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.