Here's what Carol did last week for her son, who is 23 and moving out of her house to an apartment in another city. She paid the first month's rent and the security deposit; gathered 'extra" stuff from her kitchen to set up his kitchen; bought him a bathroom plunger ("He doesn't even know how much he'll need that"), curtain rods and curtains, a bed and new clothes ["He has to look like a grown up, not a college kid."].
Here's what she says her son, who graduated from college in June, did on his own: Got a job starting in September with a volunteer service agency. Found the 4-bedroom townhouse rental ("I wish I'd been there to help with that. It's too far from the place where he'll be working.") and found three roommates who will be working for the same volunteer agency as he is.
Here's what he didn't do this summer that his mother thought he should do: Get a summer job. Study and take the GREs in preparation for applying to graduate school. Contact the roommates to coordinate what items--kitchen supplies, furniture--they would bring. Contact the utility company and persuade them to drop the security deposit--since the new tenants would be doing volunteer work. Show some excitement and enthusiasm for the next phase of his life.
Here's what Carol had to say at lunch, a few hours after this much-loved eldest son drove off to start his new life: "I need a drink to celebrate. Thank God he's gone."
The relief came from no longer having to nag him--and from no longer having to shoulder the responsibility for getting him set up and ready to go to work at his first real [9-5] job. There was also a little bit of rage, too. "When I was his age, I moved to my own apartment and no one helped me. I had to take care of everything all by myself."
So, I ask her, what would have happened if her son had to manage the move all by himself?
"Oh he would have been fine," she tells me. "But I would have been a basket case."
Case closed on why we hover and helicopter our adult children--children who are old enough to make a few mistakes on their own.
But here's some perspective on what we're dealing with when we're nurturing a 20-something toward independence. According to a recent New York Times article by Robin Marantz Henig, "What Is It About 20-Somethings," the 20s can be viewed--and are viewed by a growing movement in psychology circles--as a distinct life stage called "emerging adulthood." This stage, says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, is marked by, among other things, the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy and fewer entry level jobs even after all that schooling. The emerging adulthood's psychological profile is marked by identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and "a sense of possibilities."
The piece, which explains how 'adolescence" came to be considered a stage of development and how 'emerging adulthood' is taking a similar path, is must-reading for anyone who is dealing with, has dealt with or is about to deal with a 20-something. Bottom line: Maybe they aren't ready to do what we did at their age.