Failure to Launch


Susan and I go to couples’ therapy every 25 years, whether we need it or not. Okay, maybe a little more frequently than that but not often.

We went recently to talk to a therapist about our relationship with our 5 adult children. They are all struggling against the currents of a stalled global economy and despite dogged determination, they are having trouble finding satisfying work that pays the bills and provides health care.

We questioned how much support we should give them, financially and otherwise. Were we creating a disincentive by giving them a small monthly stipend and letting them boomerang back to live at home from time to time?

We also wondered why none of our kids, ages 35 through 22, is married or engaged. Only one has a significant other. Why was it taking them so much longer than it took us to move into the mainstream?

“Ah,” said Dr. Geoffry White, “this is what we call Failure to Launch, a very common syndrome with today’s youth.”

We feel much better knowing that this situation is not unique to our family and in fact has risen to syndrome status. It means that it isn’t just that we screwed up–there are global forces at work here.

According to Dr. White and his colleagues in head shrinking circles, theories abound as to why this up and coming generation is taking its time growing into adulthood. That is, of course, adulthood as our generation defines it: a stable job, marriage, family, home ownership.

Let’s start with a stable job. Not that easy to get these days. Even with a graduate degree. There is a general backsliding in the job market, with older experienced workers taking jobs away from younger people, jobs that in the past they might have scoffed at.

You can routinely see older people working on check-out lines at grocery stores, for example. Other entry level jobs for a young college graduate might well be taken by someone who has a graduate degree and no better offers.

Also, people who are actually hiring these days say they are unimpressed with recent high school and college graduates. They feel educational standards have been watered down and this emerging generation has been pampered and over protected by parents and teachers, so that they don’t have the competitive edge or drive that makes them appeal to prospective employers.

As for marriage, my generation can take some responsibility for making a mess out of this once respected institution. A recent survey of people under 30 said more than a quarter of them believe that marriage is no longer a viable option.

If you’re not planning on getting married, you’re certainly not planning on raising children. And even those who are willing to take the marital leap are less likely to have children because they waited until they are older, they are both working to get by, and they are thinking maybe children are a luxury they can’t afford.

And forget about buying a house in this economy. Unless you have great credit or a lot of money in the bank, its going to be very tough to buy a home, even though there are great bargains out there. Many young adults are saddled with credit card debt because banks found them to be easy marks. Now those same banks don’t want to loan them money for a mortgage because of poor credit scores.

Now you’re in your 30’s, you feel you are under-employed, you aren’t married, and you can’t afford to buy a house. There are very few role models out there for productive manhood, and for some unexplained reason, according to Dr. White, there is a lowering of testosterone levels in young men. He also says video games and smart phones have contributed to a lack of proper socialization among young adults that slows down maturation.

Dr. White adds that because so many of us were divorced, we tended to be too overindulgent with our kids and this may have given them a sense of entitlement as opposed to a strong work ethic.

This all sounds cynical but I have spoken to many young people while researching this column and these same issues keep coming up. They are in no hurry to grow up and take on more responsibilities. Maybe someday, but not now.

This means going back to live with Mom and Dad or having roommates or working several jobs. Some people are staying in school longer, hoping that the economy will turn around.

According to Dr. White, if your kids are trying hard and running into obstacles not of their making, it’s alright to help them financially and with a roof over their heads.
To break the pattern, Dr. White thinks we should limit the amount of time our younger kids spend playing video games, provide family activities that involve social interaction, and introduce career counseling early in the high school years.

That might take some time to take effect so I’ve come up with an interim strategy. If my kids are going to take longer to grow up, I’m going to take longer to grow old. I’m turning the clock back so I just went from 65 to 55. Susan and I are going to stay healthy, keep working, and make sure we are still ambulatory so that someday we can play with, God willing, our grandchildren.

Originally published in the LaConner Weekly

Mel Damski –
The Producing-Director of the TV series “Psych” and winner of the Best General Interest Column by the Washinghton Newspaper Association.