Atomized…separate floating islands on their own courses…the loss of community, loss of a sense of family…these are words used to describe some of the young adults of today in a recent conversation.
May I suggest that the real gateway to adulthood is not beginning a career, not cohabiting while keeping your options open, but building a home and family?
Not so long ago, we understood that one sought gainful employment so that one could build a family. The goal is the home and family; the job the means to it. Past generations understood this. They understood that they were part of a heritage in which people appreciated what had been passed to them through hard work and sacrifice, and in turn worked and sacrificed for those who depended on them, and for future people who would come after. They aimed to honor both a past and a future.
Relationships were regarded as permanent and legally bound.
I think my generation was encouraged to think of ourselves, and I think we refined that to an art and taught it to our children. The result? Our young adult children are aging out of a stage of life which is bursting with potential, some still living with their parents and wondering what to do with their lives.They are not children, but they aren’t quite living like adults either.
They aren’t getting married, or building families, or establishing homes.
I’m not blaming them. They want to be driving their own lives, living in their own places. But their obstacles are unusually discouraging. Just try and start anything in the present economy.
Another obstacle which has been dropped right in their path is the idea that all those grown-up things their parents did don’t have to be for them. Those things are Options in the Someday Maybe category. That there are other ways to be satisfied with your life, as an individual. That finding those things which fulfill me is of first importance, and that I can’t move on until I find them.
And it turns out maybe when you’re only supposed to consider yourself in all those important life choices, the choosing is more difficult. We told them that life is about finding out who you are, discovering your passion, making a difference, and following your dream. The trouble is that they might pass over many great opportunities because they don’t look big enough. They pass over the seeds looking for the tree.
And we didn’t tell them that it’s their job to turn the seed into a tree, or how much work it takes to help it grow.
When you’re weaned on that Hollywood trope where the unpopular underdog finds his true voice and astonishes the whole world at once with his specialness, it’s hard to appreciate that a life of service and perseverance pays off after decades of faithfulness. And that your truly important work may not be publicly applauded. And we sure don’t teach them to wait for the true evaluation of all things in an eternal context.
When you are presented with one pre-packaged, market-researched, airbrushed life-paradigm-on-DVD after another, it’s difficult to imagine designing your own particular life. Or that achieving that life might be a struggle requiring all the discernment and wisdom you can mine from deep within the earth.
Being an adult was the first responsibility human beings were given–it was what we were to do in an ideal world. The first people were created as adults, and they were immediately given important (not token) responsibility. Then they were commanded to produce offspring, become a family, and pass on their heritage to future people. (Read Genesis 1.) Do we still need people to do that in a world which is fallen, less than ideal? A thousand times more.
It might be wise to look at that story again, and consider why the first people were told to work, create a family, and multiply. Here is wisdom which has entirely escaped our modern culture. More on this at another time.
Maybe the essence of adulthood is taking responsibility for other people besides yourself. Our young people have been persuaded that it is their untouchable entitlement to avoid having responsibility for other people. And that for sure, to create other little people to have responsibility for is an unbearable burden. This they learned from us also.
I once heard a mother my age liken having a child to being hit by a bus, in a room full of listening teenage girls.
A child is incomplete. A child blooms into an adult. The adult is the manifestation of the person; what a human becomes is an adult. It is not dependent children, but adults, who pay, build, buy, reproduce more people; teach, disciple, preach, build a heritage. Adults perpetuate the culture. Not loner overgrown teenagers pursuing hobbies really well.
We have promoted the idea that adulthood consists of completing an education and establishing a career identity. At the same time, we have taught our kids that establishing and building a family is one of a handful of options available to an individual in order to maximize his own happiness. It is an optional preference, not a responsibility. They owe nothing to no one. Oh, except money to the government.
What is left for them to do? They become atomized individuals forever avoiding commitment of any kind, habitually suspicious of joining anything or anyone in any relationship that they won’t be able to back out of. See: The American Family Is a Myth: Why Our National Moral Panic Must Stop.
Where is the vision? Some of us grew up in home environments which were less favored with intentional Christian guidance, without solid Bible-believing churches for support, without spiritually-oriented families. And yet we somehow found a vision for the future which we acted upon. Maybe we perceived fewer options, and maybe that was an advantage. Some of us achieved what we’d seen, perhaps others did not. But the goals were there.
I’m absolutely sure that God is doing His side of communicating with our offspring just as much as He did with us. What is puzzling is that our young seem to be in limbo regardless of the degree of spiritual orientation. I really have no answer for this.
I feel sympathy for them. Maybe the world we prepared them for is not the one they’re living in. When things don’t happen for them the way we promised, they are left wondering how to get from A to B. We told them that they were special, in a purely material context, but when the dramatic denouement doesn’t happen, they might feel irrelevant. I see a lot of young people who were given every advantage including good teaching still wandering through life unsure where to go, in practical terms as though it doesn’t matter what they do, and as though that is irrelevant.
That’s not hipster-irony, it’s true irony. It is tragic because each person is truly unique and infinitely valuable, and there really is a significant life of things worth doing for each and every one.
Our society has set them up. We raised them on self-esteem, Disney romances and anime. There is virtually nothing in their popular culture which promotes adult-sized goals or grown-up relationships. We sent them to schools and colleges where they were taught to design a life of single self-determination, like perpetual teenagers. These schools taught them that there is no intrinsic value in anything, and that the family is a man-made construct which has outlived its destructive usefulness. Why are we surprised that they are uninspired to set goals and unmotivated to reach?
College is quickly becoming little more than an albatross. I’m beginning to think it’s morally wrong to encourage our young people to go into debt to attend college, to cheer them on while they load burdens of crushing debt onto their backs. And that is what we are doing. There are few jobs waiting for them at the end of their college education, and we know it. Some of the majors our children are pursuing literally do not lead to jobs. They are too inexperienced to understand the enormity of the burden they are taking on. We do not describe to them the real-life toll taken on everyday life when one carries enormous debt. It’s difficult for us to visualize fifty-thousand dollars; do our children understand how much money that is?
Huge debt which will take them literally decades to repay. They will owe this money to the federal government now. Welcome to automatic government dependence, every single person who wants a college education!
Why does it matter? How long will young people have to put off getting married, buying homes or even paying rent because they are thousands of dollars in debt? How long will they delay starting families? What will be the long-term results of delaying family-building and home ownership? What will be the effect, culturally and economically, on our society?
They are not content.They know somethin’ ain’t right. But for more than one reason, it’s very hard to swim upstream. Sure, it’s hard work to swim upstream, against the current. But its much harder to recognize that you are being carried downstream when everyone around you is carried in the same current, and the stream is filled with relentless entertainment. First you have to know there’s something else to swim for.
We ought to encourage them to look at their lives in a starkly countercultural way. We ought to tell them that if establishing a career is your life’s goal, you should expect career outcomes. If you want a family outcome, be honest with yourself about it. Be intentional and proactive about allowing family to happen. Marriage is not something which just happens. If you have a goal of getting married and raising a family, you’ll have to act like it’s a goal, not a byproduct.
Creating a home, having children, nurturing a family, building a heritage–these are things we must do deliberately.
Lamentations 3:24-25 says: I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
We should teach them to seek their portion. They are meant to have a place in the world that is their “portion”, their inheritance, from God. And they are expected to seek it, like a thirsty man seeks water in the desert. Have we passed to them the skills to do that? Have we modeled the desire to do it?
Of course, if you want God’s portion, you’ll need to ask God about the particulars.
By encouraging our young people to pursue life as self-determined single atoms, we are encouraging them to bear burdens too great. Humans weren’t meant to be alone. We are made for family support, family structure, family responsibility, family love and affection.