in the name of giving our children a life opportunity that maybe we did not have.
Going away to school is a great opportunity on a variety of levels. What expectations do we have of our children? What kind of grade point average do you expect them to maintain? If they don't meet those expectations, what are the consequences?
It is important to hold our children accountable, even if it means extending or detouring their higher education. We do our children a disservice when we do not hold them accountable.
At thirty-two, our sons and daughters should be self-sufficient and capable of living on their own. If they are not, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions and hopefully, we are not enabling them to be dysfunctional.