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|Bungee Families - Page 4|
Another Late Bloomer, Hilary, age 23, was adopted out of extreme adversity when she was 7 years old; despite having average intelligence, she's always faced developmental challenges. She often sounds like a young adolescent in the way she speaks about her life and relationships, and friends sometimes take advantage of her. She's doing great work in therapy these days—for the first time grieving her losses, and giving voice to her frustration, anger, and desires. She's connecting the dots between her early traumas and her social struggles now, but she couldn't do this without the love and stability her parents continue to provide. Our time together is a necessary luxury, helping her face emerging adulthood with more self-awareness, confidence, and skill.
Late Bloomers like Nick and Hilary are making developmental gains, but they're following their own timetables to get to adulthood. Therapy helps them understand what they need and find the language for describing their lives, and it supports them by honoring the slower pace of their maturation.
Dreamers. These young adults stay at home or return there because real-world opportunities don't align with their ambitions (often artistic) for their lives, and they're broke. A few of the lucky ones have parents on board one way or another—wealthy enough or sufficiently emotionally invested or artists themselves—but overall, it's a lot harder to be a Dreamer these days. During this same age period in the late 1960s and 1970s, Dreamers lived on communes, under bridges, wherever the Grateful Dead had a gig, in basements, and in squalid garrets. They played music, made fiber sculptures, wrote drunken poems, and couch-surfed. That didn't seem so marginal back then, perhaps because they didn't live at home, or because the predominant zeitgeist was more welcoming. They explored their passions away from parental purview, criticism, and support.
In recent years, I've known some of the new generation of Dreamers: artists, poets, actors, musicians, computer wizards, and athletes. Some are quite talented; for most, however, in the current economy, mere talent won't secure much of a toehold. Back when I wasn't much more than an emerging adult myself, I treated a family with a Dreamer son who indulged aspirations of becoming a rock star. I felt more than a little sorry for his beleaguered mother, enduring endless jam sessions in her basement, her skinny, earnest boy unwilling to get a day job because he needed to practice and go to gigs at night. I tried to set up contracts, deadlines, compromises, none of which he'd agree to (or would she enforce), and then they dropped out of treatment. A few years after I'd worked with them, and no thanks to me, he became a superstar and bought his mother an early retirement and a house on the water. Who knew?
Dreamers come to therapy because they're anxious, depressed, and terrified, or they have parents with similar presentations, thinly masked as anger. Given some encouragement, Dreamers may speak of their ambitions with romantic wistfulness and real enthusiasm. Many families can't afford to finance the dreams of their emerging adults, but resistance to such support is often moralistic and economic. Many of us, with both feet solidly in the real world, find Dreamers, who want to do what they love, almost decadently self-indulgent. Given the opportunity to explore their passions, Dreamers will take advantage of that gift; they'll thrive with love and encouragement. Of course, eventually, most will learn how to align their dreams with the world as it is, and will find ways to become more self-supporting. It's often just a matter of time and faith.
Carolyn's parents came to me for consultation after she'd returned home from college without any idea of what to do next. They reported that their marriage was suffering because they disagreed about what to do. Her father bragged about her artistic talent, noting that she'd been drawing and painting since she could hold a crayon. She'd had shows and won awards. She'd created a studio out of the room formerly occupied by her (successfully launched) sister, and painted there almost every day. Her father was paying for art classes, which her mother felt was indulgent, since Carolyn had no job. They agreed that Carolyn was easy to live with and didn't pose a major financial problem for them. She was quiet, and she pitched in with cleaning and yardwork. Still, her mother fretted: shouldn't Carolyn be finding something useful to do? They talked favorably of women friends of theirs who'd made art and quilted while their husbands supported them, but they didn't see their daughter as "the Cinderella type," who'd find a rich prince to take care of her. Her father talked about the economy, about her talent, and about his pleasure in having her around—but her mother rolled her eyes at him. They turned to me to tell them what to do.
I noted (a bit cagily) that Carolyn's own voice was missing from the discussion. What did she think she needed in the way of time and support? Did she have a plan? Perhaps she might be able to reassure them more effectively than I could. Dreamers worry as much as the rest of us, but they've got a fire inside that can be hard for them to ignore. Before the consultation ended, I told this nice couple all about emerging adulthood and offered them some encouraging statistics about the longer term. (I was seeing them before the economy tanked; I might not be so upbeat now.) I discussed the importance of secure love and dreaming for a healthy transition to adulthood.