I knew what to expect when I was expecting. Food cravings, weight gain, swollen ankles, and a baby. Fast forward 20 plus years. My expectation was that I would know what to expect when those babies grew up. I was wrong.
In the 1990’s baby bumps didn’t have a cute name like baby bump. And there were no blogs to turn to for pregnancy advice. The first thing you did after your EPT test showed a plus sign was drive to an actual book store and buy a copy of What to Expect When you are Expecting.
That book was my doula. It was my bible. After each son took their first breath, I pored over the sequel, What to Expect their First Year. I attribute their survival solely to this book. I got through their first year, and miraculously the next two decades. I thought I was done.
Surprise! There are new challenges and milestones. Roommates, dating, day drinking…I did not expect to be so unaware of what the next stage would bring.
Here’s what to expect when your kids are in their 20s
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
Elon Musk had better luck getting his SpaceX rocket to take off than I did getting my eldest to launch after graduation. When I came home from college I couldn’t wait to get out of my parents’ house. This generation doesn’t seem to be in a rush. My parents demanded rent after a year. I offered a fully stocked pantry and maid service. Learn from my mistakes.
Don’t be too nice. Don’t make it too comfortable. Resist the urge to pick up their dirty underwear, and definitely do not wash it. Don’t let them drink your top-shelf liquor. Claim the remote. Kick them out of the comfy chair. Forbid sleepovers and bootie calls. Set some rules. They’ll get the message. They’ll move out. They’ll take your good stuff. They’ll leave their boxes and messy rooms behind.
Once they move out don’t expect much. They will never call just to say hello. If your grown child calls — they have a problem. Just cut to the chase like my friend who answers calls from her sons by shrieking, “What’s the matter!?” You might think the obvious answer is to call them instead. Don’t bother. They won’t answer. Play hard to get. They’ll eventually call to check if you’re still breathing or if it’s time to claim their inheritance instead.
When they do call, don’t interrogate them. If you want to know what they are up to you stalk their friends on social media. Communicate like they do. Text. Use their vernacular — twentyspeak. Refer to the urban dictionary with caution — I once misinterpreted a text about a haircut thinking he’d participated in an orgy. Make sure you are using emojis properly. And trust me — under no circumstances should you ever send the eggplant. Google it.
You taught your babies how to walk, tutored them in their ABCs, and got them through potty training. But you won’t appreciate your child’s lack of life skills until they venture out into the world. My eldest son didn’t know the difference between laundry detergent and dishwasher liquid until he had to scoop gallons of bubbles out of the comically overflowing dishwasher. His younger brother miniaturized an expensive wool sweater in the dryer. I don’t think they could mail a letter. I recently saw a young man on the subway who had used a stapler to hem his pant legs.
Don’t stress. Gen Z “Zoomers” have acquired other skills they need for their habitat. Bear Grylls can survive in the wild but I doubt he’d make it a weekend in NYC. My kids can get food delivered from any restaurant within 20 blocks without even picking up a phone. They can drunkenly find their way home in an Uber when they’re out of cash. They can meet potential dates by swiping their phone and even understand what an Ethernet is. Technology has made common sense obsolete.
You would imagine that when your kids grow up you’ll have your own space again. This is a myth — they are always in your space. One night my husband and I were having what I thought was an intimate evening. We were listening to a romantic playlist I had made when I realized my younger son was using Spotify and had changed our music mid-song. I texted him “get off my Spotify.” He texted back “Go to bed.” He’s now banned from our account.
I discovered my eldest son throwing a small soirée at our apartment when I looked at his Snapchat and saw him serving drinks to friends and recognized my sofa. These kids won’t even give me a key to their apartments in case of an emergency. Draw boundaries. Change the locks. Or show up at their place unannounced on a Sunday morning and see how they like it.
You will never fully get your twentysomething off your payroll. Expect to pay for their cell phone until cell phones are replaced with implantable chips. Then you’ll pay for that. They will glom on to your Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, and any other subscription service plan. You will be their personal Go Fund Me for doctor and dentist appointments. They will borrow your car and leave it with no gas, then ask you to pay for their speeding ticket. Be generous. You will leave this money to them eventually anyway. And before you do remember that one day these children will choose your nursing home.
Your kids may have outgrown the pediatrician’s exam table and waiting room toys but they haven’t bothered to find a new doctor or their own medical insurance. Their medical plan is to call you in a panic after they’ve ignored all warning signs and symptoms and are raging with the flu, stomach virus, massive toothache, or infected toe.
Here’s when you apply your KLAD degree (Kinda Like a Dr.) and suggest various diagnoses, OTC meds, or walk-in clinics and ERs. When they suddenly stop answering calls and texts you will worry yourself sick imaging the worst scenario. Hours later you will get a text that they suddenly felt better and went out to a party.
While a 20-something is trying to find themself they will lose many other things in the process. Remember those panicked calls from school when your kid couldn’t find their lunch, homework, note, shoes? Now they lose more expensive stuff. They will be calling you about their misplaced phone, missing passport, or perhaps a winter coat or two.
Keep a locksmith on call for getting their apartment door unlocked when their key has disappeared again. Get a direct line to the bank when their wallet is left in a fast food restaurant at 2 am and found minus their license and credit card. Do not get upset. Do not lecture. Practice Lamaze breathing. It was useless for labor, but it might actually come in handy for these pains 20 odd years later.
MYTH OF THE EMPTY NEST
Years ago when the camp bus pulled away for the summer I was judged for doing a happy dance. A few days of a clean, quiet house and several martinis later those first-time camp parents apologized to me. Don’t romanticize the earlier years — remember rushing for a school bus at the crack of dawn, putting dinner on the table nightly, hectic bedtimes, homework anxiety, and endless sleepless nights. Appreciate a job well done. They’ll always come back for advice, dinner, or perhaps your car. Let their journey to find their passion inspire you to seek what makes you happy. It’s the best lesson you can teach them.
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