Today, Dan shared a story he’d been told by one of the fathers he’d recently worked with. It went something like this:
‘The golden eagles of Colorado mate for life and build a nest together. First they start by gathering up long sharp thorns which they weave together to create a bowl. Then they line the bowl with warm material like moss, leaves and other vegetation. Then they add a layer of downy feathers plucked from their own plumage. After sharing the incubation period and rearing their young, the parents encourage their fledglings to fly by gradually dismantling the nest with their beaks. First, they remove the soft downy layer of feathers. Then they remove warm layer of moss until only the long sharp thorns remain. In this way eagles learn to fly.’
As you might have guessed, today was all about ‘Adult Children’. Not the Adult Children who become carers for their vulnerable parents or siblings but rather those 18 – 55 year olds whose development in to autonomous and functionally dependent adults is either delayed or indefinitely deferred.
An Adult Child is not defined – as some joker put it – as a husband but those so often derided in the media as the ‘boomerang generation’, ‘failed fledglings’ or ‘Parasitic Singles:’
For Dan, these individuals might better be characterised as those who have not been in education, employment or training (NEET) for over a year; are blaming yet clinging; with virtually no social ties; a reverse day/night cycle; are cloistered; demonstrate passive aggressive and/or violent behaviour against their parents, property or themselves; and often display a positive/negative sense 0f entitlement that can either be hedonistic (‘I want…!’) or spartan (‘I don’t deserve…) in its outlook. Sometimes this is accompanied by conditional/unconditional threats of suicide, rarely attempted. Some may also suffer from diagnosed disorders but refuse treatment. Others may be co-resident or live separately from their parents.
These Adult Children and associated ‘Adult Entitled Dependence’ have been the focus of Dan’s work for the last 7 years. He’s currently working on a new book with Haim Omer on the subject which was to be our focus for the morning.
Adult Entitled Dependence can be defined as (deep breath) ‘a chronic systemic condition that exhibits a dependent accommodative relationship pattern which involves dysfunction and/or distress on the part of at least one system member’. That sounds like a whole-hill of therapy speak so I’ll try to translate. Adult Children fail to develop in to autonomous adults because they are helplessly dependent upon their parents who, with sometimes the best of intentions, accommodate this condition through their feelings of fear, guilt or pity. This a very negative and vicious circle of dysfunction that creates a ‘dependence trap’ which is very resilient, highly resistant to change and can last for decades.
How has this come about? Well, Dan walked us through his reasoning that draws upon an eclectic mix of philosophy, sociology and recent history. In short, Dan proposed three inter-related factors:
The Parental Perspective: ‘accommodation’ is likely to occur because parents are not psycho-socially prepared to deal with a ‘boomerang generation’ because they have no experience of – and there is no precedent or social norm for – these circumstances. This normative vacuum coincides at the time when there is a natural decline in parental strength between their mid-40s and 50s.
The Child’s perspective: ‘dependence’ is more likely to occur because of limited and relatively low level entry points in to the labour market, (unrealistically?) high expectations and other socio-economic factors that can lead to low self-esteem. Add to this parental anxiety relating to their child’s ability to succeed and possible marital discord and it’s easy to see how a sense of failure can emerge.
Recent Social history: the transition from adolescence to adulthood is being extended. The 5 traditional sociological indicators of adulthood: marriage, independent housing, education, work and parenthood are taking longer to achieve, are often staggered and sometimes fragmented over a longer and longer period. This has been particularly acute between the between 1990s and 2010s.
Had enough yet? 🙂 Well, it’s late and tomorrow I’m looking forward to seeing how Dan adapts NVR to tackle these issues. I’ll write again then.