As a mother of two twenty-something daughters (27 and 25), my opinions and thoughts on "millennial life" are constantly being challenged.
We all want our children to be safe, healthy, and happy—and as parents, we often think we know best. What I’ve realized is that we don’t.
Like most parents, sometimes I find myself judging and doubting certain aspects of my kids’ lives. Yet once I was willing to notice my judgments, I realized many of the things I believed about them weren’t facts—but conjectures based on fear.
With that, here are five things about my twenty-something kids that I've learned to examine, open my mind to, and change my thoughts about.
1. They meet people on the Internet—regularly.
When I first heard about Tinder from my daughters, I was pretty apprehensive. The idea of seeing a few photos of someone and then swiping a person to the left (rejection) or to the right (acceptance) seemed so superficial. How much more disposable could the lives of my twenty-something daughters become?
Yet as Tinder became more widely used and my daughters told me about some of the people they had met, I was curious to see for myself how it worked.
On dating apps like Tinder, if two people "like” each other and "match," the text conversation can begin. From there, maybe there's a call, and after that a "meet-up.” This can be a pretty quick process and then dating can begin—or not. And, if not, there are so many more possibilities to explore.
Both of my daughters have had some great (and not so great) dates, some connections have developed into relationships and a few have developed into wonderful friendships.
I used to judge the superficiality of dating apps (especially for my children) but I chose to release my judgment and cultivate a willingness to learn more. When I saw, firsthand, how they worked and heard stories about the people they were meeting and the experiences they were having, I not only accepted this as a viable new way of connecting but also began to understand the appeal.
2. They both have multiple tattoos.
My older daughter has three tattoos, and my younger daughter has eight. When they first started getting them, I can't honestly say I was happy about it. Was I judging them? I think so, if I’m being completely honest.
Don’t get me wrong: I like tattoos and admire them often when I see them on other people. But I’ll admit, there was something bothering me about my own daughters getting tattoos.
Once I got past the safety issue and was reassured that they went to clean, safe places, I was able to zero in on my limiting thoughts about the issue.
Was I concerned that I wouldn't like the images they had chosen? From there, I wondered: “So what if I didn't?” After all, the tattoos were on their bodies, not mine.
Was I afraid that at one point they wouldn't like their tattoos and would want them removed? Was I judging them for being naive?
As I asked myself these questions, I realized I was not actually thinking about my daughters’ concerns; rather, I was thinking of myself and how I might be upset if I no longer liked one of my tattoos and wanted it removed.
By exploring and examining my judgments, I saw that I needed to give my daughters space and allow them to make their own choices—even if they ended up being regretful or unhappy with them. Their lives are their own, and that can involve "decorating" their bodies in whatever way they want to.
3. They don’t have regular, full-time jobs.
Neither of my daughters has a conventional full-time “job.” My older daughter is in graduate school for design and technology, and my younger daughter is a freelance writer. Both of them have created and will continue to create the type of career they want to have. They like to be in control of their time and the work they do.
When they graduated from college, I thought they would each get a "job" where they would have a weekly salary, medical insurance benefits (maybe), and the security of steady work.
Well, I was wrong. I wanted for them what I wanted for myself when I was their age (and sometimes, what I still do want). I couldn't understand why they were choosing to do the exact opposite.
Again, I was judging them: How could they expect to get an apartment, pay their bills and have the things they wanted to have in their lives without jobs?
But then I had a similar realization about my judgments: I was concerned about financial security, medical benefits and having a place to go everyday—these were things that gave my life structure and sociability. But guess what? That is not how my daughters feel. They are living in a very different world than the one I was brought up in. The same "career rules" do not apply.
So, I released my judgments and my underlying desire for control. I don't know what's best for my daughters. But I do know that I can give them love and support their decisions.
4. They don’t answer their phones.
My daughters never answer their cell phones. Well, that's not totally true—I can count on one hand how many times they've answered me in the last few months. Their idea of getting in touch or having a conversation (with me, or anyone, really) is texting.
Do I sound like I'm annoyed about this? I guess I am—or was—until I started to examine my thoughts around this issue.
My girls are in touch with me (almost daily) and I know what is happening in their lives—their work, dating and friendships. They post on Facebook and Instagram so I have visual illustrations of what they're up to or what they find interesting (and, I admit, I love seeing their posts). Since my daughters also live together and are still in the same city as me and my husband, I see them pretty often.
So why was it bothering me that my kids (almost) never answered their phones when I called? What thoughts were running around in my head when I would try and reach them and the call immediately went to voicemail? A few went something like this:
What if it was important that I speak to them? Would I have to text first and then have them call me back? This felt like too much of an effort.
Wasn't this a bit of a double standard? I almost always answered my phone when they called me.
Were they sick, hurt or in trouble? This is what I call going to "the worst case scenario" and was most often my "go to" reaction if I called them at night.
In the process of reflecting on these thoughts, I remembered my life when I was their age (pre-cell phones) and had some realizations: I was not available and accessible 24 hours a day. In fact, I could only be “reached” when I was home, right next to my telephone (and I had an answering machine in case I didn’t want to chat).
Yet my daughters have their phones near them all the time (they even sleep with them). They check their texts, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder (or whatever dating app they're on), probably hundreds of times a day—so they always know when people are trying to get in touch with them. Since their lives are constantly interrupted by all of these "intrusions,” one way they can take control and create a boundary is by not answering their phone immediately when someone (like their mother—me) calls.
Once I recognized this, I was able to understand and respect my daughters’ need to have their boundaries—especially with their parents.
And so, when I call them and it goes to voicemail immediately, I get a smile on my face and know they need their space. And that's OK.
5. They give me TMI (too much information).
I love the fact that my daughters are so open and tell me things that are going on in their lives. They share their "good news" (about work, dates, friends) with me and also reach out to me to discuss things that are upsetting them. I listen and am as open and honest with them as possible. I am grateful they are comfortable sharing parts of their lives with me.
But sometimes, they give me too much information (TMI) and I simply don't know how to respond. I usually recognize “honesty overload” as a bodily sensation—it’s like a jolt that stops me in my tracks.
How do I respond without showing them that I'm surprised, possibly judging them, or fearful for their safety? This is a huge issue for me and probably for the majority of parents.
So here is what I’ve learned to do when confronted with too much information: I pause. I breathe. And I get in touch with my thoughts about what they're sharing with me.
From there, I begin a dialogue with them:
I thank them for trusting me and sharing.
I don't ask too many questions.
I try not to give explicit advice unless I ask them if they would like to hear my opinions, thoughts and so on.
The main thing I try to communicate is that they are in charge of their lives and they will make an appropriate decision for themselves. And, they will learn something from every experience—both positive and negative.
From there, I deal with my end of the TMI situation by asking some essential questions:
What constitutes too much information?
Why does it make me uncomfortable?
The bottom line is that I can't do anything with the information. What I know is that I love the open line of communication and encourage it.
Ultimately, parenting has been a lesson for me in dealing with the fear or anxiety that comes up for me as a result of my own thinking. All of the things about my daughters’ lives that I’ve learned to accept have helped me learn more about myself. I am in control of myself and will work on my painful thoughts—and that is not the concern or responsibility of my daughters.