Late in my 50s, I noticed that the parents in my peer group, those whose kids were born into the Millennial generation, were having a hard time launching their children into adulthood. I should say that the children—now in their 20s-- were having a tough time launching themselves, but the fact is many weren’t even trying. They were super-comfortable back in the plush bosom of the family, while their parents racked their brains trying to figure out a way to catapult them out into the world.
Well, some of the parents did. Others were reluctant to let go. Often, husbands and wives disagreed about the best way to handle their boomerang kids. Sometimes those disagreements became vehement.
Two psychologists noticed the same thing. Phyllis Goldberg, PhD and Rosemary Lichtman, PhD started seeing more patients who were dealing with the stresses associated with their adult children moving back home.
A shift had occurred: Today, fully one-third of those between the ages of 18 and 34 live with their parents, an all-time high and a situation that is wreaking havoc with the traditional models of family dynamics.
What’s going on?
“Some parents have had trouble setting limits,” Goldberg said, noting that these parents are used to being their child’s “helper” and fighting battles for them. This is borne out by the horror stories I hear in Silicon Valley about parents calling human resource departments to discuss their adult child’s performance review, a situation I never imagined.
When a child has a “helicopter mom” who hovers incessantly, he or she never learns to feel capable, themselves, Lichtman said.
“They depend on their parents’ help and never do become capable,” she said. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The economy is also a factor, the psychologists point out, with good jobs hard to come by in some parts of the country. Unemployed or underemployed Millenials can’t make ends meet and bounce back to their childhood homes long after parents expected the freedom of an empty nest.
Among my peers, some parents encourage their kids to spread their wings and fly out of the nest. But others seem to be using their boomerang kids as a substitute for facing their own relationship dynamics.
“I enjoy having Taryn home,” one of my divorced friends told me. “It’s been fun to have someone to do things with.” Taryn had her 26th birthday recently and her mom hasn’t had a relationship in four years.
Grown kids back in the home provide stimulation that might otherwise be missing and some parents become codependent with their kids. The result? No movement.
Is this good for the kids? Lichtman and Goldberg say an emphatic “No.”
“It’s important for parents to help redirect their children’s co-dependence and interdependence to independence,” Goldberg noted. “This has benefits for the parents, too, as they become free to find their own passions and follow their own dreams.”
Being a role model for your own kids is important, Lichtman said. “Model goal-setting, help them find resources so they can move forward themselves.”
“Move forward themselves” is the key phrase, because gaining confidence in their own abilities is an important part of growing up.
The two psychologists wrote an insightful book meant to help parents move their kids off the couch and into adult life. “Whose Couch Is it, Anyway? Moving Your Millennial” by Phyllis Goldberg and Rosemary Lichtman offers helpful coping strategies for families facing a grown child who has moved back home. Its case study approach makes it a quick read and a resource for parents facing these kids of challenges.
The book is available in several formats at www.fuzepublishing.com or at Amazon.com
The two also created HerMentorCenter.com, where they consult online, especially to women in the sandwich generation.
If you’re a parent facing your own challenges with an occupied couch, these are resources you might want to check out.
Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.