Parentcreep

by Stacey

There have been a bunch of news articles lately with a common theme that, for lack of a better word, I’ll call parentcreep. That is, stories about young adults who still depend on their parents for everything from emotional support and advice to negotiating with teachers about grades and employers about salaries. Something about this doesn’t seem right.

Last week, the NY Times ran a story called Mommy is Truly Dearest about the close relationships between young women and their mothers. “Today, it is not unusual for unmarried middle-class women in their 20s or 30s to share with their mothers the diary-worthy details of their lives, plan weekly outings with them and call the Mommy Batphone when they need backup,” the article states.

Sounds great. But when I read about the people in the article and what they actually do, my nose began to wrinkle.

Karen Bauer, 36, of Englewood, N.J., and her mother have spent every Saturday afternoon for 14 years having lunch and shopping. “I won’t give that up for anything,” said Ms. Bauer, an executive assistant. “I’ve turned down jobs because they wanted me to work on Saturday.”

Huh? She turned down jobs for this ritual? Would I want my kid turning down a job so she could hang out with me? I don’t think so.

Wendy Spero, 32, took the analogy further, likening the relationship to that of husband and wife: so long, significant other; hello, significant mother.

“I was on the phone with her for hours and hours in school,” said Ms. Spero, a comedian and writer in Los Angeles. “She would literally stay on the phone with me for six hours. No friend would do that. Such insane unconditional support. With a friend, at no point did I feel I could reveal that much of my neuroses.”

It’s certainly good that she could open up to her mother, but it sounds like girlfriend needs a therapist. Six hours? And what does this say about the mother who may not want to spend SIX hours on the phone with her kid propping her up? Is she a bad mommy?

Experts say this trend is likely the result of the following: technology that makes it cheap and easy to stay in frequent contact, smaller families, and the tendency among young adults to prolong decisions about career, marriage, and kids. In addition, parents strive for a less-hierarchical relationship with their children and want to protect them from the anxieties of the real world.

But when is it time to let go, even a little? As much as it breaks my heart to think of my little ones leaving home, isn’t that what I’m supposed to be preparing them for?

Additionally, parent-child contact during the college years has dramatically increased. Professors say that many students these days stroll around campus talking into cellphones — and not to one another. It is not surprising, experts say, that some of that behavior spills over into the post-college years, including a reliance on parents to continue to pay the bills.

“There is a higher level of dependence,” said Vivian Gadsden, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

The article makes the point that positive communication between parents and kids is generally a good thing. And of course, I agree. But there is a point where it turns into coddling and that’s not so good.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace. Last May, Fortune magazine ran a story intended for employers looking to attract twenty-something workers. It is essentially a primer on Gen Y in the office.

When hiring, employers are advised to go straight for the parents. Take this example from Merrill Lynch, a Fortune 500 company that has taken to wooing parents when they want to seal the deal with a new recruit.

Subha Barry, global head of diversity, recalls running into a colleague having lunch with a potential summer recruit and someone she didn’t know. It turned out to be the boy’s mother.

“If somebody would have said to me, ‘You’re interviewing for a job somewhere, and you’re going to bring your mother to the closing, decision-making lunch,’ I would’ve said, ‘You’ve got to be crazy,'” she says, wagging a finger. “But I tell you, his mother was sold. And that boy will end up at Merrill next summer. I can guarantee that.”

Then, once junior’s on board companies are advised to work at keeping their new employee happy.

The key is the same one their parents have used their whole lives – loving, encouraging and rewarding them.

I don’t want to raise a kid who needs his boss to love, encourage, and reward him. I want my kid to look for role models out there in the world. And to know that his place as a young new employee is to contribute and work hard, not to expect to be parented by the people who are paying him.

In the article, Jason Dorsey, the author of “My Reality Check Bounced,” and an expert on Gen Y gives this advice: “No birthday should go uncelebrated, and the first day on the job should be unforgettable.”

Dorsey recalls the time the president of an engineering firm called a new employee’s mother and asked her to be there when her daughter started work Monday morning. “When her mom walked through the crowd, she was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ and her mom says to everyone, ‘I took her to kindergarten, and now I’m here for her first day of work,'” Dorsey says.

This is downright embarrassing. If my mother showed up on my first day of work, I would be mortified. No offense to my mom. I love her a lot. It’s just a little thing called boundaries.

And anyway, all this interference is not doing the kids any favors.

With this level of parental involvement, it’s a miracle that Gen Yers can do anything on their own. “It’s difficult to start making decisions when you haven’t been making decisions your whole life,” says Mitchell Marks, an organizational psychologist and president of consulting firm Joining Forces.

Other articles have noted that Gen Y workers expect a lot of praise, even if it’s just for showing up to work, and they become disillusioned if their more senior colleagues don’t put out.

If this is the end result of parenting that involves constant supervision and cheerleading maybe I want rethink some things. Like maybe it would be good for my kid to have to live with the consequences of a bad grade instead of me calling the teacher and badgering him or her to give him another chance. I’ve heard that this kind of thing goes on.

I want nothing more than to have a really loving and friendly relationship with my kids when they are adults. But when that time comes, I plan to treat them as such. Not as the children they are now. And I hope I will have helped them learn enough life lessons that they are prepared to deal with the big, bad world. I have confidence in my kids that they will.

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6 Comments

Filed under Gen Y, kids, life, mothers, parentcreep, parenting, work

6 responses to “Parentcreep

  1. dcslugabed

    I have such mixed-feelings on this so-called trend. On the one hand, I agree the examples described in these articles seem crazy and not especially healthy. On the other hand, I would love for my kids to be more in touch with me during college than I was with my mother. I was in touch with my mother once a week or so, but I also felt such a need for separation. While I can’t picture myself talking to pretty much anyone on the phone for six hours at a time, I would love it if my kids felt like including me more in their daily lives.

    The examples of wooing young recruits to jobs by involving their parents also sounds ridiculous, but presumably, these are high functioning people for the businesses to want to hire them so badly, so maybe there’s something to it–if these young people really couldn’t make decisions on their own, why would the firms want to hire them so badly? While this may or may not be a trend, I’m pretty sure there are still plenty of people out there who would not want their mothers to show up for their first day of work.

    Anyway, I have a colleague who is 28, and I am pretty much 100 percent positive he would not want his mother involved in his career negotiations. However, he may have insights into this trend, so I will ask him…

  2. Hi DCSlugabed,
    It’s certainly possible that the examples given in the two articles I mentioned were extremes – journalists look for the most extreme cases to make a point. It may be that in reality, moms and their daughters are more friendly than they used to be and it’s all good. I also wanted separation from my mom during those years and it wasn’t fun for either one of us. But I think common wisdom is that kids that age often rebel as a way of finding their own voice and individuality apart from their family. I’m not sure it’s an unhealthy thing, although I’m sure it’s painful for the parents.

  3. i find this story kind of fascinating as the mom of two young girls. when i think about my kids and their adulthood, i hope we are connected in a big and meaningful way. and at the same time, i hope i’ve given them the tools, skills and confidence to dive into the adventure of their own lives without consulting me at every turn. so a connected independence is the matrix i’m aiming for. for me, there’s something vampiric about old ladies telling their adult children how to live.

  4. dcslugabed

    I wonder if not telling your adult children how to live is actually key to developing a close friendship with them. In my limited experience with college freshmen girls, the girls who had parents with the most specific expections: for example, parents who absolutely expected their daughters to go into pre-med and become doctors, were the ones least likely to see their parents as friends, who were struggling much more for independence from their parents than girls who felt that their parents were supportive of whatever they chose to do. On the other hand, the girls who showed no signs of rebelling, who wrote of such fondness for and closeness to their mothers, did seem a little immature to me, less questioning in general of society. I think there’s a way in which rebelling against your parents also gives you the space to question other societal expectations in a very positive way. If you don’t rebel against your parents, are you less likely to work for change in the world?

  5. annamcclendon

    That’s a nice way to look at it: that rebellion is a natural part of becoming an adult; in questioning the authority of your parents you learn to listen to your own voice. I never thought of it like that when I was struggling against the rein of my mom. I was more focused on the battle of it all, and just getting through it with my values, boundaries, and self in tact. She was hurt by my change, and I was distraught that my pursuit of independence caused her such agony.
    With that said, we both learned from that time, and emerged independent yet bonded. I talk to my mom at least daily, love her immensely, but we respect eachother’s independence. We are not best friends, I do censor topics, as does she.
    However, I must admit, when she left the other day for a 2 week vacation with her boyfriend, I was sad, I will miss her… as my MOM.

  6. i think there is always a part of us that wants our mothers to remain our mommies. that is, in times of sickness or stress, it’s nice to be able to turn to that person in the world who comforted you when you were little and can still be very sympathetic. but then in the day-to-day course of adult life, i also think it’s good to work towards a more mature relationship that has friendship in it. more so than when we were kids and needed our moms to set limits and be responsible for our well-being.

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