The thumbnail sketch on Gen Me stems from a shift in social attitude primarily during the 80's and into the 90's that created a new version of the "Me Generation," as Baby Boomers were often called. But in this version, Donna Reed wasn't your mommy. And Ward Cleaver wasn't your dad. Instead, children had parents, teachers, coaches, and other role models telling them they were super-duper special, just because they existed. I was one of those parents. Everyone gets a trophy; every individual is important. We were the children of the children who witnessed the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism--an earlier sketch on the history of postmodernism can be found under the March 2011 archives. Ultimately, we were unwittingly touting the latest, greatest social perspectives. Typical dinner conversation during the Reagan-era didn't often include social theory. But the buck has to stop somewhere, and etiquette isn't about the blame-game. While we may have blown it as parents, giving our children applause for standing still--it's no stretch to see how, as our children "grew up" they began to realize that we were not only lying to them, but that, by doing so, we were total and complete schmucks. Either way, it makes for an odd combination of entitlement mixed with overwhelming fear of failure--and that's where etiquette offers everyone redemption.
Etiquette is all about social decorum; but in the 21st century, society isn't behaving the way it did when women wore white gloves and hats and men wore a shirt and tie--both as a matter of course. Today, there are no social "rules." Holding the door for a woman isn't expected, even if she's pregnant, even if she's disabled, even if she's struggling with a baby carriage. People don't even really say thank you anymore--it's more like, "thnx." They can't even spell the word, let alone say it. The art of the thank you note seems practically dead though everyone seems to be obsessed with typing on tiny keyboards--in restaurants, while driving, in parties--let's put it this way: Our social expectations have dropped...by quite a lot. But there has to be some kind of social recognition of what is decent, and what is not. With adult children, how do you handle such moments...like when, and how, to say goodbye?
College is the natural time to begin that separation, but in the 21st century, college isn't always an option given the drop in the dollar and rise in education costs. The 5-year plan for a 4-year degree is a thing of the past--7-years is the average time spent in college for Gen Me to achieve a 4-year degree. And even if college is part of your adult-child's experience, once they've graduated from college--what then? Joblessness is at an all-time high. Unless your student has some kind of in like knowing Donald Trump or Richard Branson, or, is in a "bottom-line" field like computer engineering, it may be possible that your adult child will have separated through college but now, must return to the "nest." Even the students who choose to go on to graduate school don't always have better luck...again, unless they went on to med school or law school. Your bottom-line is this: You may very well have a Gen Me adult child living in your house for (many) years to come.
As horrible as that may sound to those of you who are the adult children--as well as the parents--with a little bit of etiquette, things don't have to become horribly stressful.
Recognize your adult child as an individual; respect their privacy and space. The fine line comes when you begin judging that adult child's efforts, or lack thereof. Part of living at "home" means that, in fact, your parents will expect you to make contributions to not only the household, but to your own life. As parents, we have to understand our limits and express those to our adult children in a calm and consistent way. If having your adult child move home is not something you can deal with--it doesn't make you less parental, just more honest than most. Let your adult child know that their moving back home cannot be forever; that you expect them to look for work with as much zeal as possible, and if the job of their dreams isn't available...time to consider the same stop-gap measures that many other jobless Americans with college degrees are considering: Retail.
But what is the appropriate etiquette when your adult child sleeps all day, eats your food, and leaves small messes behind in every room they enter? What is the appropriate etiquette when a month (or three) go by and your adult child's less-than-zealous job search has come up empty?
When your adult child returns home, the first thing you have to do is explain as calmly, clearly and consistently as possible your reasonable expectations for their stay, including things like your limits on the length of their stay, their behavior while living with you, their monetary contributions and other household contributions--like cleaning their own spaces, doing their own laundry and helping with larger jobs like vaccuming the house once a week--and, of course, that you expect them not to sleep all day but be diligently searching for a job. This way, when an expectation falls short, you have a starting point for your conversation about next-steps. Because you're the parent, you will appear judgemental to your adult child...and that's okay. Make sure you reinforce your love and support and try to find ways that won't continue to enable your adult child's failure, but help them gain more confidence--like finding an alternate place to stay until gainful employment can be acheived.
Your adult child is not your room-mate, even if they pay "rent." Undoubtedly, unless they're coming up with half your mortgage payment and half of all the other household expenses, you are paying the lion's share of theirs. What the adult child needs to understand is that no matter who you are in society, any healthy, intelligent individual who takes charity to live without making good-faith efforts to gain financial independence--even from their parents--will always be judged. That's what made America so different from other countries...and still does. America provided EVERYONE with the opportunity to get educated, find a good job, start a business, make a million dollars...or not--it was up to the given individual, not their caste or lack of aristocratic heritage. Your adult child has those same choices and opportunities today, even if it costs more as the dollar drops.
So though the adult child may balk at your casting judgement on their efforts, if you established reasonable parameters early on, a calm discussion of your consistent expectations can ensue. However, it's not always reasonable to expect that your adult child will respect your expectations, even if they were in agreement early on. Gen Me has narcissistic tendencies...which blurs with the sociopathic--or being socially-ruthless to meet one's own ends. In such a circumstance, it's good to try to use an objective third-party to negotiate the situation. Life is hard, no matter how social etiquette is applied.
As your adult child matures, part of their best example of living a successful, independennt life is through you. You may judge your adult child not so much based on their individuality, but what their behavior reflects about you. Don't take their failure, or success, personally. Instead, celebrate your adult child's character and integrity--those are the traits you most contributed to.