We American parents have taken a great deal of flak. First we were branded as “helicopters,” then we were made to feel inferior to the Chinese and now, the French, with their better parenting models. We have been accused of disabling our offspring with our over-involved, ultimately self-absorbed parenting styles. Worse, our kids have been labeled as “immature” and unable to face adulthood on their own. All in all not a great picture. Fortunately, confounding this flood of impressionistic evidence in the popular press, is research by Karen Fingerman, a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas, who shows that while most of us feel incredibly fortunate to have our children, in truth, they are lucky to have us.
Dr. Fingerman reminds us that for most of history children were the “source of economic gain.” During the 20th century, the tables turned and until the very end of life (ours, presumably) we parents do the bulk of giving. Fingerman’s evidence reveals that we are unlike any other generation of parents. We talk to them more, we listen to them more, we give far more advice and money and, as is often needed, a respite in their childhood bedrooms. The listening, adult children tell Fingerman, is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer.
While technology caused some of these changes, speeding and facilitating communication, our more involved parenting goes far beyond text or email. In this the popular press reflects reality – we help them often and for as long as they need us, regardless of their age.
With her meticulous research, Professor Fingerman confirms a few things we have always suspected. We love all of our children the same. After they are grown, some are more successful in their personal lives, education or career; some have faced problems and set backs. Regardless, our affection for our offspring is undiminished but not uneven. Here is the bottom line for American parents: We show affection in countless ways throughout our lives and our kids benefit from our devotion. From Professor Fingerman:
“Comparative data across cohorts suggest today’s parents are more involved with young adult offspring than parents in the past, but they are involved in ways that foster (rather than hinder) a successful transition into adulthood.”*
Turns out that unconditional love and support, even when the support is monetary and the children are more than grown, binds families, nurtures growth and doesn’t result in failure to launch.
*Early Adulthood in a Family Context, New York: Springer, “Relationships between Young Adults and Their Parents,” Karen L. Fingerman, Yen-Pi Cheng, Lauren Tighe, Kira S. Birditt, and Steven Zarit.