past noon, and my twentysomething daughter is still asleep in her bedroom (aka
my recently repurposed home office.) The
light from her laptop—a Buffy retrospective of her own making still playing—is
the only sign of life. I return to my
dining room table to continue my own work only to be interrupted 15 minutes
later by a sleepy-voiced plea: “Mommy [she hasn’t called me that two syllable
appellation in over a decade], can you make me breakfast?” I feign deafness until
she shuffles into the kitchen to … I am hoping now … make it herself. Before I can ask her what her plans are for
the day, she asks me if I want to go to the movies later. No, I say, thinking to myself one of us has to work. Plus, I have no desire
to see The Avengers—especially not in 3-D. And, yes I am fully aware that
Joss Whedon (the movie’s writer/ director and creator of Buffy) is a genius. OK, she says, maybe I’ll go to the
gym. Has she forgotten that I asked her
to freeze her membership until she has the money to pay for it?
to my world—a world that I share with increasing numbers of people my age whose
beautifully educated children have been beaten down by a brutal job market and returned home to heal and regroup. As their parents, we believed
we had provided them with everything they needed to succeed—more than just a first-rate
education and a loving home: dance classes and music lessons, coaching
for sports and coaching for tests, semesters abroad and summer internships. The
list goes on. We were so attentive that we were dubbed helicopter parents; our
involvement in their childhood and adolescence knew no bounds.
We lived by the mantra “Give them roots and wings,” but during
this relentless recession their flight has been postponed. It's estimated
that 85 percent of the class of 2011 has moved back home, according to a poll conducted
by the consulting firm Twentysomething Inc. As of 2010, census estimates
indicate that 5.9 million people between the ages of 25 and 35 are living at
home, an increase of more than 25 percent since the downturn began.
Detachment parenting requires helping our kids learn to stand on their own two feet, even if those feet are currently on your living room sofa.
those depressing statistics are lots of frustrated parents of frustrated offspring.
When our children were little, we relied on Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Penelope Leach to bring up baby ... but there’s no manual yet for raising grown
children. Certainly, you can’t follow the pediatric guru of the moment Bill Sears
who encourages attachment parenting. (You know, baby wearing, cosleeping,
prolonged breastfeeding.) That’s why, being a mother of invention, I’ve come up
with my own doctrine: Detachment
This adult-child-raising style isn't about tough love, it's
about tough times. We have to re-feather our no-longer-empty nests in ways that
take into account fragile egos and dashed dreams while at the same time
building resilience and adjusting expectations for our children’s futures. Detachment
parenting requires helping our kids learn to stand on their own two feet, even
if those feet are currently on your living room sofa. It’s a difficult task
that requires you to stand back while you watch your kids to succeed or fail. You need to send the helicopter back to the
To be able to cohabit with your adult children without losing
your temper, your mind or your retirement funds, you need to develop the
following four qualities. Not mom
enough? You try putting a 24-year-old in a time-out chair. Throw out your child-raising strategies of
the past but remember this acronym—P.A.S.T.:
Your unemployed son or daughter may not be able to find a job quickly in this
sputtering market. Even when they do, it will take a while until they can
support themselves. Stay cool.
Acceptance: Remember neither you nor your children
expected to be in this situation at this stage of life. Accept that you will have to pay for some
things. Along with room and board, I pay for cell phones and health insurance, but not the gym membership. Do what you can afford, and do so without
Don’t give advice or opinions unless you are asked. Better to hold your tongue
than to compound the problem. And, if they ask you to make their breakfast or do their laundry, remember you are hard of
They may sleep late, watch too much TV, or play their iTunes too loud. Those
are common twentysomething traits. Leaving their dishes in the sink or the towels on the bathroom floor is
unacceptable behavior. Pick your fights. Tolerate the rest as best you can.
Detachment parenting is hard and sometimes
painful work. No one likes to see their child suffer. I was encouraged to learn,
however, in a recent New York Times article, there may be an unexpected payoff. Academic researchers Karen L. Fingerman
and Frank F. Furstenberg have found that young adults who received financial,
emotional and practical support from their parents develop clearer goals and
enjoy greater satisfaction from their lives. Even better news: This reconstituted relationship doesn’t impede their
developing independence. Maybe later—when I’ve finished this post—I’ll see if
my daughter wants to go to the movies. Maybe she’d like to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. OK ... we’ll see The Avengers.