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Throughout her teenage years, she often dreamed about what life would be like when she became an adult. The idea of staying up as late as she wanted, doing what she wanted when she wanted to do it, and not answering to anybody in authority over her made her want to fast forward to “that” day.

Then it happened. She was out on her own. Rent, renters insurance, utilities, groceries, a car payment, car insurance, gas, an unexpected tire purchase, doctor visits and more were staring her in the face. This was not at all what she had in mind all those years ago when she dreamed about being out on her own.

She grabbed her phone and texted her parents: “#adultingishard, I don’t like all this pressure. What happened to my paycheck?”

No doubt you have seen some of the “adulting is hard” comments on social media:

  • Coffee, because adulting is hard.

  • Adulting is hard. I don’t get a reward when my bedroom is clean.

  • I stay up really late for no reason. Adulting is hard.

According to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, professor and author of Emerging Adulthood, this young adult is not alone. Many in their 20s find being an adult difficult, which tends to create a bit of anxiety for parents who are ready for their adult children to take on more responsibility.

In his book, Arnett discusses “emerging adulthood” as a new life stage between adolescence and actual adulthood — 30 is the new 20. The 20s have become a period of exploration and instability where they are trying out all kinds of things before settling down.

For those in their 20s, about 40 percent move back home with their parents at least once, and they go through an average of seven jobs. Arnett contends that emerging adulthood is a worldwide phenomenon.

Parents who are excited to see their young adults launch wonder, “What happened?”

Things have changed! Adulthood is now viewed with a lot of ambivalence. Once you commit, you are there for the rest of your life. The social, cultural and economic conditions have changed a lot, too. Fifty years ago, entering adulthood was viewed as a big achievement. People looked forward to the stability adulthood provided. Now, 50 years later, people don’t look at adulthood in the same way. They see it as stagnation. They think their parents don’t do interesting things anymore. Adulthood doesn’t look very fun.

If you are reading this and freaking out a bit, breathe. According to Arnett’s research, these emerging adults eventually take on adult responsibilities. It’s just a bit later than perhaps you expected.

What can you do to be helpful?

Part of the reason adulthood feels so overwhelming is because for many, they literally go from having everything done for them and paid for to feeling like they are doing it all on their own. Maybe things wouldn’t seem so scary if young adults took on more responsibility over time versus in one fell swoop.

Anybody who is currently an adult can testify that it is hard, but a lot of freedom, adventure, challenges and fun comes with this stage of life. Perhaps there is a takeaway for those in this stage as well. If young people think those living in adulthood seem stagnant and boring, perhaps it is time for those who are actually adults to show that responsibility, accountability and commitment don’t necessarily equal a dull, stress-filled life. Many believe that living in the adult season of life allows for a lot of freedom to establish who you are and how you want to live life.

The young lady who dreamed about the freedoms of adulthood, in reality, wasn’t that far off. People think that freedom equals no responsibility, but in truth these responsibilities are what give you freedom.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: 25 Years of Research, Dr. Judith Wallerstein contends that the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Instead, the effects of divorce on children are cumulative. They crescendo in adulthood with the emergence of potentially serious romantic relationships, like when it is time to choose a life mate.

Seventeen years after Wallerstein released her book, Lelia Miller posed a question on social media. She was intrigued by a friend whose parents’ divorce still affected her, even though she is married and has children. So, she asked her Facebook community if anyone would be willing to share about growing up in the shadow of their parents’ divorce.

“Over the course of a few days, more than 100 people said they were willing,” says Miller. “I asked questions such as: What effect has your parents’ divorce had on you, and what is the difference in how you felt about the divorce as a child and how you feel about it as an adult? What do you want to say to people who say children are resilient? What do you want adults in our culture to know about how divorce affects children, and what would you want to say to children?

“Seventy people out of the 100 answered the questions,” Miller says. “Most of them wanted to remain anonymous. The youngest was 22 and the oldest was in her 60s. I was shocked at my ignorance about the complex effects of divorce on children. I never knew that world existed. Their simple yet poignant responses are difficult to read, but not hopeless.”

While Miller does not claim to be a scholar or a researcher, many of the stories in her book, Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak, are very similar to what Wallerstein’s research found. Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood – with the decision to marry or not and have children or not – is different.

Miller only identifies the storytellers by number. When reading the book, many contributors read someone else’s story thinking it was their own.

“They were shocked to find out that many others had similar issues and circumstances,” Miller says. “One participant in her 50s shared that her parents divorced when she was 9. She said, ‘I still don’t know who I am supposed to be. I am one way with my mom and her side of the family and another way with my father and his side of the family. How do you maintain that?’

“Another shared about being ‘that girl on the soccer field.’ She always had to think about who she would hug first when she came off the field for fear of making someone angry or upset. She recalled a time when she had to get an X-ray after a game. Only one person could go with her. She almost had a panic attack trying to decide who to ask. Her stepmother was offended when she asked her mother to go.”

After reading the book, one lady asked her 35-year-old male friend how he felt about his parents’ divorce. Stunned, he said nobody had ever asked him how he felt about it.

“That was a common theme for most of the respondents,” Miller asserts. “Many were told ‘it was for the best.’ In fact, one woman recalled jumping up and down in the front yard saying, ‘We’re getting a divorce!’ honestly believing it was something good. I was actually shocked at the number of adults who were scared their parents would learn they had participated in the book. Many of the 70 are still in turmoil even after being in a really good marriage for 20 years.”

Miller does not imply that someone should remain in an abusive situation, nor is she saying that if your parents divorced you’re automatically going to have issues. She knows that many who found themselves divorced did not want it and were doing their best to cope. That doesn’t negate the impact on the children, however.

“So many adults desperately want to believe their child will come through a divorce unscathed,” Miller shares. “Nobody who answered my questions was unscathed. They felt like they had to go along with the narrative or be silent. That was the unnerving part.”

Miller’s work is not a scholarly research piece, but it is an honest representation of personal stories from adult children of divorce. Readers will definitely get a sense of divorce’s impact on kids. These men and women have much to say about their experience after years of reflecting on a question no one ever thought to ask them – until now.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

The house is SO quiet and your heart feels a bit heavy. You have definitely shed some tears. You have also stayed awake wondering if you prepared them well to be successful out on their own. Now you consider what you will do with so much extra time on your hands.

While grieving what is no more is certainly appropriate, there is also cause for celebration. Although you may not feel like it, your first move should be to celebrate your accomplishment. You have spent years of your life focused on preparing your children to launch. Now you actually have time to breathe and celebrate!

Parents who have successfully made the leap to the empty nest don’t deny that the first few weeks and sometimes months are a bit tricky. But over time, they eventually found their groove and embraced a new normal. About six months into the empty nest, one parent stated, “If people knew how amazing the empty nest is, they would never divorce.”

In spite of the emptiness you may feel at the moment, here are some reasons to celebrate the empty nest:

  • You can purchase groceries and open the refrigerator door two days later to find you still have food. Or, you can decide you aren’t cooking another meal because you don’t have to.

  • Instead of having to search for your shoes, scissors or tools, they will be where you put them the last time you used them.

  • Walking around the house naked is perfectly acceptable. An empty-nester said one of their favorite things about this season was being able to get their morning coffee in the buff with no worries about who would see them.

  • If you decide you want to go to bed at 8:30, there is nothing stopping you. Seriously, many parents talk about feeling exhausted after so many years of being on the go. Allow yourself some extra shuteye. How much better you feel after a few good nights of solid rest might surprise you.

  • You clean your house and it actually stays clean for more than a few hours.

  • Vacations in the off-season are now a possibility.

  • After years of feeling like you are ships passing in the night, you can reconnect with your spouse. If you are single, you have time to pamper yourself without feeling guilty about it.

  • Instead of always focusing on everybody else’s needs, you can consider your own needs and how you would like to spend your time. Perhaps you want to head back to school, change jobs or volunteer with a group you have had no time to work with until now.

While there are many reasons to celebrate the empty nest, don’t let it shock you if embracing them early on is a challenge. When your identity has been wrapped up in parenting for at least 18 years, it can be difficult to regain your footing. Don’t be embarrassed about talking with those who are further along or asking for their support.

And, if you are thinking, “But I actually enjoyed cooking for everybody and I kind of miss searching for things. It feels odd not to be needed,” that’s okay. Your kids still need you, but in a different way. Plus, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to cook and clean whenever they come home to visit, or down the road when grandchildren arrive. You can invite your family over whenever you want. On the other hand, you might decide to visit them instead – if your new schedule will allow it.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 27, 2017.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

You might be the parent of adult children if you:

  • Still pay their car insurance because your name is on the car title.
  • Have paid for a new tire because they don’t have any money to pay for it. Besides, it’s their only way to get back and forth to work.
  • Have argued with them about how much they eat out and they do not understand your concern.
  • Still pay their cell phone bill because they are part of the “family plan.”
  • Saw them really struggling with something and, although you wanted to step in and help, you didn’t.

The parents who tell their adult children once they have a job, “Congratulations, you are officially off the payroll! Good luck!” are probably in the minority. The majority of today’s parents seem to struggle with letting their kids experience the ups and downs of self-sufficiency.

Are parents too quick to come to the rescue? Are we too accessible today?

Allison Bottke’s challenges with her own adult son led her to write Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children. After years of being her son’s failsafe, she realized she was not helping him.

“I looked at what was happening around me and came to the conclusion this really isn’t about my son, it’s about me,” says Bottke. “Instead of focusing on what I thought he needed to do, I really needed to focus on changes I needed to make. The steps I came up with led to the acronym – SANITY, which I had a lot more of when I implemented the steps.”

Here’s what SANITY means:

  • Stop: We need to change how we respond to our kids. Don’t try to change them. Stop the money flow. End our own negative behavior. “For so long we were in the midst of drama, chaos and crisis,” Bottke says. “I had to stop letting my son push my buttons and I needed to stop accepting the consequences for his behavior.”
  • Assemble supportive people: Find other people who are experiencing this or who have adult children and have already been down this road. Enlist their support. It is powerful to know you are not the only one.
  • Nip excuses in the bud: It is easy to let excuses coax you into doing things you would not typically do.
  • Implement rules and boundaries: Make a plan, implement it and stick to it. Meet with your young adult and share the plan. Explain to them that, as of this date, you are no longer going to support them financially. Clearly, if you have been participating in this behavior for a while, giving them a timeline with specific dates to work off of is helpful and is an excellent teaching tool.
  • Trust your instincts: If your gut or your intuition is telling you something isn’t right or you shouldn’t be doing this – trust your gut. “For me this meant getting in touch with my own life and fixing the messy person in my life – me,” Bottke says.
  • Yield everything: There is a plan for your child’s life and you do not control it. Swooping in and trying to fix it hinders their ability to learn and grow. Love them and support them, but don’t enable them.

According to Bottke, this is easier said than done.

Although it did take time, Bottke says that letting go was very freeing and the right thing to do. Her son has had to face some difficult circumstances, and she is the first to admit it is sometimes hard to sit on the sidelines. But since she has gotten out of the way her son is doing better. Their relationship has improved and she feels better about who she is as a person – and as a parent.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 28, 2016.

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