Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cross of Ages

Side Note:   I think I got Chari's Christmas Literature Evening list working on Google Drive.  If you check it out, let us know if it is working or not. 

I recently read a book called When Will My Grown Up Kid Grow Up?   It speaks to the concern many parents have nowadays about "boomerang kids" and slow transitions out into the world.  

According to this book, our society has become more like the hobbits of the Shire in one way -- that kids generally take longer to mature and become adults in their own right (in the Shire, adulthood comes at age 33, while according to this book, the time frame is more like age 27 to 29).

This puts a burden on parents who expected to find life easier in their 50's and 60's and instead are still partially supporting and involved with  adult children as well as possibly aging parents.    And this in a tough economic climate where these middle aged parents may be facing financial problems of their own and possibly marriage strain or divorce.  Plus, the adult kids may well be in situations that worry the parents aside from the economics -- living in unstable relationships, involved in drugs, wasting their lives online, etc (this part isn't much like the Shire, where immature folly seems to wear a more innocent and idyllic aspect).

The book presents an optimistic view of the phenomenon of adult children's slow transition to independence.  It gives lots of examples of different scenarios, plenty of helpful hints for the parents, and a generally hopeful perspective.  It assures the parents that if you can financially and emotionally weather the long transition, by the late 20's the majority of adult children HAVE found some sort of stability and a life of their own.       I didn't agree with everything in the book by any means (for example, the accepting attitude that every young adult nowadays "lives together" with someone pre-marriage, etc ). but I thought it was worth reading as a social commentary even if you are not having the difficulties described in the book.

It also points out that this slower transition can aid in strengthening relationships between adult children and their parents.   Sure, there are also relationship tensions and the possibility of enabling problem behaviors, but people in the 20's are usually more willing than teenagers to see the other side of things and recognize what their parents are dealing with.

The reason I'm writing this  is because I read this book soon after I read the biography of Jane Franklin (Benjamin Franklin's younger sister) and the contrast underlined something I have suspected for quite a while -- this type of situation is not new.    In fact, I think we have just come out of an artificial economic/social bubble and so what looks to us like current social dysfunction is actually closer to the historical norm than, say, the 50's, when most adult children were better educated than their parents and could walk out the door of their childhood home and easily find a comfortable job that would support them until retirement with a pension.

Our expectations are rather skewed by this, possibly, whereas in other times and other places in the world, where often several generations are deeply intertwined economically and socially and one's future life is by no means a secure thing.  

(Obviously, there are new things like technology that complicate the picture -- but I'm just talking about the basic part of the equation -- adult children living at home, having trouble finding a place in the world, changing jobs, etc).

In Book of Ages, which describes the life of the Franklin family, you see Jane Franklin having 12 children in poverty while taking care of her aging parents (and living in their home for much of her life, since her wastrel husband couldn't support his own family).   Later, you see her struggling to get her adult children launched into the world.  Benjamin Franklin picked one of the more "promising" of her sons to provide a launch into the publishing business.   He put him into an apprenticeship, but soon the boy was complaining about harsh treatment.  A little later he ran away.    Franklin tried again, sending him to the Indies, but the young man went into debt.    Later on this son of Jane's became mentally ill, along with another of her sons.   Later they both died, but in the meantime, Jane had significant trouble providing for them (there were no mental institutions in the colonies at the time, so she sent one grown son to the country under the care of a farmer's wife who extorted large fees, while the other more high functioning son became somewhat of a public disgrace to the family).

I already mentioned how Jane's husband and several of her children died of tuberculosis.  Her husband had fallen into debt and so tradesmen took at least some of her furniture and other belongings away to settle his accounts.   A couple of her daughters married well, but others married scoundrels.  One of her daughters was widowed, and Jane took care of the daughter's young children for a couple of years in addition to running a boarding house.   Her young grandson was crippled by a fall and had to use crutches for the rest of his life.   When her daughter remarried she requested her children back in spite of Jane's grave misgivings.  Later, the crippled son disappeared for several years during the War, reappearing unexpectedly to ask Franklin for patronage, which annoyed Jane very much because she didn't want her descendants to hang on her prosperous brother.

Later still Jane cared for her infant  GREAT-grandchildren for a while in spite of being ailing and weak at the time.   One of her nieces lived with her for a while until her circumstances were more stable.   So there were definitely boomerang kids back then too.  In fact, some of her experiences remind me very much of some of the things people I know are going through today.    Mental illness, health issues, improvidence, unstable marriages and young children who fall through the cracks.  Balancing between the needs of your elderly parents and your young children, while trying to launch your teens into the world, and provide for your family as a single mom, all at the same time.   These things are not new.   At least we don't have to evacuate from our city to escape the British soldiers as Jane and her family did, and come back later to clean up and salvage.    Though some of us have dealt with basement floods, hurricanes or house fires, which might be somewhat similar in their effects.

The difference is that most of us nowadays don't go through ALL that.    Everything that could go wrong with Jane, did.    I am just amazed reading her life how she kept her strength and spirit and intellectual curiosity.  Of the two siblings, if I had to be either Jane or Ben, I think I would choose to be Jane.   Benjamin  was in a common-law relationship with Deborah Read, who was still married to a man who had disappeared on her.    His first son was illegitimate and ended up being a traitor to his father (a British loyalist).   His grandson was also illegitimate and a philanderer.    I am not minimizing Franklin's accomplishments and I like the man, but again, I would choose Jane's Job-like sufferings over Franklin's success and prosperity (I hope so, anyway).    To give him his due, aside from his scientific, literary, and entrepreneurial accomplishments, Franklin was also a genuine philanthropist and did much to make life easier for his sister as well as improving society in general.    Meanwhile, Jane cared for everyone who came to her for help.    She did what she had to do, and then a bit more.

I am describing all this to show that nothing is new under the sun and that some of what we consider our present social dysfunction parallels that of earlier days.   And parts of it might not be dysfunction at all, but part of our ordinary tasks as parents.   We might be tempted to think of those founding days as idyllic  -- everyone industrious and religious and decent in our "land of opportunity" -- but there was a different side to things, too, at least according to this book.    

 The essential thing seems to be  (to me) to keep faith, as Jane did -- to do what is right and let God decide the rest.  And to be grateful for the blessings and comforts I am at risk of taking for granted!   These are things I have to remind myself of every day.   Nothing is new under the sun, but everything can be renewed -- replenished --  in this way.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating thoughts. Many problems are much less modern than we think. Having read about the way crises and generational cycles repeat, I'm kind of hopeful that my kids will come of age at a new high point (more like the 50s and less like the leadup to the Revolution and the current era) and thus find launching into the adult world easier than my peers have found it. But a lot of it is just luck (or Providence, as you prefer). So I may want to get a house with a nice basement . . .


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