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The Odyssey Years

Monday, June 03, 2013

By: Quinton Ellis, Masters of Science

I am pleased to report to all of you that our social scientists have been hard at work developing a name for the cloud that I and many others some ten years ago sprinted headlong into, clumsily navigated through, and emerged exhaustedly from only just recently. Their hard work has yielded the term "the Odyssey Years" which it is meant to redefine and explain what I had until now simply referred to as my twenties.

Does that scare you, parents of Edmond? It probably should. Adulthood is being reconceptualized. There was once a time (and it wasn't that long ago, but change is occurring so rapidly these days) when parents used all the high praise and applause of high school graduation as cover for the simultaneous eviction of their little birdie from the nest. What seems to have changed has been the automatic expectation that flight would be achieved in relatively short order. "The Odyssey Years," when you peel back all of this particular onion's layers, amounts to the scholarly assertion that our little winged ones are hitting every single branch on the way down before they figure out that whole flapping maneuver. Many of them seem to prefer simply employing a bungee cord which lands them right back in the nest. It's enough to make you cry, as onions often do. You may have noticed that there has been a gradual disintegration of the stigma and embarrassment attached to young adults returning to their nest of origin. I confess that I returned to my own whilst finishing up my Master's program. It was embarrassing, but I didn't know at the time that I could just chalk it up to part of my "odyssey."

Please don't misunderstand me. It's not as though our twenty-somethings are not eventually achieving great things- the problem is just the word: eventually. And who, dear parents of Edmond, do you suppose that word becomes a problem for? It's not as though they named this life stage The Furious White Knuckled Pursuit of Personal Identity and Professional/Academic Distinction in an Unforgiving World Years. The Odyssey Years sounds far more whimsical in nature, don't you think? Your kids will sure think so. To you it should sound like one of those old-timey cash registers fused with whatever sound your feverish hand-wringing makes.

The book in which this term was coined is called "After the Baby Boomers." The authors postulate that our children's twenties have begun and will continue to mimic the lifestyle trends that were once predominately European in nature. Everything we currently associate with adulthood, marriage, family, career and independence are put on hold. They are all highly desirable, perhaps more so now than ever, just not yet. The book highlights many socioeconomic trends that are responsible for this shift, but I can think of a couple of reasons that might be of use to you.

For one, our kids are taking their sweet time because they can. Wouldn't you if you were in their Crocs? For all of our talk about the modern gauntlet of social pressures our children face we often forget that, in many cases, all we require from them are decent report cards and clean rooms. How's all that going, anyway? High school is about as easy as life is going to get for our kids, but they so often appear as though they are engaged in some type of trench warfare. It's that or they are having entirely too much fun. Either way, your child's future difficulty will largely be a function of you having provided them so much comfort. And why shouldn't this be the case? Isn't the reason you work so hard that you want to be able to afford comfort for your children? It takes an awful lot to stop being a parent when your child needs the help. And of course you will help them, especially when so many other moms and dads you know are in the same boat with one or more of their own children. But the net result is that our birdies are jumping out of higher and higher trees with weaker and weaker wings to save them.

The other reason is that our teenagers spend far more time thinking about where they want to go this weekend than they spend thinking about where they want to go in life. I talk with many bright kids who in reply to my asking them that last question simply say, college. Really? Why? For what purpose? Don't you hate school now? They have precisely the same answers to those questions as I did at their age- I don't know. That's a perfectly acceptable answer except for the puzzled look I encounter all too often during its delivery which says: Huh, I've never really thought of that before. As a parent the best thing you can do is to ask these types of questions of your children. Don't expect answers. Most of your kids really don't know. They are unlikely to begin their odyssey with Mapquested directions to their adult selves, but they can at least dive from the nest with a decent compass and a general heading if you can get them thinking just a little ahead. The earlier your child's preparation begins, the shorter the journey to their destination- their own darn house.

Quinton is a counselor at Edmond Family Counseling and can be contacted at 341-3554.
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