In this season of mortar boards tossed gleefully in the air, it's helpful for parents to remember that parenting isn't over when the college years end, when you write the last tuition check, or load four years of boxed up textbooks, extra-long sheets, and soccer cleats into the back of your Prius. As parents of 20-somethings, you may be idling uncertainly between Mother's and Father's Days, wondering where you belong, until you realize: you are not out of business yet.
It's become one of the ironies of 21st century life that just at the crossroads when emerging adults want to take a great leap forward toward independence, many are forced by circumstances to come home. Graduating without plans, unemployment, part-time work or poorly paid first jobs, and break-ups or emotional upheavals can all send 20-somethings back to their childhood bedrooms -- and mom and dad. Sit tight. Trial and error are the brushstrokes of the early to mid-twenties, and eventually, for nearly all, a way forward -- and a separate address -- do emerge.
True, these days your 20-somethings may reach their milestones a lot later than you did -- a four year degree may take five or six years; a college grad may wait four years to find a first job that lasts five years; and marriage and parenthood may arrive in the late, not early, twenties, or especially for those with college degrees, in the thirties. But despite what looks like rudderless floundering in a choppy sea, by age 30, most young people will be settling into their life paths and become more or less financially and romantically stable.
Meanwhile, creating a strong parent-child bond during the roller-coaster twenties requires some gracious etiquette, as you do the delicate dance between stepping back and staying connected. As your grown-up kid progresses through this turbulent but transformative decade, from launching to exploring to landing, emotional picket fences will become steadier, and the equilibrium between independence and connection more clearly established. For parents, this decade-long down-shift means learning to let go and graciously relinquish 18 years in the driver's seat. Holding too tight to the old parental reins will only cause strain, and may well backfire. Restraint is the elusive virtue required of parents, to keep from giving too much unsolicited advice or asking too many nosy questions, like the ones that follow:
Top 10 Things That Are Better Left Unsaid
10. How many resumes have you sent out?
9. Are you really wearing that to your job interview?
8. Did you hear that [name childhood best friend] just got into medical school?
7. Must you get that tattoo/piercing?
6. Have you gained weight?
5. Is that dinner -- six Cliff Bars and a Diet Coke?
4. What do you see in him/her?
3. When can I turn your old bedroom into a guestroom/office/meditation space?
2. Have you set a date for the wedding?
1. How long must we wait for a grandchild?
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D., Clark University professor of psychology, and Elizabeth Fishel, author of four nonfiction books about families, are the authors of the new book, Getting To 30: A Parent's Guide to the 20-Something Years.
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