When I was a teenager, a rumor spread through our high school. It was said on a senior’s birthday he went home after school to find his belongings stacked in the driveway and house locks changed. His parents had threatened many times over the years that he’d be on his own at 18, even though his birthday was a few months before graduation.
The rumor was true.
This freshly minted adult moved in with my boyfriend’s family for a few weeks, then stayed with other families as he could. We lost track of him over the years but I’ve thought of him as my own kids moved out of the house on their uniquely necessary timetables.
In every culture around the world, closely connected families are the norm. Grandparents and older children help out with younger children. As young people grow up they move out at ages that vary not only according to tradition but also by the state of the economy and overall needs of their families. Ideally, adult children stay close — not always geographically but close in spirit, welcoming new members who arrive by love or by birth and, as years go by, helping the oldest members as their needs increase.
Yet today, closeness between adults and their parents is treated as a joke or regarded with disdain. Take just about any holiday movie made in the last 40 years (at least those not geared to young children). Invariably the plot is some variation on the stifling misery of “going back home.” Or consider pundits spewing toxic opinions meant to pit generations against one another. The takeaway? Adult kids and their parents reside in two separate worlds where real understanding cannot co-exist.
A survey of 2,263 young adults (ages 21 to 26) and their parents found 60 percent of today’s young adults get together with their parents at least once a week and 79 percent feel comfortable talking about emotional events. Nearly a third stay in contact on a daily basis. Karen Fingerman, professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, confirms that grown children do better when they are emotionally close to their parents, and believes today’s parent-offspring bonds are improving. She regards the “generation gap” of the 1960’s and 70’s as cultural oddity. “Most cultures have maintained closeness between parents and children,” Dr. Fingerman says. “In America, the middle 20th century was an anomaly — in some way the baby boomers are the odd ones.”
Although stereotypes persistently portray young adults who are close to their parents as less independent, studies show the opposite to be true. Researcher Dr. Irit Yanir conducted in-depth interviews with parents, young adults, and psychologists. She defined a close relationship between adult children and their parents as one in which there is regular communication and time regularly spent together, and in which adult children feel comfortable sharing thoughts and experiences with parents while still comfortably making their own decisions.
Dr. Yanir’s research concluded that young adults who have distant relationships with parents tend to be less independent into their late 20s. In contrast, young adults who have close relationships with their parents are more independent in their daily lives, more financially self-sufficient, more professionally secure, more likely to be involved in a stable intimate relationship, and felt more mature.
“The research found that following adolescence, the familial connection is an important factor in forming one’s identity and living an independent life,” Dr. Yanir explains. “It seems that not only can independence and closeness exist together, but they actually flourish together.”
I know it’s not possible or beneficial in all families, but let’s dispel stereotypes about friction between adults and their parents. Let’s laugh together more often too. Someday our grown kids will need some decent quips to share at our funerals.
“There’s nothing that makes you more insane than family. Or more happy. Or more exasperated. Or more secure.” ~Jim Butcher