Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why They Don't Grow Up

There's a whole bunch of fretting on the part of parents these days about helicopter parenting, that tendency of anxious, competitive moms and dads to micromanage every aspect of their child's existence.  It causes all sorts of stressors, and most recently has been cited as an impediment to the personal growth of millennials.

How can you ever grow, if your parents continue to manage your existence deep into your twenties?

I buy that, but I think there's something else at play here.  That something has to do with the nature and character of adulthood.

When I was a kid, I remember watching my parents.  When not working and maintaining a household, they did interesting things.  Their lives were filled with music and dinner parties, outings and gatherings with other adults.  They played sports with other adults, and had adult friends over for cocktails.

Their lives did not revolve around me.  Oh, they loved me and my brother, and paid attention to our schooling and our development.

But they had their own lives, which they enjoyed.  Their lives were theirs.  Because they were grownups.  They were grownups who'd grown up in an era when adolescence was a time to transition into adulthood.

Heck, look at any yearbook from the 1950s and 1960s.  These are high-schoolers, and they look like they're thirty.  I remember looking back at these old yearbooks and marveling at them when I was a teen.  These were my peers?  How is that even possible?

These were kids who wanted to be adults, to look like adults, to act like adults.  They wanted to engage with adult culture.  Adult culture wanted them to engage.

Yeah, I know, it was flawed.  Really flawed.  But flawed as that era was, at least people wanted to be adults.  There were jobs and careers.  There was a sense of purpose, and hope that things would be better tomorrow than they are today.

When the children of helicopter parents watch them now, what do they see?

They see parents utterly consumed with the busyness and stress of parenting.  They see parents whose adult relationships are often almost entirely defined by their children's activities.  They see an adulthood that has folded in around childhood like a collapsing star, crushing it under the gravitic weight of cultural expectations and social anxieties.

It's not just that helicopter parenting inhibits personal growth.

Perhaps our children do not want the adulthood we show them.  Is it any surprise they struggle to "grow up?"