When it comes to adult children, says Myrna Blyth, parents have all of the concern — but none of the control
Women talk to each other about their children, even when those children are all grown up. I noticed that again the other day when I had lunch with a woman I was meeting for the first time. We talked about a lot of things, but we spent quite a bit of time on our children, even, though, in my case, the children have children of their own.
I used to watch many all-female focus groups and the same thing would happen. Each woman, sitting around the table, would introduce herself, perhaps talk a little about her work or hobbies, and then, in far greater detail, share their kids’ ages, what their kids were doing. Sometimes they would boast about their achievements and other times even share the problems they might be having with the kids. Although strangers, they seem to know that talking about children would create an immediate woman-to-woman intimacy and understanding. Even if they were married, they hardly ever talked much about the men in their lives.
I’ve always thought that dealing with adult children is far more difficult than raising small ones. Whether you were a Spock softie or a Tiger Mom-before-her-time, once your kids grow up, you end up with the same concerns but none of the control. At the same time, our kids these days take a long, long time to grow up. A demographer friend once told me that because we live longer, we do, of course, stretch out our middle age. That’s why we like to think that 60 is the new 40. But, at the same time we happily extend those middle years, our children are adding years to their adolescence. Today’s twenty-five year old is probably a lot more like the seventeen- year-old of past decades. Yes, I’m sure you’ve noticed, they stay immature a lot longer.
That’s why I think those years right after college are especially daunting. I remember thinking that when my son was small if he really didn’t like his teacher, I could have, at least, called the school and tried to have him changed to another teacher. But, if he disliked his first or second boss, I couldn’t call the HR department and ask to have him switched to another boss. I just had to listen if he complained and complained.
And that is part of it. Many of us are a lot closer to our children than we were to our parents. I know my relationship with my own parents was rather stilted. For years our long-distance telephone conversations were usually about the weather — they were in Florida in the sunshine, while I was in New York in the snow — how they were feeling and the grandchildren. Not much else.
In contrast, we wanted to be friends with our kids, and we are. That means we know a lot more about their lives, year after year and because of that we usually have a lot more to worry about, year after year.
But maybe — like a child — I underestimated my own parents’ feeling. There is that bond that always mixes love and concern. I remember once visiting them when they were in their 80’s and going out for a long, long walk on the beach. When I came back it was almost dark and I saw in the distance a lone figure standing by the condo’s pool. It was my dad. He said he was about to go out and search for me. “That’s ridiculous. It isn’t really late and I’m fine,” I said. “Your mother was worried,” he replied. And then he hugged me hard.
Editor’s Note: Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge.com. The founding editor of More magazine, former editor-in-chief of Ladies Home Journal, and author of four books, she has was written for The New York Times, Redbook, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications.