Navigating the odyssey on the way to adulthood

Our world is evolving faster than ever. The economy, technology and culture drive changes at a remarkable pace and in unpredictable ways.

In the past, lives could be defined by four distinct phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Today, two more phases come into play: the odyssey and active retirement.

The odyssey has emerged as the period of wandering many 20-somethings experience between adolescence and adulthood. During this time, traditional markers of adulthood such as marriage and a career are delayed, replaced by a period of searching and experimentation.

The uncertainty of these years leads many people to move back home with mom and dad. In her book Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest, Sally Koslow says nearly 6 million adults ages 20 to 35 are living at home.

What’s the reason for this new life phase? Changes in the economy and work culture are the likely forces driving this epic journey from adolescence to adulthood.

At the height of the industrial economy in the 1960s, the typical 30-year-old had fully reached adulthood, having moved away from home, secured a “good” job, married and had children. The formula was: get good grades, go to college, get a job that leads to a career and live happily ever after. It worked – back then.

Today, as we move into the connection economy, the certainty of that formula is gone. Good grades and a college degree are no longer a sure ticket to a stable economic livelihood.

What are parents to do?

For those of us who are late baby boomers and Generation Xers with children, we must prepare for their odyssey by:

Talking with them about the connection economy.

Preparing financially for the odyssey years.

Setting healthy boundaries.

The connection economy

Even though following the old formula won’t guarantee success, education remains crucial. It can help your children meet the demands of the new economy, which requires applying what we know in ways that inspire connections between people, evoke emotions, cause them to tell stories and dream.

Our children will need to learn to thrive as independent artists, as freelancers – not as employees for life. Trying new endeavors, being creative and discovering opportunities in unexpected places will lead them to success.

The financial odyssey

The majority of young adults receive financial assistance from their parents during these years, says Patrick Wrightman of the University of Michigan. The average amount of assistance totals about $7,500. Parents need to be prepared for this financial reality.

Just as you are saving for your child’s college education, you may want to save for your child’s odyssey years. But one caution: Don’t sacrifice your financial security to support post-college-age children.

Healthful boundaries

Assisting adult children financially can lead to conflicts between couples – especially in second marriages involving stepchildren. You and your partner must decide together how to spend your collective money. Yes, I’m talking about budgeting and planning.

As with all financial commitments, preparation is essential.

Durango resident and personal finance coach Matt Kelly owns Momentum: Personal Finance. www.personalfinancecoaching.com.