A Lesson About Growing Up

A Lesson About Growing Up

This is an extra article, which came to me as I was listening to an audio book. The character was talking about life extension—living 150–200 years. He said something to the effect that 5–10 generations might be alive at the same time. I thought about how many inter-generational issues clients bring to the table, and I had one of those “Aha!” moments.

Many of my clients are “Boomers,” and many of them are ‘squeezed’ between their living parents and their kids. I want to frame what I’m about to show you with this:

The goal of parenting is to raise your kids
to be independent adults—
and the age of independence is 18–20.
Always has been, always will be.

Prior to this milestone of 18–20, parents educate their children—to live in the perceived world. In other words, parents socialize their kids to be able to function within their culture. Thus, one would expect to see differences between East & West, religious and non-religious, as well as faith-based and political differences.


The common denominator is this: kids (let’s split the difference) at 19 should be on their own, and making all of their own decisions, supporting themselves, and being treated as full-fledged adults.

In other words, making decisions and living with the consequences of those decisions—not, emphatically, being bailed out by mommy and daddy at every turn, nor lectured to on into their 50s.

This is not what I see.

Here’s What is Really Happening

Let’s create 3 generations. We’ll call them

  1. The Parents (age 60+)
  2. The Mids (age 40ish) and
  3. The Mids’-Kids (under 20)

The Mids are caught. They’re trying to be friends with their kids (The Mids’-Kids,)) as opposed to parenting them. They think their kids are basically clueless, and expect to be telling them what to do for years to come. Why?

Because their Parents are still doing this to them!

I can’t tell you how many 40-somethings I know who say, “My mother is mad at me for doing (fill in the blank.) I’ve got to figure out how to get her to like me again!” Or, “My father won’t speak to me until I apologize.” Or, “I’m not sure what to do. I’ll ask my parents.”

I want to scream.

The image I got yesterday, listening to the book, involved numbers. Here we go.

Parents, during one’s childhood years, are considered wise and all-knowing. It’s because they are big, and know stuff, and have the power of life and death over their kids. When the kids become teens, they start to see through this, and realize, at some level, that their parents are human. Buddhists would say, “No one special.”

However, defaulting to the parents (making them ‘special’,) is hard wired from infancy/childhood, and it takes an effort from one side or the other, to ‘cut the apron strings.’

Here’s the math. Let’s give The Parents a ‘wisdom score’ of 10. The Parents got this score before The Mids were in the equation.

BTW, I picked the word ‘wisdom’ to be shorthand for ‘life-experience and functional intelligence.’

The Parents look at their newborn kids and think, “Yikes! The Mid knows nothing! (True!) But I love the little bugger, so I’ll optimistically give him/her a ‘wisdom score’ of 5.”

(In the teen years, this might be raised to 6, or lowered to 4, depending on the level of stupid teen behaviour.)

Now, here’s where the last 3 generations or so have screwed up:

At our magic age of 19, The Mid is supposed to be a wise, fully functioning adult, and thus grown up. In other words, he or she should have changed their ‘wisdom number’ to 10.

See where I’m going?
How many level 10 wise adults
do you know?

What really happens, and I see this a lot, is that The Parents continue to reinforce the 106 dichotomy with The Mids, and/or The Mids continue to mind-less-ly default to The Parents.

  • I have one friend who, at age 62(!!!) finally said ‘no’ to his parents, and broke off contact. He, however, is still ‘looking out for’ (read interfere with) his mid-30s son… who, interestingly, is a successful businessman.
  • Another friend, mid-40’s, has, since I’ve known her, tried to be her ‘mother’s friend.’ It never worked out, and she was miserable, but she kept trying. She, too, drew a line in the sand with her mom, and the mom responded by ‘firing’ her until she apologized. When they later talked, the mother blamed the daughter for ‘not behaving right.’ Daughter agreed apologised.

In all cases, the problem is that The Mid has not accepted or claimed full-bore adulthood. Why? Part of it is tradition—I ‘should’ defer to my parents. But why? Parents aren’t magical or special. They are just people like you and me. They may be wise about their own lives, but they have no clue about their children’s lives. Certainly not more that The Mids themselves are about their own lives.

One reason The Mids refuse to grow up is that it’s easier to blame The Parents when things go wrong. We’ve talked about this a lot on this Blog, and you know how important I think self-responsibility is. This is a hard sell, however. And The Parents collude, as their self-image is tied up in the success of The Mids, whom they still see as “A ‘6,’ and stupid to boot.”

More Math

Now The Mids have their own kids– The Mids’-Kids. The Mids, remember, think of themselves as ‘6’ (to make a joke, ‘6′ is the new ‘10’… hmm. We’re all going to hell in a hand basket …) and think their kids, The Mids’-Kids, are in need of guidance. So, they make them a 6 to their 6. This is a 4 to The Parents’ 10. Do the math.

Even if you kill off The Parents, there’s a problem. I keep hearing, “I can’t be the oldest generation. I’m not old enough. When I hear ‘Mr. Smith,’ I look around for my dad.” And this crap comes from 50-year-olds.

Even if the almost adult revises their thinking and decides to be an ‘8,’ our world is diminished.

The solution

The only way to solve this is the scary idea of growing up and standing foursquare on your own two feet. If Your Parents are alive, let them know that you are no longer interested in being their child, and then refuse to act like one! Let them know that you are willing to involve them in your life as interesting people (or not…) but not as the people who decide who you should be or how you should be. That’s your job!

If you are The Parents, give it up! Your job ended when each of your Mids hit 19, and you’ve been clinging on by continuing to look for flaws to exploit in Your Kids. You did this to feel superior to someone, and you want to continue to run their lives. You likely came up with all kinds of excuses, and sighed, and said, “What other choice did I have? Without me, they’d have screwed up.”

And what do you think is going to happen to them when you curl up your toes?

Adults stand on their own two feet, make decisions based upon the imperfect knowledge we all have, and fail and succeed in equal measure. As the Japanese proverb goes, “Fall down six times, stand up seven.” It’s impossible to learn if The Parents keep propping The Mids up.

The vast, vast majority of humanity does not ever live up to their parents’ expectations, not because they are flawed, but because the expectations belong to The Parents.

The easiest way out of being a ‘6’ is to
stop acting like one,
grow up,
claim your unique ’10-ness,’
get your own life

My mom, to the day she died, tried everything…tears, recriminations, praise, ‘suggestions’… to get me to live my life her way. I loved her, and accepted that this was how she was. I would say, “And when was the last time I did something you wanted me to, just because you wanted me to?” She’d sigh and say, “When you were 17.” I’d smile and reply, “Noticing a pattern?”

Are you a 6? Or are you a 10?

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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