Parents are Allowed to Have their Own Dreams

In the past month, I have been in five cities and three states and met a lot of people. Lately, I’ve had conversations with several families that have adult “children” living at home in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. By then, the children’s girlfriend/boyfriend and children are also living in the home. Often, this whole inverted pyramid is supported by one person in his or (usually) her sixties or seventies.

It’s not often that I don’t speak up but when I do it is because the incongruous situation just leaves me at a loss for words. 

Seriously, when you are 72 and calling your 50-year-old son’s probation officer, what the hell are you thinking?

One of my daughters had just come back from the Olympics. She had not finished high school and was scheduled to take the GED exam, but she was driving across country and ran into some bad weather. I called the GED center to reschedule the exam.

The nice lady on the phone asked me,

Excuse me, ma’am, but how old is your daughter?

Startled, I replied,

She’s 21.

The woman said,

Then, let me tell you something. If she’s 21 years old, you should not be calling for her. She’s old enough to make these calls herself.

The excellent point that this woman made was that we make excuses for our children. She was training for the Olympics. She was caught in a snow storm.

The fact is, Ronda was perfectly capable of making arrangements herself. She came home, rescheduled the exam and passed it with flying colors, took a couple of college courses, worked  a couple of jobs and ended up being very successful in multiple chosen careers.

There are two questions here:

  1. Why do our children rely on us long after they are capable of relying on themselves?
  2. Why do we do for our children long after they are capable of doing for themselves?

The answer to the first is easy, I think. It is comfortable, convenient and they are accustomed to it. I’ve heard more than one adult respond with outrage to the suggestion they should start paying rent,

“I’ve lived here for 29 years without paying rent. Why should I start now? Just to make it easier on my mom?”

Honestly, I want to slap those people. What the hell is wrong with you that you cannot see that you are making life more difficult than it needs to be for someone you supposedly love? Not all of those people are evil. They have fallen into a pattern where they live in someone else’s house, drive their car, eat their food and they consider it all the same as if they earned it themselves. They’ve never grown up.

What about those parents? Why do they allow this? Why are they still calling the dentist, unemployment office, probation officer, community college counselor long after their “children” are adults?

Like the younger generation, part of it is habit. They have been taking care of Johnny since he came out of the womb, cleaning up his messes, solving his problems and it is hard to break that habit. I’m sure they love their lazy, inconsiderate offspring and don’t want to see him not get the classes he needs, sent to jail, not get his general assistance check.

 On the other hand, there is a good dose of guilt handed out to parents who kick their children to the curb. People have told me that I was an awful mother for telling all of my children that they had three choices  when they turned 18; get a job, get into college or get out.

Especially in Ronda’s case, people have questioned whether I really loved her or believed in her if I told her she had a year to make it with this mixed martial arts bullshit and that was as far as I was willing to go. Note that Ronda herself has never thought this.

Frankly, I don’t get it. As I told all of my daughters,

I’m an old woman. I shouldn’t have to be supporting an able-bodied adult.

None of them expected that I would, but other people have called me heartless – and a lot worse. What about supporting their dreams?

Here is where some of the parents of Johnny Leech need some tough love. So, if that describes, you, Mom or Dad, listen up!

Parents are people, too. They are allowed to have their own dreams.

I have wanted to make educational games since I was in graduate school 30 years ago. Now that my children are on their own, I have the freedom to take the risks that running a start-up entails.

Maybe your dream is just to sit on your porch drinking iced tea and not have to get up and go to work. That is perfectly fine. Do it!

What about Johnny? What will he do if you kick him out? He’ll end up living on the street! He’ll starve!

Okay, probably not. He’ll figure it out.  And, if he doesn’t, that’s his choice. Yes, it will probably be hard at first. Oh, well.

You’re entitled to your own life.


  1. (From the perspective of a relatively young adult): I have a bachelor’s degree in theater (which my parents paid for) and I started a dog walking business when I was 25. Acting and working with animals are two things I have a passion for, two things I’m good at, two ways I feel I can help make the world a better place in my own small way. At the beginning of both of these paths, my dad sat me down and told me while he supported me going after my dreams, he wanted me to understand that I was choosing difficult journeys, and after college, I would be solely responsible for supporting myself. He wanted to make sure I learned early on how to take care of myself, so that, if I chose to continue with those two careers, I could do so in a sustainable way. I was broke and working my ass off for about 5 years. Anytime I would call my dad and talk about how hard it was to make ends meet, he would tell me (not unkindly) to either earn more or spend less, and remind me that he wasn’t doing me any favors by offering me a crutch. As a result, at age 28 I now have a small business that supports me (and several other people) and a career as a professional actor that I find artistically satisfying. I learned that any dream you really want is worth going after, but it’s going to require sacrifices, and no one else is responsible for making them. I learned that I am resourceful and mentally tough enough to power through when times are hard because I believe I can achieve my goal. And I’ve learned to see my parents as people (and not just people responsible for me) who have given me so many opportunities, and now deserve the chance to go after their various dreams and adventures themselves. Earlier on I was sometimes jealous of friends whose parents helped them out financially more than mine did, but I’m now so grateful that my parents taught me that I’m capable of going after my goals myself.

  2. Do you know what scares me about families like this? What happens when they hit the tipping point? You know, when the child becomes the parent and has to advocate for their parent’s healthcare, handle finances and whatnot… it’s going to be a shit show.

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