How to grow an adult


It’s been said that two of the most common sources of conflict in a typical marriage are money and sex.

That may be true for the younger set.

Among my fellow sixty-somethings, however, the hot topic lately has been adult children — and the outsized role they play in later-life relationships.

I first heard this complaint from a friend of mine who grumbled that he’d just broken up with a woman he really liked, because he couldn’t stand the way she catered to her grown-yet-irresponsible children.

“She lets them walk all over her,” he said. “We’d be out on a date and they’d call her to whine about some crisis —usually of their own making. Next thing I know, she’s gone running off to rescue them.”

Another friend of mine got involved with a guy whose finances were tight and who was constantly coming up short on cash when it was time to pay the tab for dinners, movies, and concerts.

For awhile my friend was supportive and frequently paid their way on dates. Then she noticed a pattern. When her poor, broke date’s adult daughter crooked her finger or begged for help with car payments or rent, her Significant Other always managed to come up with plenty of cash.

End of relationship.

One couple I know argues frequently because his ill-mannered sons come over to their place, lounge around leaving dirty dishes and empty beer cans in their wake, and call Dad for help multiple times a day because they can’t manage their finances, jobs, roommates, or a place to live.

Throughout their teen-age years, Daddy got these kids multiple cars whenever they carelessly crashed one. Now he has even gotten one son a job at his company — which lasted maybe a month. The kid didn’t like all the rules and restrictions.

Hearing how they grew up, it was easy to figure out how the boys became so dysfunctional. The parents divorced when they were in preschool, moving into separate homes in the same neighborhood. The boys floated freely between houses, taking full advantage of the competition between Mom and Dad to provide the household that was the most fun. The latest video games and electronic toys were found in abundance. What was not found in abundance were rules, limits, or expectations of (heaven forbid) chores — because Mom and Dad were also competing to be the parent who was the most accommodating and likable.

It’s a scenario that frequently plays out in cases of divorce — but it doesn’t have to. I can also cite stories of children whose parents divorced at an early age, but who have grown up to be grounded, successful adults with strong work ethics.

I also know plenty of young adults who grew up in stable homes and intact families, but are floundering.

One that comes to mind was an extremely bright student who made topnotch grades all through high school — but only because his mother stood over him every night cracking the whip until he did his homework. When he got to UVA a week or two before classes began, and all of a sudden had free time (and no one to tell him how to spend it) he quickly became addicted to a new video game.

Then school began, and he had no idea how to organize his time — or tear himself away from gaming. He flunked out college in the first semester.

* * *

So what, you young parents may ask, do these stories mean for someone just beginning to rear a family?

It should be evident from the stories above that the seeds of dysfunction are sown early, and that there is plenty parents can do — once they have survived the early months and provided their infant with that all-important base of love and security — to create an atmosphere and set of expectations that will help a child succeed.

Even a toddler is capable of understanding rules. And in my book, the first and most important rule any parent can establish is that — just as Mommy and Daddy alone operate the car — Mommy and Daddy must push the buttons to turn on the TV.

If I could choose only one rule a parent could apply, this would be it. Leaving the TV (and other gadgets) in parental hands encourages kids in the pre-school years to seek their own entertainment through hands-on play, rather than be seduced into passive watching.

Parents are doing their kids no favors when they shower them with electronic toys and allow them unlimited access to them. Kids who get into the instant-gratification habit in toddlerhood grow up believing they are entitled to 24/7 entertainment, and must never suffer even a moment of boredom, whether riding in the car or waiting to be served at a restaurant.

If they’ve been allowed to push a button and be passively entertained whenever they desire, how do kids ever learn initiative or self-direction? If they’ve been raised with electronic toys at their fingertips, why should they have any inclination to join in conversation with adults? Pick up a book and read? Do chores or study or anything that remotely involves work?

Is it any wonder these children seem to have no direction as adults?

I’m not blaming electronic entertainment for all the problems with young adults, but I consider it central to any discussion of good parenting —and I’ve written at length in this space about the benefits of raising low-tech, “slow” kids [see “Slow Kids” series at henricocitizen.com/opinions/categories/C203/P24].

In a future Family Forum, I will discuss a few other principles that I think contribute to producing well-adjusted, self-motivated adults. And I would welcome input from other parents or relatives of adult children who have ideas on the topic.

What do you think helped your child become a solid adult?

What do you regret, or what would you change?

I look forward to hearing your stories, whether or not they are success stories — and whether or not you agree with my “slow kids” premise.

And if you happened to have raised a TV-and-gaming addict who grew up to be a great adult, I can guarantee you will have a chance to explain how you did it. That’s a story I have been waiting years to hear!

Send your comments to Patty Kruszewski at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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The 9th annual Short Pump Mile and Short Pump Express Fun Run, Richmond’s largest timed road race just for kids, will start at 7:30 a.m. in front of American Family Fitness in Short Pump. All participants will receive a race t-shirt, medal and refreshments. Awards will be given to age group and overall winners. The Short Pump Express, a 400-Meter Fun Run (non-timed), is offered to children age five and younger who aren't quite up to tackling the mile. The School Participation Competition will award the top five schools with the most participants a total of $2,000 to be used for their physical education programs; new this year – all schools with 25 or more registered runners will earn $100. For details and to register, visit http://www.shortpumprace.com. Full text

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