Parenting Reflections: Narratives of late life parents and their adult children – Work in Progress

Parenting is a central developmental experience for most men and women. This project looks at parenting from the perspectives of mothers, fathers, and adult children. It draws from a large professional literature on intergenerational relations, and takes issue with what most people say about “the empty nest.” I see parenting as a lifetime project. Sure, some children get “launched,” whatever that means, and for many this is a traumatic milestone. But mothers’ reactions to the departure of children vary tremendously. Some do crump, but others launch themselves into a new identity or lifestyle. For many people “launch” is an inept metaphor. “Boomerang” children come and go and parents share in their adventures, their victories, and their pain. In these post-modern times late-life parenting is another of those liminal experiences where roles are unclear and norms are absent. We feel our way and wonder whether anybody else is going through anything remotely similar.

I struggle to characterize the method for this study, preferring to think of it as an extended conversation than as “data collection.” I plan to borrow from autoethnography the reflective look at self and appreciation for the role of culture. But that’s not enough. To be broadly relevant – not just a memoir – this piece must draw from the narratives of other parents and their adult children. So I plan to issue a broad invitation, through whatever means I can find, to those willing to share their stories and reflections. The science will come from care paid to documenting others’ contributions, and an disciplined approach to interpretation that integrates established methods for ensuring rigor. The art will lie throughout, in the questions asked, the interpretations given, and the final narrative. I hope the book will be more lyrical and more evocative than most scientific writings. I hope it will have some literary merit. We’ll see!

What about you? I invite you to share your reflections on late-life parenting and the launching or otherwise of your children.

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