Posts Tagged ‘Adolescence’

The Thinker

Value reprogramming our children

So many of us are raising our children mostly the way our parents raised us. It’s unclear why we do this. Perhaps we assume they did a great job, considering how awesome we turned out. Since we’re so awesome, we figure we’ll simply follow their formula and we’ll have awesome children too.

Or it could be we don’t want to suffer their wrath or disappointment. Parents can hurt us, even when we are in our middle years. Most likely, we don’t analyze our approach to parenting too much; we just do it reflexively. If we were raised Catholic, junior and his sister are raised Catholic. If we played Little League, our sons play in the Little League. If we went to Girl Scouts, our daughter goes to Girl Scouts.

Raising your kid differently than you were raised takes a certain amount of courage. Obviously, it takes less courage if you realize that you were raised wrong. If Dad beat you regularly with a belt, hopefully you won’t do that to your child, although chances are you will. Value programming seems to work this way. Both the good stuff and the bad stuff tend to get passed down from generation to generation. If your father beat up your mother, there’s a good chance if you are a male that you will beat your wife. Stranger still, if you were the daughter, there is a good chance you will be in a marriage where your spouse will beat you up. It’s unclear why this is, but it may be because we unconsciously seek out spouses that have characteristics of our parents. It happened to me: I married a gal from a poor family in Michigan, just like my father. At the time, this coincidence never occurred to me, but it was probably more than coincidence, particularly since my mother and I had issues.

Parenting comes with no rewind button. Instead, parenting is a continuous stream of events and choices applied to situations at the moment. From our children’s birth to our deaths it never really ends, but there is an unofficial end when our adult children finally move out of the house. (There is a good chance they will move back in some years later.) In retrospect, all of us parents wish we could have done some things differently. You do the best you can and try to forgive yourself for your parenting mistakes.

Parenting differently than the way you were parented takes reflection and mindfulness. My parents were not particularly physically affectionate. We got little in the way of hugs and kisses. They weren’t wholly absent; just that they were the exception rather than the rule. Unsurprisingly, I grew up feeling somewhat touch deprived. Also, my parents, although I am sure they loved each other, weren’t great at demonstrating affection with each other or really doing much together, other than dutifully raising us. Since I had about a decade as a bachelor, I had time to reflect on these concerns. I made up my mind that I would not replicate them with my daughter.

So I made a point to be lavish with hugs and kisses. I told her sincerely, and often, that I loved her. When near her I made sure to put an arm over her shoulder or around her waist. I wanted her to know that healthy human relationships should be naturally intimate, and that meant touching liberally. In short, I did not want to transmit what I considered to be a poor way of being raised. I wanted her to feel connection and intimacy. This meant more than words; it meant the constant pleasure and communication of touch. It’s delightful to see her as an adult being still so physically demonstrative with us.

My parents picked up something of a Puritan ethos common from their era. It meant the father made most of the major decisions, the mother’s role was to be supportive and children were supposed to quickly learn their place. It was generally understood that as children we were inexperienced and thus our parents knew best. We were told not just from them, but also from society in general, that our parents were our ultimate guides in life and to trust them implicitly. In general, the boys in our family learned that most emotions were better left bottled up, because we never saw dad cry or even get very upset.

Of course, society is a lot different now compared to then. The United States has more than doubled its population in my lifetime. Values have changed quite a bit as well. In the 1960s I did not know homosexuals existed. Today they have civil rights that were denied them including, increasingly, the right to marry. My country is much more ethnic in general too. I had to figure out how to put all this together in my parenting. It was not always easy and often it was lonely.

I had virtually no sex education, as was true of most of us Baby Boomers. I had to depend on factual books like Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex to get some rudimentary education. Reading about sex as opposed to experiencing it, of course, is quite different. Schools now generally teach sex education, but it is largely superficial. Certain topics are frequently off limits. Parents can teach their children sex education, but it is generally an awkward experience. It is better to come from an authoritative but independent source. Mostly, I didn’t want my daughter to start her sex life sexually ignorant. She needed a real grounding, both on the biological facts but on the physical and emotional issues of being a sexual person. I found such a program at my Unitarian Universalist Church: Our Whole Lives, wherein all these topics were discussed candidly but with trained facilitators. There is no question about it: sex is a big, complex and icky topic. But better to make sure she started with a firm foundation than to be ignorant and make the stupid mistakes I did when I became sexually awake.

Sex education is just one area where I deviated from the values I was taught. While many were the same (love, compassion, neighborliness, the importance of education) many were also different. I taught respect for people regardless of sex, race, religion or (the hard one) because they have different beliefs than me. I told her that I was a human being, not a god, and thus I make mistakes. I encouraged those values that helped me succeed, some that worked (reading, debate) and some that did not stick (striving for excellence, exercise and diet). In the end, like me, my daughter had a lot to absorb, analyze and figure out what was right for her.

At least she appreciates the complexity of our modern world. It is far more complex than it was when I was her age. No wonder then that today adolescence seems to extend well into their twenties. It’s quite a brain dump we give our children, and harder than ever for them to structure it in a way that will help them deal with their reality.

At the same time, my daring experience at value reprogramming has been satisfying. My parents did the best they could to set my values with the skills they had at the time. I did my best as well. I am glad I did not simply parrot the way I was raised, but trusted my own judgment instead. I used values that seemed to work (thriftiness, for example) and discarded what did not seem to work (religious orthodoxy).

My daughter says she won’t have a child, but she is toying with the idea of adopting a child when she is self sufficient enough. If that time comes, I hope she is smart enough to do what I did: and discard those things about the way we raised her that did not work, and substitute her own judgment of the modern world as she perceives it.

 
The Thinker

Transitions, Part 3

When it gets a little too comfortable or too familiar, life seems to conspire to kick you in the pants. If you are seventeen going on eighteen, this is the time of year when you are about to graduate high school and are thrust, usually with some trepidation, onto a larger and more chaotic adult stage. If you are a civil servant like me, age 54 going on 55 next year, you are pondering a looming transition called “retirement”.

For me, the transition from high school to college was more welcome than scary. Unlike the singer Vitamin C (Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick) whose high school memories must be pretty good, mine were anything but that. My fond memories extend primarily to a few teachers who inspired me. The high school I attended did not. I felt bound for success elsewhere whereas my apathetic classmates seemed bound for a surfboard and lives full of loafing. While I hope they did not turn out that way, thirty-five years later I still cannot be bothered to go to my high school reunions. I’m not sure any of my classmates’ names would even ring a bell.

In my spare time at the church I attend I facilitate a youth group. They are a tight, eclectic and interesting bunch, and one of the few reasons I have to hope for our future. It would be hard to overstate how intelligent, compassionate and interesting they are as near adults. It’s unclear to what extent our church molded them, but as long-term recipients of years of religious education this group of high school students have bonded amazingly well. And yet next month they will be handed diplomas and will likely never see each other again, at least as a group. Before they tackle the world of adulthood, they get to lead a youth service planned for later this month and give the congregation their thoughts on this transition. Tonight, as one of the adult advisors, I get to facilitate planning for the service.

Meanwhile, I get to ponder transitions of my own. I am now a year away from being able to retire. I doubt I will retire the day I turn eligible, but it is strange to be able to count when that date could be in months rather than years. While no one is forced to retire when they are eligible, I am beginning to wonder if I will be nudged, if not shoved in that direction. The federal workforce, already actually quite lean (about 150,000 fewer employees than when Ronald Reagan was president) is likely to get leaner in the years ahead. I will be watching legislation carefully. I suspect Congress will be eyeing our pensions fund for cuts. I doubt I will come out unscathed. I may find it advantageous to retire to avoid pension cuts that might happen if I hung around. My pension may be cut regardless. I sense a job transition is ahead for me and it is likely to be sooner rather than later.

Knowing that my time as a civil servant is likely quite limited, last week I was pondering if I should attend a conference in June. I can go myself or send someone else instead. Perhaps I should go and consider it a perk of the job. On the other hand, if I were to retire within the next few years, the value of my attendance would be diminished. Instead, I should send others further away from retirement instead. This is one small sign of many that another transition is looming for me.

Just like the seniors in our youth group so used to hanging with each other that their pending separation is likely a cause of anxiety, I am having mixed feelings about my retirement. If you are happy with your work, why retire? I work with a wonderful staff of dedicated professionals, we do excellent work and unlike many jobs, the meaning of our work is quite obvious and easily measured. Moreover, I am paid very well to do it. In short, I am in my optimal comfort zone, productive and generally happy to do my work. A transition, even for the alleged comfort zone of “retirement”, is not necessarily comforting.

My office

For I know I would miss certain things, like doing excellent and meaningful work. I would also miss my employees and those who work for me who are all wonderful folk. You cannot help but think of them more as friends than colleagues after a while because you see far more of them than you do of any of your friends, including often your spouse. I would miss my boss, who can retire soon herself, my chain of command and the ancillary support staff who supported me. I would miss chatting with Melissa down in the credit union, the wonderful soups in the cafeteria and the opportunities to regularly travel the country on someone else’s dime. I would miss the view from the fifth floor of my office window. At the same time, I know it is pointless to hold onto these things. The institution I am a part of will change with political winds, which are likely to be harsh. People younger than me with arguably more talent are ready to assume my work, and really should. I know I cannot hold onto this good job indefinitely and even if I did it would not stay the way it is.

What would I do to fill the void it would leave in my life? I know I would keep working, at least part time, but I also know whatever I do next is likely to feel anticlimactic. Professionally, I have peaked. Teaching or whatever next career I pick will probably have its own unique challenges. Like the seniors in our youth group, I too will have to step into my own murky future.

Just like our youth, which get to try to enjoy the ephemeral feeling of a last month together before they step across a one-way threshold, I too sense a one-way threshold ahead of me and I sense I will be taking that step sooner rather than later. Life is mostly about change. It is sometimes good, sometimes bad but most often a mixed experience. It’s about moving outside your comfort zone whether you like it or not if life gets too comfortable and embracing the less comfortable. Ideally retirement is about moving toward a more comfortable zone, but there is also a great deal of comfort from forty years of meaningful work in the workforce. Finding a next job, albeit a part time one will be in some measure a move back toward the comfort of the workforce. My boss will likely be younger than me, my coworkers probably far less fun to be with.

And the comforting view outside my window is definitely going to change.

 
The Thinker

Separation anxiety

Our dining room is stacked with purchases and things encased in plastic. Our truck rental reservation is made, although it’s unclear to me whether an actual truck will be available on Monday. With so many college students moving into dorms and apartments, rental trucks are in short supply. We have purchased most of the items needed for our daughter to move to Richmond, Virginia and emptied our bank account in the process. The university’s checklist still has some unchecked spots. The whole application process at Virginia Commonwealth University is confusing and convoluted, meaning that only yesterday was our daughter able to sign up for classes. Because of the incessant delays, most of the classes that she wanted were already filled. She has no appointed adviser yet to guide her, and all the orientation slots are now full. She could call the undergraduate advisor for her department, but this involves her waking up before the sun goes down, something she is loathe to do. In short, procrastination on both her part and on her university’s part is costing time, money and opportunity. It is making this nervous father fret.

Procrastination drives me nuts, which is why I feel like I live my life in constant turmoil. Unfortunately, my wife and daughter are both chronic procrastinators. My wife can quite easily enter into a mindless mode where time, space and pressing deadlines disappear for hours at a time. When she emerges, I often get a predictable, “My goodness! I lost track of time again! I meant to do X, Y and Z.” I cannot complain since she was this way when I married her, but I was sort of hoping my daughter would not pick up her habit. Alas, she has, although I was pleased that she took initiative on a few things in her life recently, like arranging with her doctor for the shots she needed to be admitted.  (Naturally, it happened at the very last moment.)

None of this should be a big deal since she will be twenty-one next month. Yet despite two years of community college, she still is challenged by logistics and life’s complexity in general. Perhaps I contributed to it through a process of learned dependence. Perhaps she needed to fail at things a few more times than she did. Instead, her left brained dad did a lot of her organizational thinking (and nagging) for her, with my wife adding her nervous worries periodically as well.

This all should change on Monday when we pack most of our daughter’s stuff along with a new bed, desk, printer, sheets and much of her other random detritus and move them (along, hopefully, with her) to a townhouse a couple blocks from VCU. She will wall off and inhabit much of the living room, while two young men will inhabit the upstairs bedrooms. All are quiet types. One of the young men is essentially a hermit, emerging only to go to classes. I suspect that she will fit in well with them, once she gets accustomed to her new urban abode. While lately her focus has been more on World of Warcraft than university, an event in her life this seismic is finally achieving a grudging priority. For the first time since she was about three years old she will sleep regularly somewhere else. Like it or not, life is changing for her.

It will be changing for my wife and me as well. The truth is that emptying the nest is both liberating and scary for all involved. I have been doing the parenting thing for two decades and it is now second nature to me. Come Tuesday morning, only silence will come from her bedroom. Our cat Arthur is likely to be puzzled and eventually pissed. When we are out, our daughter provides him with reliable amusement, at least when she is awake. In time, Arthur will likely half forget Rosie, and he will be more in our faces.

Some part of me will be glad for one less occupant in the house and the additional privacy. Some eighty percent of the reason things get disorderly in my house will suddenly disappear. Some other part of me will be concerned that something dreadful could be happening to our daughter. She has a cell phone but she is sporadic about carrying it around or keeping it charged. In addition, she will be two hours away. She could disappear and we might not be able to find her. It will be challenging not to call or text her just to see if she is okay. Since she is not mindful of things like cell phones, unanswered calls or text, contacting her may just cause unnecessary anxiety. Perhaps I need to adopt a policy of not trying. Even if I can resist temptation to call her up, I doubt that my wife can. It’s going to take a couple weeks before we relax.

Our daughter will likely go through similar feelings. Except for her new housemate, whom she met only once and the undergraduate advisor I introduced her to, she doesn’t know a soul in Richmond. As she is introverted by nature, it will probably prove challenging to make new friends. At first, she will probably feel lonely. I know I felt that way when I started at college. Fortunately, I got a very compatible roommate so it did not last long.

I am betting that her loneliness phase won’t last too long. Instead, it will soon be, Living here is a heck of a lot better than at home! There is no need to drive five miles or more to be anywhere of interest. Instead, walk a few blocks or less and community surrounds you: age twenty something people, most of them reasonably intelligent, with all the temptations and richness of a university around her.

I expect we will see her on some weekends, perhaps every weekend. Once I had a car, I tended to come home every other weekend. It worked out great. One weekend to enjoy the city as a single man, then one weekend home with family where my laundry was mysteriously was cleaned and all this wonderful and tasty food was plentiful and freely available. I found that institutional food (and later my own cooking) could only be ingested for so long before my body rebelled. My guess is that once our daughter finds a small group of friends she will be away more than at home on the weekends. Once our anxiety is lessened, we may think about her absence less and less too. At some point, it will seem normal.

On Monday, we have to get sweaty, pack her up, haul her stuff 120 miles south and then leave her in a strange city. Our bodies will course with a mixture of feelings. She will be back home for extended semester breaks and following graduation she will probably want to move back in full time. Nevertheless, she will also have had the experience of living apart from parents. Except for paying for that part of her life, I suspect she is going to like it, even if it means she has to wash her own dishes and bus her own table.

In the end, so likely will we.

 
The Thinker

Welcoming the Bush Babies

News item:

A federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration yesterday to reconsider its 2006 decision to deny girls younger than 18 access to the morning-after pill Plan B without a prescription.

Another news item:

The 4,317,119 births, reported by federal researchers Wednesday, topped a record first set in 1957 at the height of the baby boom.

Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row.

I was born in 1957, at the height of the baby boom. It was an excellent year for cranking out babies. Apparently, 2008 was as well. One of the reasons that 1957 was an excellent year for bringing babies into the world was that birth control was largely unavailable. The FDA approved an estrogen-based pill in 1957, but for menstrual pain only. A variation of this pill was not approved for birth control until 1960. The first plastic IUD was made available in the United States in 1958, but many women found it uncomfortable to use and serious side effects like uterine bleeding were common. Condoms were available, although they were often hard to procure given that birth control was generally frowned upon and public discussion about sex was largely taboo. When men discovered how much pleasure was lost using those old-fashioned condoms, many preferred to take their chances. In effect, in 1957, contraception was largely unavailable. With plenty of fertile men and women in their prime baby-making years, the nation’s maternity wards were full.

Society today is quite different but many things are still the same. Men and women continue to have sex, and teenagers in particular feel their oats more than most. Condoms can now be readily procured with no questions asked, but it generally falls on the male to buy them and only men can use them. The contraceptive sponge turned out to be a so-so contraceptive device, better than nothing, but no guarantee for preventing pregnancy. For years it was off the market, and was only relatively recently reintroduced in 2005.

The birth control pill is still only available by prescription. Plan B is contraceptive available without a prescription that allows women concerned that they might be pregnant to change the situation, provided they take the medication within 72 hours of intercourse. However, the Bush Administration found Plan B to be deeply offensive. In its view, it was an abortion drug, should not be available to anyone, but in particular should be restricted from use by minors. It gave marching orders to the FDA to drag its feet on approving the drug, which went on for three years. Finally, the FDA approved it for adults only. Even though there was no credible evidence that it was medically unsafe for minors, it required pharmacies to place the non-prescription drug behind the pharmacy counter, and to ID purchasers who appeared to be minors.

While birth rates are up for all age ranges of women, it is disturbing that they are up for teenage girls in particular. Doubtless, some of these girls were trying to get pregnant. Some of them would have liked to have had the option to purchase Plan B discreetly off the shelf.

The Republican theory was that teens could be deterred through abstinence education. There was also doubtless the hope that these adolescents would confide in Mom or Dad before taking a major step like becoming sexually active. I doubt many of these knocked up girls were comfortable with having such conversations with Mom and Dad. I also doubt many of them knew that if they could get to a Planned Parenthood clinic they might have gotten free or reduced costs contraceptive and counseling. One thing is clear: after having sex, they could not get a Plan B from their local pharmacy. So at least some (and likely a great deal of) teenagers gave birth to little baby girls and boys that would otherwise not be here. Call them Bush Babies. The Bush Administration tacitly agreed that if it would mean compromising their principles then it was okay to bring thousands of unplanned babies into the world. In their crazy heads, this apparently was a more moral choice to have babies out of wedlock than to allow minors to procure a safe over the counter contraceptive designed specifically for these teenage encounters with adult life.

Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol (who recently gave birth to an out of wedlock child and who is now estranged from the baby’s father) recently provided some pragmatic advice. Doubtless Republicans everywhere were stopping their ears full of cotton and singing “La la la la la” when she told Fox News that teenage abstinence was not realistic. The sadder-but-wiser Bristol Palin also suggested that teens should wait ten years before having a child.

Even if the Wasilla, Alaska Wal-Mart had Plan B on its shelf of other non-prescription drugs, there is no guarantee that Bristol would have purchased it. At least if it had been available she would have had the choice. She could be planning for college now instead of trying to figure out how to raise a baby with an absent father.

If abstinence is not realistic, the reality of teenage birth is something far more tangible. Bristol could do teenagers everywhere a favor by documenting her life as an unwed teenage mother. Meanwhile, we can only hope that with a new administration it will not be long before this counterproductive rule on Plan B is rescinded and seventeen year olds like Bristol can postpone the responsibilities of parenting until they are mentally and financially up to the task.

 
The Thinker

If you love your kids, give them a real sex education

Four years ago, I wrote about the folly of teaching substandard or abstinence-only sex education. Now we have proof, or at least a darn convincing clinical study.

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a “virginity pledge,” but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

For most teenagers taking a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage is an exercise in satisfying their parents’ anxieties rather than a sincere conviction. It is hard to know just how sincere teenagers were when they took the pledge. In many cases, they make pledges like this long before they have the maturity to do so. Whether sincere or not, the lure of Mother Nature seems to trump Mom and Dad’s counsel. All that abstinence sex education, sermons in church and lectures from Mom and Dad seem to have no effect on whether and when you decide to have premarital sex. The study started tracking teenagers who took the pledge in 1995. Curiously:

By 2001, Rosenbaum found, 82 percent of those who had taken a pledge had retracted their promises …

Apparently, if you take the virginity pledge and become sexually active, you are also more reticent to take precautions. Did taking the pledge at least delay the onset of sexual activity? Apparently not:

… and there was no significant difference in the proportion of students in both groups who had engaged in any type of sexual activity, including giving or receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, the age at which they first had sex, or their number of sexual partners. More than half of both groups had engaged in various types of sexual activity, had an average of about three sexual partners and had had sex for the first time by age 21 even if they were unmarried.

So there was no benefit for taking an abstinence pledge except falsely assuaging Mom and Dad’s anxieties. However, by taking the abstinence pledge when your child does decide to have sex they are more likely to get pregnant or pick up a disease. They could even pick up AIDS, which is currently incurable and will eventually kill them. This could be the price you and your child pay for trying to assuage your anxieties about premarital sex.

How about trying something different? How about insisting that your children get a comprehensive sexual education rather than one that leaves them woefully ignorant on vital information they need to know? If you are pro-abstinence, it is perfectly correct to point out that, unless your child is raped, it is the only way to guarantee they will not become a parent or pick up a social disease. Of course, abstaining until marriage is no guarantee that they will never pick up a social disease. They may marry a philanderer for a spouse. I know you think your wonderful son or daughter would never do this, but just in case they do, wouldn’t you want your son or daughter to at least be aware of what might await them?

Ignorance is always stupid. To some extent, when it comes to sex education the inclination toward ignorance is understandable, since it is typically an uncomfortable topic for both parent and child. Yet, this inclination must be resisted. If you love your son or daughter you have to make sure they have a comprehensive sex education and that they are prepared to handle the emotional and physical consequences of their choice. For it will be their choice. Even if they do “just say no”, this does not really help them resolve the difficult transition from sexually inactive child to sexually active adult. You can preach as much virtue as you want, but statistically by the time your son or daughter is 21 they will have had on average three sexual partners. Since people are marrying at later ages, they are almost certain to have premarital sex. It is better to get them prepared for that reality.

You can do it by insisting that your school system provide complete and unbiased sex education and by making sure your child takes the course. Abstinence can certainly be mentioned, but it needs to point out that for most teenagers it will be ineffective. Mother Nature fills them with hormones and sexual curiosity. The need to be sexually active is not unlike a hatchling needing to learn how to fly. It is innate and entirely natural. Since most of our precious children are going to be sexually active before marriage, if you really love your children, you must arm them with the information needed to succeed in this transition.

If your school district, like most of them, gives sex education short shrift, there are alternatives. You likely are not a Unitarian Universalist, but you can inquire with a local church to find out when their program, Our Whole Lives, will next be taught. It is one of the few programs out there that is unbiased and covers not only the physical aspects of sexuality but the emotional aspects too. Most UU churches do not require you or your child become a member of the church to take the course.

There is also a lot of online information, with the most reputable information on the Planned Parenthood or the SIECUS web sites. In my humble opinion, these are a poor substitute for classroom teaching but it is better than nothing. If your children are not too squeamish, they probably would be helped hearing your experiences, how you dealt with them and how you felt about each sexual relationship.

Your child must absolutely know how to protect themselves from premature parenthood and social diseases. You must step up to the plate. You could bring home a sample of over the counter birth control products. You can show your son or daughter what a condom looks like and feels like and how it is used, using your fingers as an example.

If you have an excellent relationship with your child, they may even feel free enough to come to you when they feel close to being sexually active. If you have a daughter, you can take her to a gynecologist. Planned Parenthood clinics are in most communities of a certain size. You could show them where the local clinic is and make sure they know that they can get birth control products and STD information confidentially, cheaply and safely.

You may be aghast at some of my suggestions. Let me assure you though that after the initial shock wears off, your child will have a higher opinion of you. Many parents, including mine, skipped most of these steps. I like many ignorant young adults made many preventable mistakes in my journey toward being a sexually active adult. Providing comprehensive tools and information for your children to make the choices they will have to make is a sign of deep love. Your children deserve nothing less.

 
The Thinker

Sort of Enfranchised

If my 50th birthday in February was a big deal because the number was a very big and very round then arguably my daughter’s 18th birthday tomorrow is a much bigger deal.

My turning 50 included neither new responsibilities nor privileges. Perhaps AARP membership could be construed as a new privilege. However, the AARP no longer requires you to be age 50 to join. On the other hand, when you turn 18 then like it or not you become a (mostly) official member of the tribe. Should you transgress the law, there is no juvenile court for you. At age 18, while you cannot drink you are free to do other arguably stupid but legal things like smoke with impunity.

It used to be that at age 18 or so your parents were helping you pack your bags. Often you would move from your parents’ house to the local YMCA or YWCA, which was something like a community halfway house. There you could find single room housing, people about your age with perhaps some sense of morality, some older adults to keep an eye on things and cheap weekly rents. While you established yourself in the adult world, you had some structure. I imagine there are still YCMAs that offer such a service, but I do not know of any. Our local YCMA is merely a health club. Moreover it is hardly restricted to young Christian males. Old men, women and children can hang out at our YMCA. I am not even sure you have to attest to being a Christian in order to be a member. One thing is for sure: our local YMCA has no SRO housing for young adults.

When I turned 18, while I could probably have survived on my own, it would have been a rough and angst filled transition. Today, modern life is both more complicated and more expensive. In addition, young adults have upgraded both their expectations and lifestyles. Since they are used to convenience, they expect convenience. Since they never had to pay the freight to live a convenient life, they expect that their parents will help subsidize their transition into adult life. Generally, we parents, out of parental love but also out of necessity, have bought into this new vision. Sending your young adult off to college with a couple lockers stuffed with clothes, knickknacks and a thick collegiate dictionary is no longer enough. Today’s collegiates require ATM cards, health insurance, prescription drugs, and laptop computers and maybe even a car. These may not actually be essentials, but the likelihood of their failure appears to increase if they do not have them.

If there is good news for this change of life, it is that you are finally allowed to vote. My daughter has registered to vote for our election this November. Although she accompanied me many times when I voted, she may find the actual voting process underwhelming. She may want to vote for a new president. Instead, she will have more ponder more prosaic choices, including who should be Clerk of the Court. In addition, she may discover that being one voter among millions generally means your vote does not matter too much. If you want your vote to matter, it is better to move to a swing state like Ohio and Florida. She will learn that attempts to change the course of government mostly fail. They may bitch about things, but rarely does this mean they will vote out the incumbent.

When I turned 18, I was fully enfranchised. My new privileges included the right to buy out all the booze at the local ABC store if so inclined. Since that time, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers have succeeded changing those laws. While newly liberated adults like her can vote, they cannot legally imbibe. I hope I am not the only adult to be troubled by this inconsistency. If we are going to prohibit drinking until age 21, it is far more honest to also raise the voting age to 21. In addition, some states have other asterisks next to this change in life. For example, here in Virginia while our daughter can get a driver’s license, she must get a certificate from a state approved driving school before an examiner will test her. A year from now when she turns 19 this will no longer be an issue.

Therefore, tomorrow she really becomes a qualified adult. Although she has committed no transgressions, she is an adult under probation. She has all the responsibilities of full adulthood without necessarily all its privileges.

For her parents there are some benefits to her change in life. She becomes responsible for her actions, not us. However, there are also downsides. She is harder for us to declare as a dependent. It is more difficult for us to tell her what to do, and likely counterproductive should we actually demand it. There are both legal and natural forces at work. These forces are impelling her to take full responsibility for her actions and her life, whether she is ready or not. For my wife and me these are reminders that parenting is a limited mission. Our daughter, while much loved, is really a passenger on our train. We have punched her ticket. The train is slowing. She needs to get her off the train.

As a young adult in her gap year, she now often navigates by herself to the local Books-a-Million. While she shelves books for a bit over the minimum wage, she ponders what she really wants to do with her life. Our evenings, which used to be consumed with monitoring her homework and Internet usage, are starting to become quieter. The cat, who is very bonded with our daughter, pouts because his human is spending more and more time away from her. Meanwhile, I am envisioning a much quieter and lower-key life in my near future. I am seeing a time when her bedroom morphs into a guest room or a study. Indeed, I am seeing a time when our house goes on the market and we retire to some place smaller. I am seeing my wife and me with grey hair, living in a retirement community and going to Elder Hostels. While this vision still seems quite a way away, what is new is that we can see it clearly now.

Our cat will not be happy by our daughter’s change in life but he will adopt. My wife and I will experience a mixture of feelings, but will move toward acceptance. Our lives will continue to intersect with our daughter’s, but invariably we will see less of her. There may come a day when we call her regularly just to find out what is going on with her. There may come a day when our relationship devolves into occasional Thanksgiving dinners and exchanging Christmas cards.

We have to let her go. She has to let us go. That is just the way it is. Meanwhile, we can expect measured steps by her toward self-sufficiency and many more evenings and weekends free of the distraction of supervising her life, while not entirely free about worrying about her choices.

 
The Thinker

The transition

Some adolescents are eager to sample adult life long before they are physically and emotionally ready to do so. Others prefer to have little to do with growing up and might not grow up at all without firm parental involvement. My daughter is likely in the latter category. After she graduated in June, my wife and I set the firm expectation that she had to get a job.

Our daughter Rosie is part of an emerging trend: the gap year. A gap year is a year “off” (at least from education) between the end of high school and the start of college. My wife and I supported her decision. For a young woman for whom most life changes are a challenge, a year dealing with a regular job should help her clarify her choices. It was our hope that if nothing else this job would show her what life might be like if she did not go to college.

Rosie had managed to graduate high school without working a real job. The summary of her job experience was occasional babysitting and volunteer work. Both my wife and I held part time jobs in high school. Both of us needed the money. As one of eight children in a middle class household, I knew that if I wanted a college education, I would have to pay for most of it myself. I started working as soon as I was legally allowed. My parents chipped in a few thousand bucks toward my college education. I had saved about $7000 from working part time. Student loans and a cheap public university filled the rest of the gap.

Frankly, it irked me that Rosie had managed to get through high school without having had a real job. As I remarked in another entry an entry-level job, aside from providing a source of money was an invaluable education in life. High school has its stresses but it is surreal. Mopping floors at 10 PM or listening to surly customers bitch about their woes while maintaining a pleasant smile was real. Perhaps sensing that real life was not much fun, she seemed content to be a slacker.

There is no lack of entry-level jobs in our area of Northern Virginia. Yet many of them were simply unacceptable to our daughter. With threats of pain and suffering, we could have forced her to apply at a McDonalds or a Target. That tack seemed counterproductive. Since she would have to navigate her own way through real life, we felt it better to work with her than against her. My wife and I became her coaches. Still there was a big gap between our expectations and hers. Ours were that as soon as graduation was over she would be pounding the pavement. Hers was that a couple of times a week, and only if we nagged her and drove her around, she would apply at places where she wanted to work. After applying at a few places, she preferred to wait to see if they would call her. They did not.

To make a long story short she mostly managed to slack off all summer, sleeping in past noon and staying up nearly until dawn. She applied with lackluster enthusiasm at places like the local drug store, but really wanted to work in a bookstore. An interview with a Barnes & Noble though never resulted in a call back. She was this close to being forced to apply for a job at Target when, after a second interview the local Books-a-Million finally offered her a job. If she was relieved, it was hard to tell. My wife and I felt like popping the champagne. It had been an aggravating summer.

We are still nervous. For a young woman who spent most of her summer in a comfy chair with her laptop computer, a real job was going to be a big change. Could our daughter go from slacker to productive retail drone overnight? The answer appears to be yes. She has only finished four days on the job but we are amazed by the transition. While we wait to pick her up in the parking lot after her shift, we can watch her through the large open windows, scurrying from place to place. Her legs hurt, she says. This is not surprising, since they were little used all summer. Already she navigates around the store as if it were a second home, working with intensity and energy that astounds us. She often finds the working at the store interesting. She likes her coworkers, finds many of her chores boring but is too busy running from one task to another to care too much.

I guess underneath that slacker young woman was a woman ready to engage life, but scared by the transition. Now much of that fear is behind her. She has learned to apply for jobs and to interview. She did not like it, but she has acquired a life skill all of us but Paris Hilton must learn. Our job was to encourage first then coax and cajole when necessary. While the process took longer than we expected it is gratifying to see the fruit of her efforts at last. From navigating the buses, (they run only during rush hours) to vacuuming the store after it closes, she has moved from inertia into full engagement. She is learning to leave work at 12:15 in the morning and be back at 10 the same morning for another eight-hour shift. Moreover, she is doing so with both grace and a pragmatic attitude.

While I am still wondering if the other shoe will drop, I am beginning to relax. I know there is much more to this parenting business but I am also seeing that it does eventually end. Flush with her own money (she still must pay us $200 a month in rent, since she is not going to school) she is beginning to make her own choices in the real world. At the end of the month, she turns eighteen. Our joint account will become her own private account. Her checks have arrived. Her check card is already in use.

She still has some catching up to do with her peers. She has expressed little interest in getting her driver’s license. The State of Virginia requires anyone under 19 to go to a driving school, even though my wife and I have taught her how to drive. She will decide if she wants to accelerate the process or wait until she is 19 to take her driving test. The hassle of taking the bus to work (when it runs) or depending on her parents to drop her off and pick her up (when they are not running) may force her to rethink her lackadaisical attitude.

Over the next year, her hazy plans for becoming an English teacher may well change. She understands that public school teachers do not make much money. Working for modest wages may put this choice into context for her. I would not be surprised if her career plans take a new and unexpected path over the next year. For now, she keeps her goal modest: she wants to save up enough money to buy a Vespa. Unlike my wife and me, she will probably not have to worry about how she will afford college. We can give that one gift. She can graduate college and likely start debt free.

This coaching business is challenging for me. I certainly know what I would do if I were in her shoes. Yet I will never be in her shoes. She has treaded a different path in life than mine. My job is to express confidence, provide unconditional love, give an unvarnished picture of the road ahead and, if she asks, help her think through some tough choices. I am sure that she will have some stumbles along life’s path. Perhaps her cautious attitude is now something of an asset. Modern life is incredibly complicated, so caution is warranted, provided it does not amount to dysfunction. Yet life cannot be avoided forever. At some point, it must be engaged. It is heartening to see her engage it at last with a surprising spirit of determination and vigor.

 
The Thinker

Review: Dazed and Confused (1993)

American Graffiti (1973) celebrated the teenage years of the first set of baby boomers. Arguably, for those of us born in the middle to late end of the baby boom generation, Dazed and Confused (1993) is our American Graffiti. While not nearly as good as American Graffiti, for those of us born in the late 1950s and early 1960s Dazed and Confused will doubtlessly resurrect some adolescent feelings. If you are like me, the memories will be more painful than nostalgic. If you laugh more than cringe, maybe part of you never quite grew up.

There is no question that the 1970s were a weird decade. Dazed and Confused chronicles a set of rising seniors on the last day of school in 1976. The nation’s bicentennial was a month away. The Vietnam War had recently come to an inglorious end. We were on the tail end of the hippie generation. By the mid 1970s, society had thrown up its hands in surrender. Drug use was common among my generation, although smoking marijuana tended to be as far as we would go. In most states, you could buy beer at age eighteen, but even if you were not quite eighteen, there were no Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to worry about. It was not that difficult for a minor to purchase either beer or cigarettes. Even sex was not that hard to acquire. If a pregnancy occurred, abortions were readily obtainable, although you might have had to cross state lines. AIDS did not yet exist, so any social disease with the exception of genital herpes, which was relatively rare, could be cured with antibiotics. By default, we emulated our older siblings. As a class, we were inclined to fool around, take chances and be reckless. We were also a lost generation. The hippie movement was dying out. Ronald Reagan had yet to capture our imagination. Gerald Ford was our president. Our hair tended to be long, washed infrequently and uncut. Our clothes tended to be made of polyester and not to match. With utter authenticity, Dazed and Confused chronicles us at this time.

Director and Writer Richard Linklater was one of the few of us taking detailed notes during this time. The result was this 1993 movie. Watching Dazed and Confused is a bit like looking at pornography. That is not to say that Dazed and Confused is pornographic, although it has an R rating. (There is no nudity in the movie.) Just as pornography does not hide the warts and pimples on its models, neither does Dazed and Confused bother to present a false impression of our high school years. That is why it is difficult not to both cringe and laugh at the same time. You may find yourself a bit like me, wanting to watch it between the cracks in your fingers, desperately hoping it was not quite as bad as it was in this movie, but also knowing that yeah, it was that bad.

My high school was Seabreeze Senior High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. Unlike the students in this unnamed city, my classmates were generally too high on something to be cruel. These rising seniors though are downright cruel. On the last day of school, the guys hang out in front of the local middle school, ready to harass the rising freshmen when school lets out. They literally capture them as they exit the school and spank their hinnies with large wooden paddles. The women were not much better. They cover the rising freshmen girls with ketchup, mustard and kitty litter and force them to say humiliating things to the seniors. Why do they do it? It is a tradition. They suffered the same humiliation four years earlier, so of course they have to mete it out.

If you are seventeen going on eighteen in 1976 the world is your sandbox. Drugs and beer are easy to acquire. The parents for the most part look the other way. The girls are mostly easy lays. You do stupid and reckless things; you are quick to anger. You knock over mailboxes for fun. Yet underneath all this reckless behavior is a teen wanting to sober up but not sure how to keep the hormones in check.

Richard Linklater captures this world excruciatingly well. His movie is not really art, so much as a dispassionate look at twenty-four hours in the life of teenagers in late May 1976. From someone who grew up in this environment I can say that Dazed and Confused feels entirely authentic. There is not a false note in the whole movie. These were our teenage years with all their warts and pimples. That is why it is hard not to cringe. It is also okay, if you can muster it, to chuckle along from time to time.

With two exceptions, the cast is mostly a bunch of no names. Ben Afflack plays Fred O’Bannion, one of the more obnoxious teenagers. Matthew McConaughey plays David Wooderson, a young man who graduated some years earlier but cannot seem to escape the allure of his high school youth. I identified with a trio of nerds who for some reason choose to hang out with this bunch. Anthony Rapp, who starred in Rent both on Broadway and on film, plays Tony Olson, one of the few with his head together.

There is virtually nothing in the way of plot in this movie. It is just a tiny slice of time from May 1976, obviously heavily drawn from Linklater’s real life experiences and flawlessly rendered in all its garishness. Those of you my age who feel twinges of nostalgia for your high school years might want to see this movie, just so you remember what it was really like. Your current life in your extremely late 40s and early 50s should look quite a bit better than the mess you likely were back then.

I will leave this movie unrated. It is not high art but it is a faithful restatement of our lives and times back then.

Thank goodness, those days are gone.

 
The Thinker

The Graduate

Time sneaks up on you when you are a parent. One day you are changing your daughter’s diaper and the next she is on a stage being handed a diploma. You stand there applauding, tears streaming down your face and hoarsely shouting her name to ten thousand attendees. The principle shakes her hand with his right hand while giving her her diploma with his left hand.

It is strange and surreal. You would feel like singing “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof except you are too choked up to sing. Also, there is the constant drone of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” from the school orchestra. Still, you would sing it if you could, for you are filled with a powerful and bittersweet feeling. Your heart just aches for the love you feel for your child, now a woman.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he get to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday
When they were small?

Your heart also aches in sorrow, for the bridges of dependency you know you must slowly burn as your daughter to transitions into an adult. You want her to stay at home forever, playing video games, attending sleepovers and going to Girl Scout meetings. Instead, you realize that part of the parenting experience is behind you. You now express your love by letting her go. Now comes a time when love will look a little sterner and at times a little heartless. Every bird reaches an age when the parent unceremoniously kicks the hatchling out of the nest. So too do you realize that it is your solemn parental duty to do the same, perhaps not by suddenly changing the locks, but by sending your daughter out to get a real job, and to learn to do things like paying rent. Since she has elected to take a year off before going to college, she has to get a job to stay at home. After she turns eighteen, our daughter will start paying us rent, $200 a month to start.

When not overcome by emotion you sit there in the George Mason University Patriot Center, one of ten thousand attendees and are a bit mesmerized by the size of the crowd and the enormous Class of 2007. For our daughter Rosie is a graduate of Westfield High School in Chantilly, Virginia. To say she is one of many is to put it mildly. There are over seven hundred students in her graduating class. It will take a full hour for all the graduates to get their diplomas. Principle Tim Thomas’ arms will be sore for a week.

The number of graduates may be huge, but I am feeling wistful anyhow. This is the sort of high school graduation that I wanted but I never received. Instead of a huge auditorium, my class graduated at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club. Unlike my graduation, where a thunderstorm took out the lights for ninety minutes, this graduation proceeded like clockwork. And unlike my graduation where a fair number of graduating seniors smoked reefers in the darkness while they waited for the lights to come back on, at this graduation the mere failure of the men to wear black pants or the girls to wear a black dress and heels was sufficient grounds to be thrown out of the ceremony.

Yes, it may be corny, but an orchestra has to play “Pomp and Circumstance”. Of course, there has to be brief speeches by the principle, the class historian, the class president and the class valedictorian, none of which really inspires anyone, particularly the graduates. They are more focused on the all night party at the school that will follow graduation. Still, these things are necessary. It is how the reality of graduation sinks in. Anything less and the ceremony is stripped of its meaning and dignity. Still, these graduates are not without a sense of humor. Despite stern admonitions and a pat down of students before graduation, two inflatable beach balls were tossed among the graduates while diplomas were handed out. In addition, despite stern warnings not to do so, a few yahoos in the audience used their air horns anyhow. No graduation is complete without it turning into something of a popularity contest; you can judge a graduate’s popularity by the volume of cheers he or she gets when their name is announced.

Nonetheless, my daughter’s graduation was still deeply satisfying for this parent. I found myself crying at strange times, like when the orchestra struck up a tune from West Side Story but the graduates had not yet filed in. Perhaps it was the jet lag (I had arrived home from Denver, at 1 AM, and was up at 6:30 AM). Perhaps it was the wedding I attended the day before. (I was crying through that too.) On the other hand, perhaps through my daughter’s graduation I was vicariously experiencing the graduation I wanted, but was denied.

It was likely all these things, but mostly I was feeling obnoxious pride at my daughter’s accomplishment. She may not have been class valedictorian, but that was an unattainable goal among 700 plus students anyhow. For now, her proud father was simply awed that she had survived high school and eked out a better than B average. That is no small accomplishment in the 21st century and in a high school ranked 128th in the country. Despite her inexperience, my daughter adroitly dodged all the teenage minefields in front of her. She could have become drug addicted, hooked on tobacco, pregnant, in a car wrapped around a telephone poll or acquired some social disease. She rebelled by truly being different, even among her peers. Not many freshmen would join the Gay-Straight Alliance, or go on to be its vice president. While mostly she navigated below the radar of the preppy and popular, when she stood up, she did so for things she believed in: like civil rights for those whose lifestyle offended the majority of Virginians. How could I not feel pride in a young woman whose values are that well grounded?

As one of the speakers said, graduation is really the end of the beginning, as in the end of childhood. Now our daughter begins a strange and much different chapter of her life, where she navigates regularly to a job, does things she does not want to do for eight hours at a time, smiles when she does not want to, pays rent and learns to live within her means. Perhaps she will learn some other lessons, like what it feels like to be fired, laid off or to make a catastrophically bad choice that eluded her in high school. She will have that right in September when she turns 18. She tells me that one of the first things she plans do when she turns 18 will be to register to vote.

That is how we all learn, of course: by making choices and observing their results in the often nebulous minefield called reality. She is bound to stumble and she will have to learn how to recover by herself. Perhaps this year off from education will be the best education she will ever get. For the one course they cannot teach you in high school is how to navigate real life. Some things cannot be taught; they can only be experienced.

I expressed my confidence that she will make these choices wisely. I too must learn some new skills. I must learn to keep my lips buttoned and to give advice only when asked, and maybe not even then. Our daughter remains leery and cautious about engaging life, but she is not dysfunctional. She remains a nerdy, eclectic but sweet young woman, much like her parents. Her sense of caution will serve her well. She will sort it out in her own way. Her choices may surprise us and occasionally disagree with us. However, those choices will be authentically her own.

We have released the tether and she is unmoored. She is trying out the oars of her life tentatively. Ever so slowly, she will recede from our view.

 
The Thinker

Ready or not, here life comes

I am beginning to understand that the first eighteen years of parenting are the easiest.

Those first eighteen years amount to parental spadework. Parents provide the soil, the sunlight, and the seeds that help a child grow and mature. When it comes to our children, most of us are reasonably myopic. How could we not be? We had to be there for our children 24/7 for eighteen long years. When they were infants bawling at 2 AM, we had to sort through their issue of the moment. When they took their first tentative steps, we had to be there to make sure they did not hurt themselves. We had to sort through innumerable child rearing issues from their schooling, their religious education (or lack thereof) and their friendships. Then at some point, we have to cut the cord and try not to grimace as our darling children struggle to navigate the complexities of real life.

There are times when I think that my daughter, who graduates high school and turns eighteen this year, should have engaged life more. Like her parents, she has turned quite introverted. She is fine with her small coterie of oddball friends. She seems fine that most of them have already started executing their career plans while she has yet to engage. While naturally intelligent, she often lacks motivation. What she really wants to do is write fiction (and she is a gifted writer) and watch CSI: Miami reruns. Unfortunately, writing fiction, while a laudable goal, is unlikely to provide the income she will need to survive. Moreover, there are only so many episodes of CSI: Miami. When she thinks about her looming adulthood at all, she is trying to figure out whether she wants to go to a community college or spend a year in the real world and then maybe go to college. Rather than decide, she seems content to just see what life serves up on her doorstep. Her attitude is understandable. The real world can be a bizarre, cold and brutal place.

While concerned, I realize that any teenager moving into adulthood will go through stages like this. She is like a chrysalis. She may prefer to stay in her shell, but it is opening anyhow. Life is propelling her toward maturity, whether she is ready or not.

Her “go real slow” approach is not necessarily a bad strategy. Her innate sense of caution, perhaps learned by observing some dysfunctional friends, has had some positive effects. She does not smoke and is not taking drugs. She has not run off with a biker named Thor. I do not worry that she has caught a sexually transmitted disease or that she will have a child out of wedlock.

In addition, she does appear unlikely to emulate her somewhat older cousin. Over the last week or so, I have become privy to an example of a disastrously bad choice that a young adult can make. My niece is a skinny, intelligent, well-mannered and attractive girl. Excellent parents raised her in a warm and nurturing environment. Her parents, as best I can tell, have done everything right. Doctor Spock would use them as examples. My niece has excelled scholastically, grabbed a scholarship, managed a part time while attending university, and learned the art of sharing an apartment with a friend. Her parents have followed the usual best practices: giving educational carrots and additional freedoms commensurate with grades and demonstrating sound values.

So just why has their 20-year-old daughter run away with a very handsome but very troubled young man? It is not as if she did not have any warning about his dysfunctional nature. Nor is there a lack of earnest young men with sound values who would like to be romantically involved with her. Instead, she chooses to focus on her bad boy boyfriend. He smokes, has gotten in trouble with the law, totaled some cars and continually relies on others to bail him out. Now my niece has stopped going to classes. She has moved to Atlanta to be with her boyfriend and his dysfunctional mother .

Her parents, of course, are tearing their hair out. They spend much of their time crying, worrying and not getting much sleep. They are also taking painful steps: repossessing her car, cutting off her cell phone and cleaning up the detritus she left behind. These included two beloved cats that she abandoned. I think I can confidently say that my daughter will never do anything quite this rash. Caution seems to be hardwired into her brain.

As she turns eighteen, my wife and I are negotiating a set of transition rules for our daughter. Just agreeing on a set of rules is a big challenge for us. Both of us come from different backgrounds. Consequently, we have sometimes-divergent ideas of what strings and carrots are appropriate for a young adult. It seems unlikely that on the day she turns 18 that our daughter will move into an apartment of her own. Having spurned a part time job, she does not have the money for such an endeavor, and we will not give it to her. With the high cost of living in Northern Virginia, she would need plenty of roommates to make ends meet. Given her tendency toward inertia, we will likely have to prod her to find a job. Nonetheless, the outlines of what we are prepared to do are now clear.

We have a pile of money set aside for her college education. We will spend it on her educational expenses only. If she goes to school full time and needs a car we may provide a car but we will not give her the title. If she wants to wait a while before going to college, then she can stay with us but will have to pay us rent. Right now, my wife and I are negotiating these details. I am thinking $200 a month or 25 percent of her gross income for rent, whichever is less, with amounts going up every year. If she chooses not to go to school, we will expect her to work at least 32 hours a week. She will be responsible for getting to and from work. Our bus service around here is problematical, so it will be a logistical challenge for her. It will be one of many challenges she will have to manage, but they will help prepare her for much bigger challenges ahead.

Our daughter has the outline of our thinking, but we have not presented the details. We plan to implement it as a contract where we all sign on the dotted line. If she does not like it, she is free to move out. I cannot see her doing that, since inertia may just as well be her middle name. In addition, the true cost of living would be a real shock. I doubt she has the right set of skills to manage the complexity of jobs, roommates and living within her means at this stage of her life.

The reality is we all found this time of life challenging. College, as hard as it was, provided me with something of a buffer. Student (and later off campus) housing was straightforward and not too complex. It was not until I graduated and found myself in the midst of a bad job market that I was forced to fully engage adult life with all its uncertainty and stresses. I struggled. My wife went through similar struggles.

Our daughter knows that advanced education and a professional work attitude will make these challenges less stressful. However, knowing is not the same motivator that feeling them provides. We suspect that when she experiences these things first hand she might find additional motivation to do hard things, like make the commitment to strive hard in college. A year between high school and college working a low wage job might provide a needed dose of reality. Her lack of a plan may be the career perfect medicine.

Still, it is no wonder that she prefers to stay in denial. She has absorbed at least this much correctly: real life can be damned scary. It was scary for me and it will be scary for her. Given that society is far more complex for her than it was for me at her age, it could well be scarier for her. Yet like all of us, by confronting real life she will gain self-assurance. It remains to be seen how well she will do and whether our strategies will help or hinder her in this process. The only thing we can say for sure is that there is turbulence ahead. I hope that for a girl who likes roller coasters she will find a way to enjoy the topsy-turvy years ahead.

 

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