The myth of adolescent maturity

Well, my two girls don’t live at home now, but they do still come on holiday with us at least once a year, which we pay for, and why not?

How times change! By 16 I had a weekend job, and at university I got a grant of £500 ish for the year, my father paid the accommodation fees, and with holiday temp jobs Christmas, Easter and summer to supplement my income I managed completely independently financially. Then after university and a summer camping holiday (no far flung trips in those days!) I started work. By then I was completely independent.

Fast forward 30 years and things are very different. My two have now flown the nest. They are working and renting flats, but money is extremely tight, so we ‘treat’ them every now and then, and yes we do pay for them to come on holiday with us, yet I don’t feel I am mollycoddling them. During their school years one had a Saturday job, and the other a Sunday one, but the emphasis was on work and study to get good grades, rather than us pushing them to ‘grow up and be independent’ . After school both went travelling and we paid their air fares and gave them spending money.

At university we paid their fees, rent and a comfortable living allowance. Both had the odd period of part time work, but by then jobs were not easy to come by , and the dawn of the invidious ‘unpaid work experience’ had arrived. At their age I could have walked out of one paid job and straight into another.

I know it’s a far cry from my own youth but we are fortunate to have more spare cash than my parents, and why not treat your kids? I certainly don’t feel like I am spoiling them. Neither do I feel I have wrapped them up in cotton wool and hindered their independence. I’m even quite relaxed if they arrive for the weekend with a bag of washing. Who cares? It’s not like  I will be physically doing it, and they don’t have tumble driers.

In the age of boomerang kids, many are now returning home to live. Its a very different world from the one that our babyboomer generation grew up in. Over 3 million young adults returned home to live last year. My youngest lived at home for her first six months of working, as her pay was so low that had she had to pay rent, she couldn’t have afforded to eat.

And mortgages? Well, forget that one for the foreseeable future. When I took out my first mortgage at 24 I needed a 5-10% deposit, and the mortgage was three times my salary. Now the average mortgage is seven times the average salary, and that is assuming you can raise the deposit. So how can our kids even afford there independenceat an age when we took it for granted?

Many other young people live at home to save money, clear student debts, or quite frankly because living at home is easier and more comfortable than paying expensive rent in a shared flat. That of course is assuming they have a job. When I left university I filled in an application form, went to one interview with each potential employer and was offered a job by each of the six firms I applied to. Fast forward to now, and the hurdles to just get to the first face to face interview stage are enormous, and that is assuming that your child made it through the first cut of online applications. After that it seems like there are at least 3 more extremely demanding interviews to reach an actual job offer. Quite honestly I don’t think I would even be accepted for my old job nowadays.

I think it is quite telling that the period of the early 20’s is described  by some psychologists as “apprentice adulthood”, and so is really a phase when our kids still need a gradually decreasing degree of parental support. Terri Apter has written a book called ‘The Myth of Maturity” in which she says that ” adolescents who make the transition most successfully and creatively to adulthood are those who still have the support of their parents…in terms of ongoing engagement, understanding and advice.

I guess the hardest thing for us parents is to know when to take a step back, and when to offer advice and support without clipping their wings. I still get it wrong sometimes, but at least my children and I have all got to the stage now when we can laugh together when I go too far down the route of unnecessary motherly advice. And to their credit I can now say that the flow of support is no longer one way into the ungrateful abyss of adolescence. Life with them is becoming much more of a shared experience.