Skip to main content

Hey, baby boomer parents, back off!

By Sally Koslow, Special to CNN
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Tue July 10, 2012
Sally Koslow says in a down job market, many young adults exist in a cloud of overconfidence with an illusion of endless time.
Sally Koslow says in a down job market, many young adults exist in a cloud of overconfidence with an illusion of endless time.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Koslow: Boomers resist aging; message to kids: you've got plenty of time to grow up
  • She says lots of kids face a terrible job market; parents can't blunt that, should let kids deal
  • She says you do your kid no favor by playing concierge in his life, allowing delay of adulthood
  • Koslow: Parents need to step back for their adultescent kids to step forward

Editor's note: Sally Koslow is the author of "Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest" (Viking)

(CNN) -- Dear baby boomer parents,

It's time to talk. After people my age were done growing our hair long, wearing our bell bottoms and protesting the Vietnam War, we got jobs, mortgages, high cholesterol and bunions. Many of us also educated children -- often at colleges that would never have admitted us -- and groomed our kids to expect and accept only the best, never dreaming that they'd graduate into an economy that would crush even some of the brightest.

Plenty of our children have gotten the short straw.

Some 53% of people younger than 25 are unemployed or underemployed. Many have been crippled by indecision, picking a direction, reversing it, spinning the dial again, and flying two stars to the right, straight on till morning before they return to live with us again.

Sally Koslow
Sally Koslow

There is more, however, to their generational wandering and inertia than pure economics.

Boomers' fury at the very idea that we have to age sends a subliminal message that there will always be time for our kids to get another degree or to surf another couch, to break up with one more partner or employer, and to wait around to reproduce, while ignoring the reality that opportunities will evaporate.

Opinion: Facebook parenting is destroying our children's privacy

If parents aren't old -- and who among us doesn't feel 35? -- then for adultescents, the years must be standing still. If we're not old, with our titanium joints and botox, how can we expect our kids to grow up? If we're not old, our offspring, whose complete childhoods we archive in our hearts with four-color illustrations and footnotes, must remain big babies.

Boomers have established the 2.0 model for self-involvement, enhanced by boasting about our most prized assets, our kids, whose attention we crave, and who all too often exist on a broad plain of entitlement that we've hired gardeners to maintain if we're not hoeing and mowing ourselves. In this devil of a job market, many young adults now exist in a cloud of overconfidence with an illusion of endless time.

Parenthood requires constant renegotiation, which is where boomers often bomb. We remain overinvolved in adultescents' lives, another twist on not wanting to get old. It's painful for us to recognize that biology's imperative is for youngsters to manage without parents, and that many life lessons must be learned alone. We can't teach kids how to learn to meet deadlines, get along with people and deal with rejection. These are solo projects.

Opinion: Kid, you are not special

On the motherhood spectrum, I've always felt laid-back. After my two sons got college diplomas, each one moved to the opposite coast. Roots and wings, I thought. That's the ticket. But as a son became engaged to marry, I felt an unfamiliar panic. I realized it came from wondering if I'd done enough to prep my child for the rest of life. Did he have a full tool kit to evolve into the world's most caring, contended man? Had I done my job to see that he was?

CNN Profiles: Michael Thompson on raising independent children

Tough nuts if he wasn't, because the statute of limitations on micromanaging that process was running out. Was I ready to let go? No. But I'm trying.

I worry deeply about peers who won't cop to this new job description, although I recognize that it's harder for parents to let go if adultescents lead lives that appear much the same as 10 years ago, possibly even sleeping in their old bed. Nonetheless, it's up to us to allow adult children to determine their fates.

Opinion: Non, the French are not better moms

Once kids graduate from college, it's time to collectively peel off the bumper stickers and remind ourselves the ultimate goal as parents is to stop trying to vaccinate our children against every conceivable catastrophe. The best and most lasting gift we can offer our children is the chance to develop independence so that one day they can teach their own kids to do the same.

This means boomers acting like tough coaches, not fairy godparents with an indefatigable ability to solve problems and limitless credit cards: 59% of people 18 to 39 who are not students receive some financial aid from parents. Mothers and fathers should start early, or at least earlier, to give kids a crash course in the DIY drudgery -- from tax prep to turkey trussing -- that doesn't make it onto school applications and resumes. These are the tasks our country undervalues.

And when young adults return to live at home, we need to establish rules as well as time frames for how long stays will last, along with encouraging kids to expand job searches and perhaps take any position until dream jobs come along.

Parents need to step back for adult children to step forward. With the time we gain by not being a concierge to kids' lives, we can address the brain drain and social tragedy resulting from countless well-educated young adults lingering jobless, especially those who graduated in the dog years of 2007 and 2008. These adultescents aren't damaged goods. They just look that way to employers, who when they do have a job to fill, prefer a more freshly graduated model.

Forcing ourselves to back off is no harder than what we expect of our children, whose journeys, I hope, lead them on a path to lasting fulfillment and calling home, often, so that both generations can say "I love you."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sally Koslow.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT