The Third Third

Grown up at 35?

An interesting development in the later-in-life Parenting Sweepstakes (to be filed under *Are We Ever Never Done With Adolescence, not even when we’re on Medicare?*):  Three of the males in my extended family -- a nephew, a nephew-in-law and my son -- recently volunteered that something had happened this month that made them feel “like an adult.”  

Two of these young 30-somethings are already married with children and a house mortgage and the third just learned he and his wife have a child on the way (and you might think that would have done it, but it didn’t).  Instead, two of the triggers were quite simple -- my son’s new winter coat (so he no longer feels like the college kid he was when he got his last one),  and my nephew-in-law’s first-ever personalized stationery of his own.  The third apparently life-changing event, my 36 year-old nephew’s, is more obvious: he moved his year-old architecture business out of his mother’s basement into an office of his own and he now feels, as the others said they did, “grown up.” I am wondering what to make of these serendipitous proclamations of maturity.  

At the least they suggest there’s something in these guys’ cultural environment that supports the feeling they maybe *should* be grown-ups now. I guess that’s good news, albeit a little late from my husband’s perspective (which involves the (of course unspoken) “Why at your age, we had. . .”  and words like “career path”).  It could be, however, that there was something in *our* cultural -- and parenting -- environment that posited that they didn’t have to before now, and truth to tell, that’s what’s bugging me.  

These guys are good guys -- responsible, hard-working, interesting, engaged with life and ideas; they’re great.  That they’ve had to wait to 35 to feel grown up strikes me as a little sad.  I know developmental psychologists believe adolescence today persists well into one’s 20’s because of a number of factors including our educational system, the economy, and our don’t-let-them-fail parenting style.  But 35?  Have we been too critical, over-involved, overly generous?  Even as I ask my son to mix me a Sidecar cocktail (I mean, really, how much more adult can you get?) am I infantilizing him just because I’m still looking for ways to show him how much I love him?  

Could his proclamation be a gentle “Hands Off, Mom”? I can hear my daughter -- and the shrink -- saying “It’s not about you, Mom/Ann.”  And of course it’s not.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I remember feeling 35 myself and thinking it was about the most wonderful age there was -- old enough to know better (whatever) and young enough to enjoy it.  And that’s probably all they were saying, these boys in my family; they had arrived at a certain place in their lives, they felt good, and they equated the feeling with being grown up.  That’s cool.   Now, if we could just do the same for 65.  

*That* would be Really Cool!

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