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The New Generation Gap: Parenting Adult Children

02Aug 2006

One of the trends that has become obvious in our culture is the issue of relationships between older adults — let’s say anywhere from mid-40’s (although that’s not old!) to eighty and beyond — and their adult children. These “adult children” range from late teen’s thru the 20’s & 30’s to individuals who are 40 and into their 60’s (sometimes older!).

And we all know it is definitely weird to be “parented” when you are 40 years old. So recently, I coauthored an article which was just published in Worth magazine (www.worth.com) that addresses the challenges of developing healthy relationships between parents and their adult offspring. I was pleased to be able to write the article with my friend, Thayer Willis (www.thayerwillis.com).

Here are some thoughts from the article:

The demographics of the American family are shifting as our population ages, leaving many people, at a time when they should be enjoying their adult lives, instead struggling to with challenges that no other generation has faced.

Hapily, today’s parents are living longer and remaining healthier and more functional at older ages. Their presence in their family’s lives is expanding as they continue to be vitally engaged in managing their family’s finances, businesses and philanthropic efforts. But they also wrestle with how to “parent” their adult children and find appropriate ways to provide input and guidance to the younger family members-particularly when it comes to potentially thorny issues. Some parents expect their relationships with adult children to evolve into friendships, while others continue to relate to them as children.

Simultaneously, many young offspring are delaying independence from their parents. They frequently are not fully prepared for a career until reaching their mid-20s or even early 30s. Additionally, more young adults are returning home after completing college or having lived on their own. Some of them are expeted to– or expected to– work in a family enterprise run by a parent, which can further stifle independence and strain relationships.

These adult children commonly battle a range of conflicting thoughts. While they can feel overly controlled by their parents and resent any perceived intrusiveness, they can also feel embarassed by their lack of independence- particularly when dealing with finances. Naturally, this “next generation” also harbors concerns about their parents’ need for assistance from them as they age, as well as how to deal with their physical frailty and declining mental capabilities.

Meanwhile, adult children, both young and middle-age, recieve increasing amounts of direct financial assistance from their parents. This largesse takes many forms: annual gifts that can range from nominal awards to of $5,000 up into many digits; cash or its equivalent to help with buying a home; the opportunity to buy hand-me-down vehicles from parents; exotic family vacations underwritten by the parents, or tuition payments or saving plans for a grandchild’s private education. None of these gifts are innapropriate, in and of themselves. However, they do create new and different relational dynamics between parents and their adult children that must be carefully managed.


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