Is Parenting Over When Kids Grow Up?

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My kids at ages 18 and 21.

How much support should parents give their kids — emotionally and financially — when they’re technically grown up? When I was young, in my early 20s, I was on my own and didn’t receive help financially or emotionally from mom or dad. In fact, I moved to California, got a job and was married within a couple years. Several months after college, I was basically on my own.

Today, parents are helping their kids by paying rent or giving monthly stipends until their kids are “on their feet.” My best friend from college explained to me, “The less you do for them, the faster they become independent.” While that may seem like contradictory advice, it’s really the truth. If you do too much for your young adults, the more dependent they become and the less likely they will grow and learn life lessons. I have two separate friends with daughter’s the same age as mine who said something like, “The Bank of Dad ends in six months after graduation.”

In a Wall Street Journal article called Parenting Isn’t Over When Kids Grow Up by Mark McConville, he explains the challenge of how to help your kids without undermining their independence.

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My daughter after she finished college.

Let’s say that you have recently launched your son or daughter toward college—or a job, or the armed services or perhaps graduate school. In any case, you are done with parenting, ready to collapse into an easy chair, pour yourself a drink and reflect on a job well done.

Then the phone call comes about an intolerable roommate or unfair professor, or hours cut back at work, or a request for a small loan for recording equipment or perhaps a donation for a three-month trek through Europe. And it suddenly dawns on you: You’re parenting in overtime.

How does this happen? Forget the myth that adulthood begins at age 18 or 21. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett has famously charted the developmental stage that he calls emerging adulthood—“a gradual transition from adolescence to full adulthood that stretches from age 18 to roughly age 30.” His research shows that only in their late 20s do most people feel like an adult “most of the time.” Young people must accomplish a host of big and small developmental tasks to help make the transition, from getting their own living quarters to changing the oil in their car. And one of the paradoxes of growing up is that true independence involves learning when and how to ask for help.

Meanwhile, for economic reasons, more emerging adults remain intimately connected to their parents than ever before. A recent U.S. Census Bureau study shows that over 30% of young adults ages 18-34 still live with their parents. A 2019 Pew Research survey found that the majority of these parents provided financial (60%) and emotional (77%) support within the past year.

So, like it or not, your job isn’t finished. But what should overtime parenting look like? Fortunately, there are some principles that can minimize your sense of powerlessness and frustration while maximizing your ability to support your transitioner’s growth.

One of the ideas I liked the most in the article was the rule that if you’re invested more than 49% of any task, financial support, etc., then in essence you own it. You’ve taken over and you’re doing more than you should. That’s a pretty good guideline to go by.

Follow the 49% rule. Most 20-somethings need emotional support and practical coaching as they face unfamiliar hurdles—filling out applications, opening bank accounts, interviewing for jobs. But however much initiative, energy, or emotional investment is required to accomplish a task, limit your contribution to 49%. Once you drift over 50%, you own it, and you’re likely to see your transitioner’s motivational investment diminish.

That is what happened with a 19-year-old client of mine the summer before beginning college. He was highly anxious about the transition, and this manifested as foot-dragging on a variety of mundane but necessary tasks: submitting medical forms, selecting courses, confirming dormitory placement and so on. His father, anxious about his son’s stalled initiative, stepped in to “help” by tracking due dates, completing forms and generally nagging his son to take care of business.

Unwittingly, his father had crossed the 49% line and taken ownership of the transition process. I said to the dad: “Think of yourself more as a consultant than a supervisor—ready with your wisdom and guidance but allowing your son space to wrestle with the key challenges of initiative and ownership.” He did, and in a few short weeks, the young man got his act together and headed off to a successful college experience.

Another important tip is to allow our children to learn from failure. If we get worked up over their failures or impending tasks and act like everything is a crisis, then we’ll probably jump in and take over. That doesn’t allow our kids to learn from mistakes and become competent adults. Life is a learning curve. I’m continually learning about how to improve — even with parenting my 20-something-year-olds. My kids should be allowed to learn at their own rate, too.

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Me at around the time I graduated college.

How do you help your adult kids and set limits so you don’t do too much?

It’s a puppy thing

Three years ago this week, my husband and I drove up to the high desert and adopted this adorable creature our daughter named Waffles. At the time, she was going through anxiety and we felt this puppy’s unconditional love and enjoyment would benefit her. Some questioned whether a college student could handle a pup, but we did our best to train him for a few months before she took him to school. We did our research and learned that pugs are the perfect “apartment dogs” because they sleep all day when their owners are gone at work or school. 

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Waffles, our 12-week old pug.

I think we bit off more than we can chew! We thought it would be nice for our daughter to have a companion in the form of an animal. She’s out of state in college and busy with academics plus D1 swimming, and we thought a puppy would bring a lot of joy and fun into her daily life.

She asked permission of her landlord, and even though her lease says “no pets,” he agreed to a small dog. We decided the puppy would be a present for Christmas.

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Waffles turns into a pancake when I try to walk him.

Our daughter wanted a pug and thinks they are so cute. They are. I’ll agree to that. We looked into suitable breeds, and besides the two negatives of snoring and shedding, pugs appear to be an easy going breed requiring very little care.

But the puppy thing. I’m on day five and I think puppy is winning the battle. It’s like having an infant again. I have to watch him constantly. He doesn’t sleep through the night, and when he’s crawling on his belly through the yard, I never know what is going to end up in his mouth. I knew we were in for trouble when we drove Waffles home for an hour and a half drive. He was squirming all the way, nipping and licking my neck and fingers. Finally, as we drove into town he fell asleep. That’s what my son would do in his car seat during long drives.

I’m crate training, potty training and my daily life suddenly got very busy and tiring. Why we think our daughter can handle this is beyond me. Of course, she does have youth on her side. And Waffles is so darn cute!

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Olive the cat is not sure about any of this. What did we do???

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I write about Waffles

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Teach your kids these 10 skills — before college

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

 

Should parents hire outside help to get their kids in college?

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When we weren’t worried about college admissions.

One thing we never did with our kids is hire someone to help with college admissions. My kids didn’t get much help from their high school counselor who had her hands full with who knows how many students. Probably at least 100. I didn’t know about outside counselors when my son applied to college and my daughter’s process was entirely different since she was being recruited as a swimmer. We assumed that our son could get in wherever he wanted with a packed resume of activities, valedictorian and near perfect SATs. Boy, were we wrong!

I first learned about college counselors when one of his friends from the swim team a couple years younger, hired a college counselor. She got lots of  valuable guidance. If I could turn back time, I’d consider hiring help, since we had no clue what we were doing. 

The question about whether families should hire outside help to get their kids into college comes up now because of the Varsity Blues scandal. Parents are going to jail for hiring an outside college counselor, who faked test scores and coordinated with athletic departments to get non-athletic kids accepted into schools. So far, 52 parents have been indicted and the trials are going on now.

There was an interesting article about how schools feel about families hiring outside help in the Wall Street Journal by Melissa Korn called Whose Advice Are You Taking? The Fight Over College Counseling at Elite High Schools.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the first application season since the cheating scandal, schools weigh how to exert control

At Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, families receive a 43-page handbook on college planning. Students meet with their counselors, known as deans, sophomore year to discuss course selection and extracurriculars. Spring of junior year, they begin college counseling meetings, bringing parents along to some. Summer before senior year, the school hosts college essay-writing workshops.

Private-school administrators hope it is enough to keep parents from looking to outside counselors for extra help.

“The hardest part of my job is convincing families to trust our process,” says Gloria Díaz Ventura, director of college counseling at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada, Calif. “Some parents need an insurance policy to make sure that they did everything possible to support their child.”

Tolerance for families hiring private college consultants has waned in the wake of the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal that led to charges against 52 people, says Emmi Harward, executive director of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, a group representing counselors at private schools. Independent counselor William “Rick” Singer confessed to helping clients cheat on college entrance exams and faking athletic credentials to secure teens spots at selective schools.

High-school counselors, many of whom have experience working in college admissions offices, carefully curate relationships with university gatekeepers and are concerned about teens submitting applications riddled with falsehoods, or at least embellishments, if they can’t maintain a close watch over the process. They say outside counselors can confuse students with conflicting or uninformed advice, and tend to be too aggressive in packaging students, even if they don’t go to illegal lengths like Mr. Singer.

“They’re urging transparency, if not outright banning the use of outside counsel, to the extent that’s even realistic,” Ms. Harward says.

The role school counselors play at elite private schools can be different from many large public schools, where counselors maintain a caseload that includes general academic advising, career guidance and psychological support. That leaves little time for helping finalize students’ college lists, plan campus visits, brainstorm essay ideas and polish prose, say school officials and families.

I don’t think it’s wrong to hire someone to help guide your family through the college application process. It’s overwhelming, and in a public school, chances are your child won’t get much help. We didn’t know basics like dream schools, reach, fall back, etc. We didn’t know that many great schools across the country even existed besides the major brands like Harvard, Yale and Stanford. Looking back, the whole process was stressful for me — and my son was devastated.

After the Varsity Blues scandal broke, it’s obvious that these parents went too far. We are adults and we need to be role models for our kids. The one parent in the scandal that really drives me nuts is the “parenting expert” who wrote two books on parenting — and then paid $50k to have someone else take the ACT test for her child! Read about her here. What was she thinking? In what world would you think that is okay?

Here’s one last thought from the article:

“These are the people who hired a batting coach and pitching coach when the kid was in Little League, why wouldn’t they do it for college too?” says Jim Jump, director of college counseling at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va., and a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

katWhat are your thoughts about hiring someone to help with college admissions?

5 Things to Know When Your Kids Leave for College

IMG_0609Five years ago, I went to orientation with my daughter at the University of Utah.  I had gone to college orientation with my son at UC Santa Barbara a few years earlier, I didn’t expect to learn much because I didn’t think orientation was that helpful the first time around. Looking back, I may not have been that open to the information they were sharing.

I spent two days in the pristine mountainside beauty of Salt Lake City with clear blue skies and intense sunshine. Parents attended most meetings without their kids, who were similarly engaged with topics angled for teenage consumption.

Having been to college orientation three years prior with my firstborn, I didn’t think I’d learn anything new. However, in “Supporting your College Student” presented by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development, I wished I’d heard her advice before I sent my first child to college.

“I think she’s met my son — the one who’s going to be a senior in college,” I whispered to a mom next to me. (He’s also the son who tried to give away the cat on FB.)

She answered, “No, I’m sure she’s talking about my oldest daughter!”

What did Dr. Ellingson have to say that we wished we heard the first time around?First…

Children go through changes. But, if it’s your first child going to college, or your last, you will be going through changes, too. We are in the process of changing our relationship from parent to child to adult to adult. We go through transitions, pushing them away and holding them close.

Second…
A student who works 10 to 15 hours on campus will do better in school than someone who works off campus, or doesn’t work at all. Students working on campus are making connections with the campus, student, and staff. They are completing their identity as a student first.

Students born from 1980 to 2000 are known as millennials. They don’t like to suffer —  they love nice things — and they don’t mind working for them. Unfortunately, this can interfere with their education. So, if they want spending money, suggest a job on campus.

IMG_8977 2Third…
Cell phones according to Dr. Ellingson, are “the world’s longest umbilical cords.” Some students call home 5, 6, 7 times a day. In our day, we waited in line for the phone down the hall on Sundays — when long distance was cheaper — and horror of all horrors — there wasn’t such a thing as a cell phone!

Don’t let your child’s crisis become your crisis. Let them problem solve. Ellingson’s example was a daughter who called her mom and said, “I flunked my midterm. The professor hates me…” After consoling her crying daughter, the mother called back later with more advice. The daughter was like, “Huh? What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.”

Fourth …
They are learning to become themselves. Making new friends. They will be grieving and letting go of high school friendships, but will build new and deeper ones. A main developmental issue is finding their identity. Their core stays the same, which has been developing over the past 18 years. But, how they express themselves changes.

They may try on new identities by copying new friends to see how it fits or feels. You may say to yourself, and hopefully not to your child, “Who the hell is this?” Then you meet their new friend, and say to yourself, “Oh, now I see who this is!”

Intellectually they are still developing. They see things differently than before. They love to debate. They will try out their debating skills, or how to express themselves by choosing opinions contrary to yours, even if it isn’t what they truly believe.

And Fifth…
Dr. Ellingson talked about independence: “Their first steps as a toddler are towards you. Every step after that is running away from you.”

They need to discover how to be on their own — and this is one of their fears. Delayed maturation is common. It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28. They will say to you “Leave me alone!” Then, “bail me out!” This is normal. The pendulum will swing back and forth.

Just remember to love them, guide them, but let them figure it out. The more we solve their problems, the more we delay their growth into independent, responsible adults.

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And one more thing…”GO, UTES!!!”


What advice do you have for parents of new college students?

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Are Kids Taking Longer to Grow Up?

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Senior prom–the kids got together in person.

Several articles published recently are referencing a study by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge. She studied millions of kids to come up with the fact that millennials are taking longer to grow up than previous generations. Twenge doesn’t make a judgment on whether that’s good or bad, she just states it as a fact.

In a talk I attended a few years ago for my daughter’s college, in one of the sessions led by an Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Psychologist Kari Ellingson said the same thing. She said when we were young, kids matured into adults at age 19, 20 and 21. Today, those numbers are delayed to 26, 27 and 28.

In an article from the New York Times, called “The curse of the helicopter parent” Twenge and her study are cited:

New York – Parents may still marvel at how fast their children grow up, but a new study finds that US teenagers are maturing more slowly than past generations.

In some ways, the trend appears positive: high school children today are less likely to be drinking or having sex compared with their counterparts in the 1980s and 1990s.

But they are also less likely to go on dates, have a part-time job or drive – traditional milestones along the path to adulthood.

So is that slower development “good” or “bad”? It may depend on how you look at it, the researchers say.

The findings, published online in the journal Child Development this week, are based on surveys done between 1976 and 2016.

Together, they involved more than 8 million US children in the 13-19 age group.

Over those years, the study found, teenagers gradually became less likely to try “adult” activities – including drinking, having sex, working, driving, dating and simply going out (with or without their parents).

By the 2010s, only 55% of high school seniors had ever worked for pay – versus roughly three-quarters of their counterparts in the late 1970s to the 1990s.

Similarly, only 63% had ever been on a date. That compared with 81% to 87% of high school seniors in the 1970s through 1990s.

In the San Diego Tribune, contact reporter Bradley J. Fikes wrote: “Teens are growing up more slowly — and they seem OK with it.”

Mid- to -late teens are delaying the classic milestones of adulthood, namely working, going out without their parents, driving, dating, having sex, and drinking alcohol, according to four decades of surveys reviewed for the study, led by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

Today’s 18-year-olds exhibit similar milestone behaviors as did 15-year-olds in the late 1970s, Twenge said. Moreover, they’re mostly doing this voluntarily — parents aren’t imposing this delayed independence.

The spread of smartphones, which allow teens to socialize from the safety of their homes, is part of the explanation, said Twenge. The author of “Generation Me,” she has released a new book on the generation born after 1995 called “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

When I look back on my teenage years compared to my kids, we had a whole lot more freedom. We were out all the time and our parents didn’t seem to care where we were. In fact, my parents were enjoying weekends on our boat or at the cabin and would leave my brother and me alone when we were teens. The same was true for a lot of my friends’ parents, as well. They didn’t keep track of us on a minute by minute basis. They also didn’t track us on “find my iPhone.” There weren’t any cell phones to call home and they just said to be home by a certain time.

I wonder how much influence our technology has today over our kids not growing up so fast? They aren’t getting together with friends to interact in person. They can do that from the comfort of their own bedrooms. Plus, they have all the entertainment they can consume, right on their iPhones. We helicopter parents keep a close eye on our kids and we know where they are at all times. By contrast, our parents told us to get outside and not come back until dinner. Between us and iPhones, our kids aren’t getting real-world experiences.

Everyone I knew growing up had some sort of part-time job in high school–even if it was working for their family’s business. I worked in my dad’s dental office and my brother bagged groceries at the local Safeway. Today, I know of very few kids with part-time jobs. My own son worked several jobs, but he was one of the few. He was an assistant lifeguard, then a coach for our team. He tutored in math and was paid to maintain a website. Very few of my kids’ friends had jobs after school. Teens today must not need to earn money because we are providing for all their needs and wants.

On the bright side, it’s good our kids aren’t running around at night unsupervised, drinking and having sex as teens. Also, they actually like hanging out with their parents!

 

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Hanging out together this summer.

Here’s a recent story I wrote that included psychologist Jean M. Twenge.

 

What are your thoughts about why kids are not growing up as fast as we did?

7 Thing I Miss About My Daughter

I wrote this when we dropped our daughter off at school. Now that she’s living in the adult world — I definitely still miss these things about her. She spent a few days at the beach with us last week (same beach pictured below when she was a kid) and she left me again. Funny, how that keeps happening! I guess we’re lucky for the few days together.

Kat at Carpinteria State Beach

Kat at Carpinteria State Beach

We took our daughter to college two weeks ago. She looks really happy in the photos posted on FB and Instagram. She’s made new friends, is enjoying her team and coaches -and likes her classes.

My life is busy with new and old projects. But, I notice a quiet, a sort of waiting sense, that I didn’t feel before. It’s the little things about her that I miss.

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Kat swimming

I miss her cracking my back. She could give me a hug, tell me to relax and say, “One, two..” and lift me up in the air before she said three. The result was cracking, popping relief.

I miss her making me laugh. Kat is funny. I love her little half smile when she knows she’s especially clever. And the crinkles around her eyes when she laughs out loud.

I miss her cleaning out my wallet and organizing it for me. She’d say, “Mom your purse is gateway hoarding.”

I miss her walking through the kitchen door after her morning workout asking me to make her eggs. I don’t have anyone to make eggs for right now — except my husband and I — and we rarely eat them.

I miss her cat Olive walking on the skinny end of her four poster bed while she watched Netflix on my laptop.

Baby Olive Bear

Baby Olive

I miss when she was very young and called yellow “lallo.”  And when we’d go to the beach and she’d strip naked as soon as her suit got wet. I used to bring a bag full of swimsuits for her.

Kat in a dry suit at the beach with big brother Robert.

Kat in a dry suit at the beach with big brother Robert.

I miss going to the pool and watching practice, chatting with the other swim parents. That was a luxury that I took for granted.

Yes, I miss her.

Kat making an entrance into the room.

Kat making an entrance into the room.

What do you miss most about your kids once they leave the nest?