Share this article

print logo

Bringing Up Mommy: Twentysomethings on a meandering path to adulthood

Watching one’s kids maneuver the 20-something decade is like watching a fast-paced game of pingpong.

Now they’re in love. Now they’re not. Now they’re moving to Colorado. Now they’re not. Now they’re living with a nice older couple in a walk-up flat in the big city where they finally got a job. Now they’ve moved to a party house in a bad side of town with a dangerous, one-hour commute to work.

20-somethings change love lives, jobs, apartments and major life plans like I do the font on my blog – which, of course, reminds me of my own 20s. I can still hear my mother’s voice as I took on my third concurrent part-time job in college while getting four hours of sleep a night.

“I wish you’d slow down, Debra-Lynn,” she’d say. “I’m fine, Mom,” I can still hear myself replying.

According to “What Is It About 20-Somethings?,” a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, today’s 20-somethings are crawling toward the adulthood milestones they used to gallop toward – that is, completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.

Sociologists blame the economy and fewer entry-level jobs. Career professionals are seeking more education before trying to compete on the job market. Women are putting off marriage so they can build careers first.

Regardless of the reasons, in 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by the time they were 30, according to the Times. By the year 2000, the numbers were less than half for women and one-third for men. The median age for marriage for women in the early 1970s was 21 for women and 25 for men. In 2009, it was 26 and 28, respectively.

Not only are kids taking longer to reach adulthood, but the road there is not always so straight.

“Some never achieve all five milestones, including those who are single or childless by choice, or unable to marry even if they wanted to, because they’re gay,” writes journalist Robin Marantz Henig. “Others reach the milestones completely out of order, advancing professionally before committing to a monogamous relationship, having children young and marrying later, leaving school to go to work and returning to school long after becoming financially secure.”

This may end up being not a bad thing. With a young adult’s human brain not fully developed until well into his 20s, this societally induced era of “emerging adulthood” may more accurately line up with the biology, according to psychologists.

But whether good or bad in the long haul, the 20-something decade can be confusing in the moment as the young adult holds an average seven jobs; as one-third of 20-somethings move to a new residence every year; as 40 percent move back home with their parents at least once.

It’s a challenge for the young adult, who may feel caught between self-discovery and self-indulgence, writes Henig.

It’s also a challenge for parents, who may struggle without a game plan. Do we shoo our confused and jobless 23-year-old out the door? Or keep her bedroom open indefinitely? Do we loan her money to go to graduate school? Or do tell them the bank is closed after the first degree?

I imagine the answers are as varied as families themselves.

In my family, two of my three children are in their 20s. My son, 24, lives and works hundreds of miles from home, having gotten a job right out of college two years ago. My daughter, 20, is still very much in my vision, living at home as she attends the university in town.

Between the two of them and their various thoughts, desires, goals, dreams, loves, hates and visions, my head could be on the base of a Lazy Susan.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I could say, “I can’t keep up. Call me when you’re 30.”

Except that’s not the way it’s been. I’m certainly not going to start now.

Indeed, I know if I am going to err, it will be on the side of keeping their bedroom open until they get married, and beyond.

I want them to know their family home is there for them, a safe haven, as they traverse this rocky road.

It’s my gift to them.

In trust for the journey they’re on.