Are Baby Boomers More Involved With Their Adult Kids?

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Sutro baths on the Pacific. photo by Robert Wickham

As a baby boomer who loves hanging out with my adult kids, I found this article in the Wall Street Journal called “Baby Boomers and the Art of Parenting Adult Kids” by Clare Ansberry to be right up my alley. “More involved with grown children than previous generations, many boomers struggle with letting them go” was the tag line to the story. Hmm. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Am I struggling to let my kids go? Or, do I simply like hanging out with them?

I had a trip to Nor Cal to hang out for a few days with my son and his girlfriend, and I treasured the trip. I don’t go up to San Francisco very often, mostly because it’s too far and it costs a lot. My son treated me to some great sightseeing including hiking up to Indian Rock to see the sunset, a trip to SF MOMA and the Sutro baths. We had some incredible meals including Belotti and a Chinese restaurant where I watched them roll out fresh noodles in the window called Shan Dong.

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The view from Indian Rock Park. photo by Robert Wickham

On my trip, I visited a swim team in Roseville, California Capital Aquatics, and talked about things swim parents need to know so they don’t make the same mistakes I did. That was a blast, and having my son take time off work and drive me there, gave me a boost of confidence. He seemed to enjoy what I had to say and was encouraging.

The following weekend, we were off to Arizona to spend the weekend with our daughter. We are exploring where we want to “downsize” to, which I wrote about yesterday. Presently, Arizona is at the top of our list. Plus, my daughter is there. Enough about me and my time hanging out with my kids. Here are some excerpts from the article about baby boomers and their adult kids:

Linda Hoskins would like to believe her adult son considers her a friend.

She’s a baby boomer and boomers tend to think they’re cooler than their own parents were, she says.

“Therefore why wouldn’t our kids want to hang out with us all the time. We’re their friends, right?” the 69-year-old executive director of the American Pie Council asks half-jokingly.

Her son sees it a little differently. “She’s my mom,” says Rick, 44. While very close—seeing each other several times a week until she recently moved and texting in between—his mom isn’t on the same level as his friends, nor would he want her to be.

Baby boomers are far more immersed with their own grown children than their parents were with them, says Karen Fingerman, a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas, Austin. She found that parents in the early 2000s offered about twice as much counsel and practical support (which could be anything from babysitting grandkids, running their grown kids’ errands or reviewing their résumés) as parents did in the 1980s. Such deep ties can make it hard to let kids go or accept that they will likely love their children more deeply than their kids can love them.

FAMILY MATTERS

Tips for boomer parents dealing with their adult kids

  • Don’t give unsolicited advice. If they want your opinion or need your help, they will ask.
  • Let your kids make mistakes. You did and learned from them.
  • Make a life of your own, so your children don’t feel guilty as they move on with their own life.
  • Manage your own expectations. The fewer expectations, the less likely you are going to be disappointed when they don’t call or visit as often as you would like.
  • Keep in touch in ways that are meaningful to them, whether that’s texting, FaceTime, or phone calls.
  • Set limits. If you can’t or don’t want to babysit all the time, let them know.

Boomers are also the first group of parents in the psychological era, when therapy became more commonplace and relationships were closely examined, says William Doherty, a professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. Their own parents were concerned about a child being safe, getting a job, and getting married. “They didn’t obsess about how they were feeling about you,” he says, adding that there are far more elements of friendship in boomers’ relationships with kids. “In many ways, that’s good. But then you have to deal with disappointment if kids are not as close as you would hope for.”

That’s what Linda Stroh found when she and a fellow author surveyed nearly 1,000 baby boomers for their book, “Getting Real about Getting Older.”

“My kids use language like ‘my family’ and ‘our family’ and they don’t mean us,” one man commented. “I’m at the mercy of their whims. We see them when they want, not when we want,” said another. “I miss my kids. I want to be around them more,” one woman said.

It’s not that grown kids don’t want to be part of a parent’s life, but that they are really busy, says Dr. Stroh, herself a boomer and mother of two children, who are very involved with their careers. “If I get a call, I’m thrilled and flattered,” says Dr. Stroh, who teaches human development at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Pittsburgh resident Art DeConciliis, 58, remembers when he and his wife, Mary Pat, got married. “It was sink or swim,” he says, their parents offering little help or support. Today, his three adult children, all married and living near their Pittsburgh home, frequently call for advice about work, buying a house and starting a family. He’s happy to offer it.

“My self-identity is very closely tied to my relationship with my children. I don’t think that was the case with my dad. His was wrapped up in his business,” he says. While he sometimes wonders if too much advice-seeking and advice-giving is a good thing, he also felt a little disappointed that his youngest daughter didn’t involve him when she and her husband bought a house.

That daughter, Samantha DeConciliis-Davin, 26, says that while close to her parents, she has always been independent. Buying a house without their input wasn’t a slight as much as it was an affirmation of their lifelong guidance. “I still depend on them for advice,” she says. They are the first ones she calls if something happens at work.

Kathy McCoy, a psychotherapist specializing in family dynamics, says some distance can be a good thing. Kids should refrain from telling their parents everything and parents should refrain from trying to direct their adult child or grandchild’s life. “That distance can lead to a new kind of closeness,” says Dr. McCoy, who wrote “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” about estrangement between parents and their adult children.

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My adult son at SF MOMA.

If you’re the parent of adult kids, do you think you’re struggling to let your kids go, or like me, do you like to spend time with them? 

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