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Emerging Adults

Kiss For MotherMothers are often blamed for not knowing when to let go and help children leave the nest.  What happens when adult children—specifically sons—leave physically but can’t detach emotionally?

 Details magazine considers the question “Are You Still A Mama’s Boy?”

 If you have your mother on speed dial and seek her opinion about all your dates, you have more in common with guys who sleep on Spider-Man sheets than you’d probably care to admit

The article acknowledges that “A mom who functions as a caretaker, financial adviser, champion, and friend all in one can be a huge bonus for a guy—especially one busy with work.”

 Obviously too much attachment is not a good thing, no matter how flattering it is to have a son (or daughter) constantly seek advice on everything from decorating to dates!  While the article deals tongue-in-cheek with “mama’s boys,” this issue of emotional attachment has developed as  area of academic study known as  “emerging adulthood.” Sociologists, psychologists and others have even started an association and held conferences to study the topic.   

So why do twentysomethings (and even some thirtysomethings) continue to cling to mom for advice?  Partly its symptomatic of delay in accepting the responsibilities of adulthood, according to psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett, author of  “Emerging Adulthood. ”

 In his book, Arnett outlines several reasons for this behavior:

  • more time spent pursing college and graduate degrees
  • the rise in the average age for marriage and children
  • increased professional opportunities for women. 

 In the class I teach called “Covering GenY” we discuss the Arnett book.  Many of the students agree that the path to becoming full-fledged adults takes longer for the reasons Arnett outlines.  In addition, the recession will force many of them to move back home after graduations because of the dearth of well-paying jobs—or any job at all. And no job means they must still turn to the home front for money.  Hard to become independent when mom is still writing handing over the ATM card. They also admit that the “electronic tether” keeps them firmly attached even post college. The answer to “What should I do about (fill in the blank)” is just a text away.

 Quoted in the Detail articles, Arnett blames moms as much as sons for the continued hand holding.  It seems that the baby boomer parenting style— friends rather than authority figures—delays the maturity process.  Also fewer children means mom has more time to devote to each child  and is less likely to be willing to let go just because junior is celebrating his 30th birthday. 

 How can we even tell when are children can be truly certified as adults?  The hallmarks are three, writes Arnett:

  •  Accept responsibility
  • Make independent decisions
  • Become financially independent

 However, adulthood doesn’t happen overnight. They changes occurs gradually and incrementally. And when those milestones are marked, maybe there’ll still be calls for decorating advice…from a daughter-in-law.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lisa Schiraldi October 12, 2009, 5:20 pm

    I enjoyed the article. My children are a bit younger ( 2 boys 15 and 10 and a girl 10) but already I can see the greater needs the boys have. I expect this will continue far longer for the boys than my daughter. While she is very independent my boys are “very needy”.I just hope that someday I will be able to see the hallmarks in at least one of them!

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