Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Extended Adolescence

I have been told that adolescence, that period of our lives in which we are separating from our parents but still significantly dependent upon them, typically ends somewhere in the mid-twenties. My college students, almost all of whom are under 22, initially want to reject that idea. I ask them to "answer in their heads" the following questions: I could afford to be here with absolutely no financial assistance from my parents; in the past year I have not had to ask my parents to pay for any unexpected expenses, including medical ones; if I got sick and had to leave school, I would not go to my parents to recuperate; when I am feeling deeply stressed and need some moral support, I rarely call my parents; if I had had a "full-ride" scholarship that paid for all tuition, room, board, fees and books, I would have survived my freshman year with no help of any kind from my parents. Then I ask if anyone answered yes to all the questions.

No one has ever said that they have.

Parenting is life-long, which is why part of me chuckles when someone says they don't want to foster or adopt teenagers as they will only get to parent them for a few years.

I think I am not an acting foster parent right now because I don't have any kids in the home, but that's not true. Evan calls for advice and moral support. Obviously he comes home for college breaks. David, whom I don't see very often, drops by unexpectedly and shows up for every major holiday. Even Carl, who needs me less, calls for comfort.

I emailed Carl a month ago to ask him if he could get time off to come to Andrew's high school graduation. If he could get the time off well in advance I would buy him a plane ticket. I did not hear from him for several weeks. I emailed again. Nothing. I emailed again laying on the guilt as only a mother can. He emailed me back to say that he did it. He talked to his boss and he got four days off! He can come!

I emailed again wishing that I could make him read the words in the slow, deliberate tone in which I was typing them, "Which days, exactly do you have off?" Sigh.

Evan is worried that his high-mileage, previously-wrecked-and-still-body-damaged car is going to die. We are entering negotiations regarding the terms under which we would co-sign on an auto loan. He will be able to meet our terms, although the other boys couldn't. I can only think about doing this because Evan is as anxious about money as I am.

It is why permanency matters so much. Even if I could not afford to co-sign a loan for a very responsible young man or buy a discount plane ticket for another, they would still need parenting.

This post isn't about soliciting comments about how wonderful I am. I'm not, or at least that is not the point.

The point is that childhood doesn't end at 18. Once I would have told you that the answer was to extend the amount of time that youth can stay in care, but I have learned that most youth don't want to stay. They need something else. They need an adult in their lives to turn to for advice, comfort, and maybe even a place to go when they are sick.

I look at the independent living curriculum and it makes me sad. Instructors attempt to pound everything the youth will need to know about money, health, and parenting into the kids' heads before they turn 18. Just dealing with the present is complicated enough. They shouldn't have to learn everything they will need to be an adult.

It makes me sad because it is necessary. Most of these kids will spend what should be the last stage of adolescence struggling to be adults. It shouldn't be that way. It really shouldn't.


  1. I remember, about a month before I went into care, there was a guy in my senior class who moved out of his mother/parent's home.

    He took a small apartment, got a job stocking shelves at the grocery store at night, and went to high school during the day.

    The entire class was kind of shocked. We were white, suburban to rural, and all middle to upper class kids. Yes there were the burnouts and the white trash kids, but for the most part, this didn't happen. Even the poorest kids lived at home.

    I remember how hard it was for him, that the teachers were merciful when he often fell asleep in class. He was determined to finish his degree without dropping out.

    I went into a family and then a group home. I had people to help me to the rapid transition to adulthood. I have no clue what his situation was that he had to move out, but I can only imagine what a 17 year old has to go through to be completely and totally on his own.

    You need adult guidance even when you're old...

  2. I'm not so sure about the vacation and moral support ones. Otherwise, most people even older than mid 20s would have to say no. At least, when I go on vacation, it's to my parents and inlaws (since I never see them otherwise). And for moral support, I talk with my parents once a week (my DH called his father almost daily until he died and his Mom about once a week).

    On the other hand, I could answer yes to the other question through until I got married at 28, but I don't think I was still in adolescence. I just didn't have a home or close friends to rely on. I had a job, went to school, paid my own bills, etc.

    I had friends whose Mom died when they were teens and father was alcoholic. Even before he died when they were juniors, he wasn't there for them. They were on their own once they graduated high school. They certainly had a different life in college than I did. :( Or my boyfriend who was completely estranged from his family after high school.....

  3. Anonymous2:36 PM

    Thank you so much for posting this - it makes me feel so much better - My daughter is 20 yrs old and is still very much a child - she has had major life blows that have set her back - and she is still very dependant on me. My husband seems to think that she should be out of the house by now (ha-ha-ha) - but I know she's just not ready. Besides - she's much easier to get along with now that she's not a "teenager" any longer. I think it's hard to understand - I was married at 18 and never looked back - (my husband was 21 - and had been independent since he was 17) - but I was running from home (and truth be told - so was he) - I never wanted that for my kids.

  4. In my 30's and I still call my Mother for support. I think one of the hardest things in my life has been when I've found my self in the position of parenting my parnts.


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