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Wendy Dennis Headshot

Parenting Challenges Lie Beyond Adolescence For Those With Boomerang Children

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FAILURE TO LAUNCH
alamy

I used to think that adolescence was the rough ride of parenthood and that once it was over I could cruise to the finish line. But the one thing they neglect to tell you going into this parenting gig is that it never ends. (Parenting is the only job from which you can never be fired. Even if you're a slacker, they keep promoting you.)

Still, as heartbreaking as adolescence is for a parent (it's no picnic to plummet overnight from She Who Must Be Adored to moronic irrelevancy), it's a breeze compared to what's coming. Teenagers merely hate you, which is bracing--at least in retrospect. But once kids are actually out in the big, badass world, they suddenly realize they're going to need you. They have this epiphany precisely when their parents are rebelling against twenty years of indentured servitude. It's nothing personal. We're just so happy for the chance to focus on our own needs for a change that we forget to notice theirs.

This is a stage when we start to lose things - our keys, our jobs, a long-term marriage, a parent who no longer knows who we are. Some days, simply managing to stand upright deserves applause. Our heads are in Tuscany, like in those Freedom 55 ads. But the moment we break for the door, our kids want back in.

Some never leave, some boomerang back, some are camped in the basement, failing to launch. Many hit the ground running without a backward glance. But the cost of a fully-loaded adult life is so steep at the moment, even kids who fly the nest may need their parents' help.

The upshot is that whether kids want us to provide shelter from the storm, buy them stuff, be their life coaches, or simply confirm their long-held view that we're completely useless in every way, even the most evolved of the species still need their parental units. Consequently, adolescence can drag on like a bad blind date these days. The only difference is that now they're the ones clamoring for attention, and we're the ones rolling our eyes.

Mothers are supposed to long to be needed, and indeed, many do. While it's impolitic to say so in the current climate, what with the Ministry of Motherhood issuing Taliban-esque decrees on attachment parenting, many mothers have other priorities--especially in the third act of their lives.

As a long-time proponent of detachment parenting, I'd flunk out as a young mother today. There's a reason tribal elders take teens into the woods for coming-of-age rituals. They intuitively understand that parents and adult children aren't meant to live together. Not only do kids need to separate. At a certain point, you want them to bugger off.

I mean this in the nicest possible way. As daughters go, I struck gold. No mom could possibly have had an easier run than I did. People stop me in the street to sing her praises. But no matter how much you love your kids, once the oxytocin starts to wane, so too can their charms--especially when the mere sight of you prompts them to regress to obnoxious adolescent ways. As a friend with three charming grown children observes, "All my kids are pissing me off these days."

The perverse irony in all this, of course, in that the generation that invented prolonged adolescence is now getting payback in spades. Who's laughing now? Our only defense is to retreat to our rooms, crank up the music, and hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. At least we know the strategy works.