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Duo to lead dialogue on parenting kids in 20s

Guiding one’s offspring doesn’t end when they turn 18.

By LESLIE BROWN

Staff Writer

When Devon Atkins, a teacher and writer, asked her now-adult son to name the most important things she had taught him, she was struck by his response.

“He said, ‘What you didn’t do and what you did wrong,’” she noted with a wry smile.

A woman who has poured her heart into parenting, Atkins could have been sobered by his response, but instead, she said, she saw it as the honest answer of a young man beginning the next chapter of his life.

“He’s on his way to figuring out what the unfinished business is,” she said.

Atkins and her friend and colleague Joyce Victor, a therapist and group facilitator, plan to offer up their insights and personal stories and hear those of others when they hold three “facilitated conversations” this month and next about parenting children who are now in their 20s.

Much is written about every facet of parenting children except this age group, both women note. And yet, as both have learned, sometimes painfully, parenting doesn’t end when a child turns 18 and leaves home or turns 22 and graduates from college.

Indeed, Atkins and Victor noted, many people in their 20s struggle as they work to find meaningful employment and healthy relationships; some face depression, grapple with substance abuse or fall into difficult situations.

And as a result, they noted, parents sometimes struggle, too, trying to figure out where their responsibility ends, when to intervene and how to forge a new kind of healthy relationship with their now-adult child.

Victor, like Atkins, said she sees this period — age 20 to 29 — as a discrete span of time, “from emancipation to being an adult in one’s own right.”

And sometimes, she said, parents jump in when they don’t need to, trying to address, as Victor noted, “the unfinished business of raising a child.”

“It’s easy to say, ‘My child is having this problem because I didn’t do a good job,’ and the desire is to finish the parenting we didn’t do right,” Victor went on. But in fact, she added, some of it “the young adult-child has to figure out on their own.”

The facilitated conversations — called “Where the road map ends” — will enable parents to deepen their understanding of this little-understood life stage, share experiences, realize they’re not alone and discover what Atkins called “a huge amount of hope.”

Both women note they’ve had their struggles, some of which are ongoing. Atkin’s daughter got pregnant as a young, unmarried woman; one of Victor’s sons was depressed and another has gone through periods of unemployment.

But Victor, who has three adult sons, said she has seen her eldest — now 30 — resolve issues that dogged him during his 20s, giving her a deeper understanding of this watershed time in a young person’s life.

“They have to figure out who they are in relation to their parents,” she said. “Ideally, by the end of that period of time, they’ve become friends with their parents as equals.”

Atkins concurred, adding

that she’s “learning to deal with these things so that the door’s always open for them to come in — and for them to leave.”

“You’re dealing with a more substantial person,” she added, “and more substantial issues.”

The two women spoke thoughtfully yet easily during the interview, comfortably building off of each other’s words and mirroring, no doubt, the kind of conversation they hope to facilitate.

Atkins said she hopes the conversations create what she called “a learning group,” enabling those who attend to learn from each other.

Victor concurred.

“This is a part of parenting where we don’t have our collective wisdom in a book form to help us find our way,” Victor said. “So we have to talk about it.”

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