for release Friday September 5, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Editor's Note: Part 1 of a three-part series on Parenting Young Adults. What If They Mess Up?
I have three daughters, ages 17, 20 and 22. The youngest is a senior in high school, the middle child moved into her own apartment this summer while working and returning to college this fall, and the oldest graduated from college and came back to "our" nest for this summer while looking for a permanent job elsewhere this fall. So it was interesting to have two kids at home, the older one following more ďadult" household guidelines with her own car, and the youngest one on typical "high school" rules. So while we have experienced a variety of situations in parenting our young adults, our knowledge is very limited. This column is not directly about them. As you can imagine, writing about one's own children at this age is a little different than writing about them when they were preschool or even elementary school age. Yet the emotions and issues that come up are pretty universal. So I will mix in our experiences with the experiences of others to protect their privacy and ours. I'll tackle issues related to parenting young adults in the next three columns. When I've written about this topic before I dealt maybe with some softer issues like making sure you've taught your young adults to go to the doctor by themselves, or wise grocery shopping. But even the soft issues can be tough emotionally; they serve as markers of time and passage, and of cutting the apron strings. I have a theory that mothers and fathers today worry more about all this than parents of earlier generations. I don't remember my mom and dad struggling much philosophically with the young adult years. They had tough issues to deal with, but I don't remember them grieving the empty nest.
Our generation maybe has more of this "angst" and hand wringing and wanting to "do it right." This generation had husband and wife very involved as parents. Father especially was probably a much more involved father than his father ever was. Do parents today have different expectations for their continued role as parents than did their parents? Because they have been perhaps more involved all along, is it harder for today's parents when kids begin to leave the nest?
I quickly surveyed participants at a seminar and 35 out of 57 responding felt that the issues today are somewhat different than for their parents. An additional nine felt that the issues were very different. Regarding whether they think mothers respond differently than fathers, 37 respondents thought the issues were different between men and women, and 12 thought they were very different. (About 37 women and 18 men completed the survey, 49 married and 5 single, and all were active church families of a particular denomination.)
I've become aware that this issue of kids leaving home, how they'll do, and how we feel about it, forms a very difficult time in parenting. In the seminar I mentioned above, I noted several persons with tears in their eyes. It is one thing when you have to worry about children making a mess in their diaper or of their room; it is quite another when you fear desperately that they are about to make a mess of their lives.
One older gentleman spoke up in the seminar about his son who had messed up his life; he ended up in prison. But the son did his time, learned his lessons and now is a fine father and pastor, himself. But there were a lot of years when this man could only see the mess that his son had made of his life. The father felt like a failure himself. Young adults are a very important issue for churches and congregations. Young adults are often totally neglected in programming. There is often no special religious education class for them; they are expected to assimilate with older folks. Some young adults want to be neglected, want to do their own thing, and don't go to religious education or church anyway. Frequently they are not treated as adults; they are still "children of the church." One example is so simple a thing as sending a piece of communication to "all adults of the church," and forgetting to include the now grown young people.
It is also important to provide adequate support for parents during these years. Parents may feel uncertain or embarrassed sharing their trials and questions, and don't want younger parents to feel disillusioned or turned off. But there is much to be learned from others in a group: from older generations, who've been through it, survived and can tell stories of triumph and mucking their way through, and from others, who are parenting their own young adult children.
We'll look at some specific tough issues in parenting young adults in the next two columns.
What do you think? What are your experiences raising young adults? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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