I didn’t realize it till a few days ago. But now, I know. I’m not just the mother of a 25-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son. I’m the mother of two emerging adults. This explains a lot.
According to Peter Steinfels in The New York Times, experts now realize that today’s 20-somethings are delaying full-fledged adulthood (with its marriages, mortgages, career selections and — most dreaded of all — financial independence) till they’re in their 30s. In the meantime, they’re exploring, meeting people, trying out professions, going to school, traveling.
Behind every emerging adult, I have a sneaking suspicion, is an indulgent parent or two. Like me — the would-be tough-love mama who preached the virtues of how she and their father put themselves through graduate school and law school without a cent from their families, yak, yak, yak, and how poverty was really kind of fun and character-building, now that they look back on it and are finally able to afford a good meal now and then.
Yes, that would be the same mother who found herself blubbering with pride and generosity and blurting out, “We’ll pay for half your costs!” when Emerging Adult #1 was admitted to an excellent graduate school. (A fact that will not be lost on Emerging Adult #2, believe me, when the time is right.)
So, as usual, it’s probably the parents’ fault that this whole emerging-adulthood business seems to take so long. I have to say, though, that I enjoyed the blame-the-parents game a lot more when it was we Baby Boomers who were dumping the blame on our parents. Ever since our parents and their cohorts got heralded as The Greatest Generation, it’s been tough to blame them for anything. (I don’t think I have any nostalgia for youth; I just have nostalgia for a time in my life when it was Somebody Else’s fault.)
This also makes me realize that, sadly, nobody is ever going to call Baby Boomers the greatest generation. All we do is get reviled for being selfish, spoiled, fat, indulgent, bloated, spendthrifts, draft-dodgers, drug-addled hippies, whiners, whatever; and now, to boot, we’re getting old. When are we going to stop getting dumped on? My personal belief is that maybe we should start calling ourselves The Extra-Greatest Generation — since no one else will. Maybe it will catch on. You never know. Look at the internet. Who would have guessed?
But anyway, here we are — parents of these emerging adults. We may be old as dirt, but we’re hanging in there, still of use to somebody, still relevant. Given the financial requirements of the emerging adulthood generation we’ve sired, we’ll probably be relevant a hell of a lot longer than we’d planned on. After all, we don’t call ourselves the Extra-Greatest Generation for nothing.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)