Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Long and Winding Road to Adulthood
I read all the parenting books when my kids were young, until I found my own voice and style of dealing with their constant needs, demands and squabbles. I checked a book or two when they were teenagers and I was spent, looking for magic but finding solace in the phrase “this too shall pass.” But there are no books on how to handle young adult children, and I remember being mystified by their ongoing needs, demands and squabbles. I grew up at a time when kids moved out around 18 and came home for holidays and visits. That’s what I did.

These days? Not so much. I looked at my kids on their 18th birthday with pride but also wonder at how incomplete they still were, wet clay that still hadn’t made it to the kiln. None of them had held more than a summer job, and a few of those were lost to immature behavior. Only three had their driver’s license, only one had significant money in the bank. None of them had been in more than one relationship (if that), and only one could cook meals.

So was I the slacker? I tried, I swear, but my kids were not-at-all-ready-for-prime-time adults at that age.

Robin Marantz Henig website
When have they been truly grown up and ready for independence? 24. Ish. 

The first article I read that captured my reality was 2010’s “What is it with twentysomethings?” in the New York Times Magazine. I carried that article around with me for days, pulling it out and pointing, saying "See? This is what I mean." All my friends' kids were younger, though, and they looked at me like I was deranged, which was becoming true. I was 46 years old and had my kids young--at my mother's advice--so that I could "enjoy" my middle age.But unless helping my twentysomethings navigate the world counted as enjoyment, I was out of luck. My kids were 23, 21, 20, 20, 17, 16, 14 and 9 and I felt as deep and thick with parental responsibilities as I had ten years earlier.

More so, even, because my 20-year-old daughter had a 9-month-old baby and was back in college. My husband and I promised five more years of support for her to finish school, get a good job and move out,which felt realistic. Also endless, because full-time parenting is a ball pit, fun for a while but then just tasks to be picked up (or smacked with) one or two or three at at time, all day and night long, no matter whether you're at work or in bed or in a dentist's chair. If you're not replaying an argument, you're texting about car use, or frustrated over walking into a kitchen messed-up by adult children who should know better.

Seth Saith Blog 
Except they don't feel like adults. They feel like really big teenagers, and that's where the NYT article started.  Developmental psychologists noting the trend and call it "extended adolescence," (Why Millenials aren't growing up) or "pre-adulthood" (As America changes, manhood does too) or "delayed adulthood" (The case for delayed adulthood) or "trial independence" (Supporting older adolescents in hard economic times) and cite driving economic and sociological factors you can read about in these articles. Legal issues have been raised ("NYT Emerging Adult article begs legal questions") and partially answered, for example by raising the age for adult criminal charges in my state from 16 to 18. Neuroscience has found reasons why kids naturally mature in their mid-20's. We may have been pushing too hard for a late-teen "adulthood" in the past out of economic or military necessity but kids that age make a lot of mistakes. We know this. Thus the raised age for drinking.

Connie to the Wonnie blog
Whomever you want to disdain or blame, the reality is that over the last couple of decades,since I was their age, the point at which kids move out, get full-time jobs with benefits, get married and have kids has crept up by at least five years. and left kids emotionally, financially and physically semi-dependent on parents until their mid-20's. Which isn't fun from either side, but it's not a reason to panic either. Kids these days do mature, just at an overall slower rate.

Once I realized that, I relaxed. It's a challenge to stop making your kids' dental cleaning appointments if they live in your house and are still on your insurance, or to make them grocery shop or cook for the household when they do a half-as-good job, but Mark and I have mostly figured out that balance of helping and heaving that gets our kids out the door and ready for the world by 24. Ish.

Now that half of my kids are that age, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, we're still helping with rent here and there. Yes, we buy groceries for the son in grad school, and lend a car to one daughter so she can get back and forth to work. We help them find jobs. I walk my granddaughter to the bus stop every morning, and help my freshman-in-college with grammar in her papers. My husband periodically confiscates debit cards to enforce saving and doles out spending money from the kids' own accounts. Life has a sharp learning curve between 18-24, and it's nice to have adults there to smooth out the edges. Necessary, even.

Which is why my adopted kids are lucky they're not still in foster care. If they were, they'd age-out at 18 and be totally, brutally, incomplete and alone.

CNN article on risks to children aging out of foster care
This isn't to bash state child welfare systems. I've proudly worked for one for many years, and received assistance from another in raising our special needs kids. I'm also not sure what the answer would be in terms of supporting kids beyond the age of 18. There are programs in most states to pay for college for kids who've aged out of foster care, and to assist in finding an apartment. Grants for furniture, and Young Adult Services that help with mental health care and job training.

But if you are unfortunate enough to lose your parents, or have your parents lose you when you're a child, and then fortunate enough to be placed in a foster home where you feel safe and supported, that unfairly ends at 18, when you're supposed to be grown up.

Except you're not, If anything, you're less prepared for adult responsibilities than those who live with their parents. In foster care you have fewer natural supports, fewer role models, fewer safety nets. More problems. More needs. The biggest of which is that you need more time to grow up and successfully start your own life, like everyone else your age.

Today is Blog Action Day with a focus on injustice, and my goal is to raise awareness of the the Jim
Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative to extend foster care to the age of 21, along with continued permanency planning to keep kids in foster care connected to families throughout their adulthood,or even to continue adoption efforts through agencies like Wendy's Wonderful Kids and You Gotta Believe.

Because if there were a way to make kids independent these days by age 18, I would have found it.

And today it's to be a successful and independent adult before your mid-20's, even with family.

But especially without.

Love, Lisa

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