Monday, August 22, 2016

How to Be an Adult

Back-to-school photos are popping up all over Facebook. From my own newsfeed, the youngest celebrating his first day at kindergarten while the oldest her senior year in college. Tomorrow, my son – who refused college photos but sent me a picture of his Capitol Hill ID badge when he was interning this summer – jets off for his first year of graduate school. This generation of kids, parented by us so-called “helicopter parents,” should be the most prepared young adults ever to tackle the real world. But last night I came home to a sinkful of dirty dishes and a 22-year-old who informed me he didn’t know which ones should be washed and which ones put in the dishwasher. (To be fair, his 49-year-old father expresses befuddlement at this as well.) I was, needless to say, surprised: This is a young man who had his own apartment the last two years of college, who easily traverses the Washington, D.C. Beltway; who flies on his own and rents cars. (I didn’t check off those last two items till I was in my 30s.) Obviously I had taken his mastery of these steps as proof that he had mastered the ones beneath them. I was wrong.

And I’m not the only parent missing an item or two from my pre-nest-push-out check list. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. are filled with articles written by Millennials complaining about being an adult, not feeling like an adult, being tired of “adulting,” etc. It’s interesting that this generation sees adult as a verb – an action that be started or stopped – rather than a noun, a state of being.

My fellow helicopter parents, we did this.

We felt sorry for our incredibly busy children, who had demanding school schedules, travel sports, and a plethora of “volunteer” commitments, required both by exclusive colleges and public and private school graduation requirements. (Ask a Gen Xer what they had to do to get into the University of Maryland College Park, and weep at the answer.) Our kids were only getting five hours of sleep, for pete’s sake! Sure, we could have taken away their smart phones, but maybe they really were texting about homework, not sexting. So we cooked their dinners and didn’t ask for help with the dishes. We did their laundry. We drove them to school so they could catch up on homework or sleep.

And now they are college graduates and looking wide-eyed at dirty dishes, not to mention paying their own way by working real jobs that offer low pay and only two weeks of vacation a year. How, they ask, will they spend a month in Italy with only two weeks of vacation?

So they apply to graduate school, and put off the “adult” conversation for another two to four years. Perhaps by the time they’re too old to be on their parents’ health insurance policy, they will feel like full-fledged adults.

But probably not.

So if you’re like me, and you somehow assumed that your offspring’s incredible grasp of current affairs meant that he also knew how to close the lid on a top-loading washer, I’m offering a list of milestones that every son and daughter should reach before moving out of the house for good. (If they don’t know how to do these things, that doesn’t mean they get to stay forever.) In order to truly be considered adults, they should be able to:

 Grocery shop for balanced meals
 Cook simple meals and follow recipes for more complicated ones
 Know what to do and who to call if in a car accident
 The rules of tipping
 Keep a relatively clean home
 Routinely wash sheets and towels
 Do laundry regularly
 Pay their own bills
 Pay off credit cards every month, or hold only modest balances
 Drink only moderately during celebratory outings, and plan ahead so that driving isn’t an issue
 Make own doctor and dentist appointments and regularly manage preventive car
 Use birth control every time
 Have a realistic picture of their friendships, work relationships and romantic relationships
 RSVP appropriately
 Own up to mistakes (i.e., speeding tickets, broken appliances) and offer restitution
 Solve simple problems without needing help
 Spend a day working and taking care of themselves without whining about “adulting.”

Before you send your child out into the big, wild world, make sure he/she can handle the items on this list.

That is, assuming you can handle them yourself.

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