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Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought: What About the Children?

Posted on January 31, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Posted Saturday, 1/31/15


This is a question I have heard repeatedly since writing Parents to the End. I heard it again two days ago, asked by a mom/grandmother. She wasn’t talking about her grown children, but her children’s children.  Her adult children are doing well. They are respected professionals in their fields. But this woman has some concerns about the way her kids are parenting their own.

She is not alone.

In radio interviews and conversations across the country, as well as in my office, baby boomers are weighing in on this topic. They say, “I worry about the next generation of children. What will they be like?” While each generation differs somewhat in how it parents, some concerns are legitimate.

Here are two examples:

  • A woman bemoans her adult son and his significant other living with them along with their three-year old. The young couple is not particularly motivated to take the next step towards independence. They don’t have enough money to pay rent, but manage to go to Starbucks several times a week. Their son is dropped from grandparent to grandparent, while his dad and mom each have a girl’s and guy’s night out weekly. The grandparents think that the grandson, who has every toy imaginable, is actually being neglected by his parents.
  • A well-heeled couple, in a rush to get to their respective jobs daily, deals with the children’s whining by promising surprises at the end of each workday. The kids calm down, but fully expect some new distractions when Mommy and Daddy get home.  Heaven forbid if they forget to make that stop at the store after work. Grandma wonders about the messages sent with the constant delivery of new toys.

I observed this next example two days ago in a restaurant. A family of five came in at about the same time that my husband and I did. The group included the mom and dad, their preteen daughter, and what appeared to be the two grandfathers. It initially looked like a happy group. Since they were sitting at a table next to ours, I had a good opportunity to casually observe. The grandparents and the girl repeatedly initiated conversations with the parents. But during the somewhat long wait for dinner to be served−it was a busy place−the parents eyes were focused on their phones. They were each almost oblivious to the presence of everyone else, as they texted the entire time. Their daughter, who was sitting next to them in the booth, watched them closely with her elbow on the table and her chin resting on the palm of her hand. I wondered if this was business as usual for her. Occasionally the parents would glance up, but mostly when they responded their faces were still directed at the phones.

What a missed opportunity for all.

None of us were or ever will be perfect parents. But there are some lessons that benefit all children. These situations reminded me of a few of these lessons:

  1. Children need to learn to deal with delayed gratification. It is not the real world to have it all and have it right now.
  2. Whining should not be reinforced, whatever the reason.
  3. Time with family is the most precious gift of all. The best present is your presence. You are not fully there if you are preoccupied with texting or another activity. It is good to take breaks from your “connections” to your wireless world and to connect with the person sitting next to you.




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Friday Food For Thought: Living our Intentions

Posted on January 16, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Last week I wrote about “intentions” and the challenge of living intentionally while also being able to “be” in the moment.

Today I want to discuss these ideas further. To live with intention is to know our values, purpose, and meaning.

Our intentions are guidelines, giving us the framework in which to go about our daily lives. How easy it is to forget our intentions when we feel hurt, angry or thwarted. If we lived fully in the moment when very upset, we might be like the toddler who has a temper tantrum when his toy is snatched away. We would be consumed with emotion, paying no attention to our overall “intention.”

Emotions can run strong among family members. People often come to therapy when situations have escalated to a point where feelings are raw. They cannot see beyond their immediate hurt and anger. At least for the time being, their intentions have been set aside.

They may want to strike back (hopefully just verbally), or do just the opposite: withdraw. My first task in such a situation is to just listen. People cannot begin to consider other ways of addressing problems if they do not feel heard or understand first.

I may reflect their feelings back to them, checking to be sure that I am getting the entire picture as they see it.

While I may understand someone’s desire to “let the other person have it”, I know that doing so is not without consequences, especially if the retribution is loaded with harsh actions or words. It is then that I suggest that we look at “intentions.”

I ask the following kinds of questions:  What is the goal here of your response, to build up or tear down? Do you want to get closer or create more distance with this person?

This generally leads to some reflection. I don’t tell my clients what they “should” do; rather I suggest that particular paths of action are likely to be damaging to a relationship, while others may lead  to a closer bond. Most of the time, people really don’t want to “tear down” or make things worse. But they are not sure how to respond to the emotional injury they feel.

Therapists can help clients come up with alternatives to what has not been working. This does not mean sugar-coating a negative reply. But it will mean taking out language that negatively labels or demeans another.  It means being aware of language that has elements like “you always…” or “you never…”

My role is to help people clarify their language so that they can  say what they like, don’t like, want and don’t want in a relationship. They can be very pointed, while not diminishing the other at all.

Living in the present is not easy. Knowing your intentions/purpose is an invaluable guide along the way.

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Friday Food for Thought: What about those New Year’s Resolutions?

Posted on January 10, 2015 | No Comments

by Linda Herman–Posted Saturday, 1/10/15

What about those New Year’s Resolutions?

We are well into our second week of 2015. You may have given a great deal of thought to your  “resolutions” for the coming months. Some years ago, I stopped making resolutions. I began considering my “intentions” for the coming year. To live with “intention” is to consider thoughtfully how you want to be.

The word “intention” suggests that you are choosing particular paths or values and intend to live by those choices.  It is not a black and white resolution that you may break after several days, e.g. “I won’t eat fast food;” or “I will exercise 3 times a week.” Synonyms for “intention” include:  meaning, purpose, aim, objective, target, goal, plan. Rather than resolving to exercise 3 times a week, someone may have the intention of making healthier choices, or increasing activity level. A resolution, once broken, is broken. An intention has longer staying power.

Intentions are guidelines; resolutions are more like directives.

Yet, intentions give us direction. They are more subtle and have more depth than resolutions.

A challenge I experience is finding the balance between living with intention and living in the here and now. In the 1970s, therapist Barry Stevens wrote  a book entitled  Don’t Push the River; It Flows by Itself. I know when I am pushing against the river. It is when I am mentally leaning into something or a situation and it feels like a battle. There is no sense of “flow”. I never make my best decisions when I am in the mode of mentally pushing hard toward something. That is a signal for me to step back and re-examine my intentions and how I am going about expressing them in my life. I advise my clients to do the same, to pause at those moments, and reconsider their approach to their particular challenges.

It can be very helpful to “be” in the moment, or be mindful of the moment as a way of staying  present-focused.  Doing so is a great antidote to anxiety and depression, as we are consumed with neither the future nor the past.  But also essential to meaningful living is to have that sense of direction or purpose. That gives us the framework and the security to go about our business, whether that means focusing on achieving specific goals or allowing answers to reveal themselves.

Just as young children need structure within which to be “free”, we adults do as well. Knowing our purpose, values− our intentions−is an important starting point not just in the new year, but every day of our lives.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations Part VI

Posted on December 26, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Today is the last Friday of the year.  For each of the past five Fridays, I have reviewed two of my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children.  I thought the topic quite timely, as each of us moved into the holiday season with our own set of expectations for ourselves and our families. The “truths” are from my book, Parents to the End: How Baby Boomers Can Parent for Peace of Mind, Foster Responsibility in their Adult Children and Keep Their Hard-Earned Money.

Here are the ten truths I have covered thus far:

  1. Love does not conquer all.
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.
  5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.
  6. Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.
  7. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to let your child experience unpleasant consequences.
  8. You cannot choose your child’s partner.
  9.  Only you can decide how long to “hang in there.”
  10. Disagreement may be a sign of emotional growth.

Here are the final two:

11. What is normal for one family is abnormal for another.

It is just about impossible not to compare your family with someone else’s. But be careful when you do so. Today, especially, there is a variety of family constellations. Besides the literal composition of the family (who specifically is part of your family), there are differing family styles. Is your family loud, or might yours be soft-spoken? Does everyone know everyone else’s business, or do family members keep personal details to themselves? Your own personality may fit in well with your family’s general style, or you may feel that yours stands out.

As I say in my book, “…variations (in family types) are natural and expected. The more important consideration is how the family is working for its members….Attuned parents will try to meet the needs of each child, even when those needs and preferences differ from their own.” As your own children have grown up, they have both the opportunity and responsibility to create their own style of family.  Do your best to honor their choices, assuming they are reasonably healthy.

12. Sometimes the route to increased closeness lies in tolerating separateness.

This may be the most difficult truth to understand; it seems contradictory.  How can moving apart be the way to get closer?  I spend considerable time in Parents to the End discussing the themes of separation and individuation. These developmental phenomena appear periodically in one’s lifetime:  toddlerhood, the teen years, young adulthood. During these periods, children have a growing sense of themselves as separate from their parents.  This is normal and necessary for young people, but can be uncomfortable for both parent and child. It may mean emotional distance for a time in the teens and early adulthood, as the young person matures and becomes fully his/her own person.  Friction may increase. Usually this is temporary.

However, we have to let go of our children for them to return to us.  We have to learn to tolerate and respect differing views and opinions, with the expectation that this respect is mutual.  If you and your child are unable have the kind of relationship you want, find people with whom you can forge meaningful  connections. You deserve it.



I wish you the best as you reflect on your  holiday experiences. May 2015 bring you peace and happiness.

Note: This series has been quite popular. If you have a topic that you’d like to see explored in some depth, please email me at



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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations Part V

Posted on December 19, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

With just one more Friday left in 2014 after today, my series featuring the Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children continues.  In many families, the expectations for holiday get-togethers far exceed the reality of what actually occurs. Whatever your situation, you may find some merit in considering the “truths” from my book, Parents to the End: How Baby Boomers Can Parent for Peace of Mind, Foster Responsibility in their Adult Children and Keep Their Hard-Earned Money.

Starting four weeks ago, I have featured two “truths” per week. Thus far, the following eight have been discussed:

  1. Love does not conquer all. 
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.
  5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.
  6. Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.
  7. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to let your child experience unpleasant consequences.
  8. You cannot choose your child’s partner.

Here are the next two:

  1.  Only you can decide how long to “hang in there.”

As parents we never want to give up on our children. We think that to do so is a sign of abandonment. For parents who are struggling with how long to hang in there with a challenging young adult, their situation produces anguish. On the one hand, some well-meaning family members and professionals advocate a “tough love” approach: “Let him hit bottom; it may be good for him.” At the same time, others tell them to just keep loving that child. What is a parent to do?


The answer is one that only the parents can give. They, not the professionals or extended family, have to live with the results of their decision. Parents who have reached their limit, have usually exhausted emotional, physical and financial resources before deciding to halt their efforts. I tell them that at that point in time, their grown child is just unable or unwilling to take their assistance. It is okay to shift their efforts from healing a child to healing themselves.


  1.  Disagreement may be a sign of emotional growth.

Parents of teens who have been previously compliant become upset when that young person begins challenging them.  In some families, this happens quite early (preteens or early teens); in others it happens later. Since I am always looking for the healthy things that are going in a family, I keep that in mind when trying to understand a situation. When the disagreement is relatively mild, it can be more easily absorbed by the parents. But when it is moderate to “full force”, it is harder to understand and take.

As young people work at “the dance of differentiation”, as I call it in Parents to the End, they will increasingly have views contrary to those of their parents.  Be careful not to look at this as a bad thing.  It can be a sign of their growth. Consider your child’s developmental stage and temperament when such actions occur.

So, when you gather at the holiday dining table, and the political disagreements begin, remember that your child may be doing some healthy and normal work in his development. As always, there is a line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Don’t tolerate actions that are rude or abusive.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations Part IV

Posted on December 12, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part IV

As the holidays get closer, my series featuring the Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children continues.  In many families, the expectations for get-togethers far exceed the reality of what actually occurs. Whatever your situation, you may find some merit in considering the “truths” from my book, Parents to the End: How Baby Boomers Can Parent for Peace of Mind, Foster Responsibility in their Adult Children and Keep Their Hard-Earned Money.

Starting three weeks ago, I have featured two “truths” per week. Thus far, the following six have been discussed:

  1. Love does not conquer all.
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.
  5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.
  6. Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.

Here are the next two:

  1. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to let your child experience unpleasant consequences.

This is one of the most difficult truths for parents. It goes against our instinct to nurture and protect our children.  However, as I say in my book, “there is a time for nurturing and a time for stepping aside, a time for protecting and a time for letting consequences happen as they may.” There may be no better lessons in life than those we learn through natural consequences. Avoiding letting our children experience these impedes their growth. If you pay your child’s speeding ticket, you increase the likelihood that he will continue speeding. Let him pay it himself so that he feels the pinch in his wallet. That will be a better deterrent than all the lectures you can give him about driving more slowly.

If we rescue our children from all of life’s  frustrations, we risk interfering with their developing coping skills.  Do we want them to have unrealistic expectations about life, e.g. that “happiness” should be the norm? If that is their belief, they will be set up for great disappointment.

  1.  You cannot choose your child’s partner.

People are reminded of this truth especially during the holidays, when family members gather under the same roof. You may not care for your child’s partner/spouse, but respect his or her choice. In the vast majority of situations, loyalty to one’s partner trumps loyalty to parents’ preferences.

Our children taught us lessons as they were growing up. They continue to do so. A father may learn to seek the positives in someone who is quite different from himself. A mother may have her stereotypes shattered with her daughter’s choice of a young man with multiple tattoos and piercings. Most of us give lip service, at least, to wanting our children to be individuals. Let’s not punish them when they assert their individuality in the choice of partner or lifestyle.

If you think that your child is being abused in a relationship, that is another matter. Be direct about your observations and concerns.  Offer your support in whatever form that may take, but remember that the decision to stay or leave an abusive relationship is his/her decision.




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Friday Food For Thought: Great Expectations III

Posted on December 5, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part III

We are in the holiday season. Expectations for family fun and togetherness may reach a peak at this time of year.  With great expectations comes the possibility of great disappointment. As an antidote to the media hype of the holidays, I am posting my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children on the six Fridays prior to the New Year (two per week).

So far, I’ve discussed the first four:

  1. Love does not conquer all.
  2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.
  3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.
  4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.

Today, we look at two more:

5. Guilt-making does not improve relationships.

If there are times of year when people feel more guilt, the holidays are at or near the top of the list. Many of us were motivated growing up by the specter of being “made to feel guilty” if we did not visit certain relatives during the holiday season. It is wonderful when family members can come together with open hearts and warmth toward one another, but that is not always the case.

Do your best not to motivate friends or family into visits or activities through guilt-making. As I say in Parents to the End, “Endeavoring to make someone feel guilty as a way of influencing their behavior may foster compliance, but it comes with obvious disadvantages. Anytime you have to quietly disgrace someone into taking the action you want, you win the battle, but lose the war. It is far better to have an honest conversation about your needs, desires, and disappointments than to disguise your wishes through innuendo.”

Try to keep in mind that your needs and desires may differ from those of other family members. This does not mean that either of you is wrong. Compromise, when possible, can be an effective way to bridge differences of opinion.

  1.   Adult children need to feel “heard” before they will listen.

Actually, this applies to all of us. If you do get into some heated discussion with your adult child (or others), you will have a greater chance of getting through the conflict if you can at least acknowledge the other person’s point of view. This does not mean that you are agreeing with that person. It just means that you have listened to and recognized his/her position. Very often that is all that is wanted. In my work, I have seen situations of work conflict escalate and even go to court when the affronted party had really only wanted to have his thoughts or feelings acknowledged.

Do you have a challenging adult child or other important person coming for the holidays? Rather than engaging in an effort to convert that person to your viewpoint, put your energy to letting that person know that you truly “hear” him.  Again, from my book, “the very act of recognizing someone’s position, even as it differs from your own, is a powerful facilitator for communication. The listener will begin to lower his ‘wall’ of defenses and become more open to suggestion.”

As I have stated in prior blogs,  abusive communication and behavior are never acceptable.


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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations, Part II

Posted on November 27, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC

Great Expectations Part II

Therapists know that the holiday season is emotionally loaded for many. They see the joyous commercials on TV, only to think that their own lives are far from perfect.  This is sure to lead to letdown, especially for those whose relationships with family are either strained or estranged.  To offer some realistic balance to media hype, I am revisiting my Twelve Truths for Parents of Adult Children on Fridays through the end of the year.

In the first of a series of six blogs beginning last week, I wrote about two truths:  1. Love does not conquer all. 2. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.

Today I share two more truths:

3. Loving and liking your adult child are not the same thing.

When our children were young, we might say to them on occasion, “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior.”   We all hoped that our kids got the message that we could unconditionally love them, and still have consequences for inappropriate behavior.  At times, parents have admitted to me actually not liking their child, when the behaviors or problems were very stressful.  Most of the time this is temporary.  All parents have looked forward to the day when  concerns are resolved and they can have an adult-to-adult relationship with a son or daughter.

When this happens it is a blessing, and we feel that the years of parenting have paid off. But not all young people follow that kind of path into adulthood.  Despite parents’ best efforts, some grown children, whether it be through personality clashing or troubling behaviors, are difficult to be around or to like. This may sound impossible to some of you, but it is not for parents whose adult children are abusive or engage in major social misconduct.

Do not rush to judge the parents who admit to disliking their (adult) child.  They want nothing more than to be able to love that child unconditionally. It may be in the parent’s  best interest, however, to pull back if their love is met with repeatedly abusive reactions, even if it is a holiday.

4. It is neither possible nor prudent to treat all your children equally at all times.

The holiday season is here and most of us take pains to treat our children equitably. We want to be fair, and that often that means spending equal amounts per child. Makes sense, right? But sometimes situations come up where that kind of decision isn’t as easily arrived at.

Just as our kids grow in understanding and insights in life, so do we.  A parent may decide she has overindulged her first child with “stuff” to the point that her young adult has an entitlement attitude. Along comes a younger brother who now wants the same goodies that his older sister received. What is the parent to do? Continue to spend unwisely on the sibling, or use her hard-won insight to stop doing what does not work?

What if your family’s circumstances have radically changed? Perhaps there has been a job loss or retirement that shrinks the family budget.  You may no longer have the resources to give as you have in the past.  Try to get past your guilt-if you are feeling bad—and recognize your limits.

Finally, there are children who, because of severe behaviors, have alienated their families.  Do you continue giving to them at the same level you give to others? Use your best judgment here. You surely  don’t want to send the message that they can behave terribly and you will overlook it forever.

It is easy to enjoy the holidays when the love and respect between family members or friends is reciprocal.  I hope that you have been able to spend Thanksgiving with those you appreciate, and who appreciate you as well.

2 Responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations, Part II”

  1. Troubled in San Diego says:

    I stumbled across your blog tonight after an internet search of verbally abusive adult children. Our son lives with us as he suffers from severe anxiety, depression, and has bouts with suicidal ideation. He has lived out on his own (only with our help) a few times, always failing. I know he loves us, but his narcissistic behavior results in frequent conflict. After today’s conflict, my husband left the house, and says that at 59 years old this is not how he wants to live, and definitely not in retirement. Your blog is what I needed to read tonight. I am feeling so terribly guilty about telling him that he cannot continue to live with us. He could qualify for permanent disability, but that takes years to process! We almost lost him in April, and after begging and coaxing him out of bed, we finally got him back. Each time I think it’s going to change and be different, but it never does. It’s Christmastime, and here I am faced with all of this. I love my son to death, but so much of the time, I really don’t like who he is. I am so sad, but writing to you, a stranger, tonight has felt somewhat comforting. I’ll check your blog again. Thank you.

    • LInda Herman says:

      It sounds like a very painful situation. Thank you for taking the time to write. I wish you all the best.

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Friday Food for Thought: Great Expectations

Posted on November 21, 2014 | No Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC “Great Expectations” Those words spring to mind as we enter the holiday season. Our expectations of ourselves and others may be too high or too low. Are you trying to be the perfect wife, parent, or child to your own parents? Do you think part of your job is to keep everyone happy in the family?

These are common expectations many of us have for ourselves or our loved ones. As we look at the covers of magazines at this time of year,  we see themes like, “Have the best Christmas ever!” “Deck your  halls for holiday joy!”  “Holiday recipes to WOW your loved ones!” “Wow” is right. Media invitations beckon us to celebrate and provide tips for doing so.

While inspiring to some readers, these cover stories are burdensome for others. Therapists know that this time of year is emotionally loaded. I see evidence of that in my practice annually. It is most challenging for parents whose children (or perhaps their elderly parents) are estranged from them. I thought it a good time to review the Twelve Truths  for Parents of Adult Children as I presented them in Parents to the End. There are 6 Fridays left in 2014, including today.  I will summarize two “Truths” per Friday for the next six weeks, as a gentle reminder that may help give a realistic balance to what the media gives us.

  1. Love does not conquer all.

Surely we have all heard the time-honored phrase “Love conquers all.”  When someone says it, we tend to think of kind acts, understanding, empathy,  gentle compassion. We equate loving behavior with kindness; we hope that by behaving in loving ways, hurts will be erased, resentments will fade, and mutual affection be restored. Oh, if only that were always true.


There are situations where parents are confronted with extremely angry adult children. These parents often fear contact over the holidays due to the unpredictability of their offspring. Parents may want to love their child, but be met with an onslaught of rejecting verbage.  A pattern may already have been established where the parents continue to offer “unconditional” acceptance regardless of the treatment they have received. They are still waiting for their love to conquer the hostility, but that is not happening.

As I state in my book, “…some children have profound psychological issues that prevent them from acknowledging or accepting love. If loving your child is tearing you apart or destroying your relationships with others, then  your notion of loving needs care re-examination. One-sided love, love that is rejected, discarded, or thrown back into a parent’s face is not healthy,. A more helpful form of loving may be to back off from helping or enabling your child, while allowing her to experience the consequences of her behavior. This gives her an opportunity to change and preserves your resources, be they emotional, physical or material.”

  1. Doing more and more for others will not bring love and respect.

This “truth” dovetails #1 above.  Do you ever question the amount of “giving” that you do for others? Giving is not just material; we give gifts of time, attention, forgiveness, and various forms of assistance. We know that our giving is balanced when we have no resentment building up and we do not feel taken for granted.  We know that our style of giving is appreciated when the person on the receiving end does not end up angry or demanding with us.  There is a fine line, which when crossed, changes the perception of the “gift” to either the giver or the recipient. (Too much giving on the part of parents can actually make children feel uncomfortable or manipulated.)

In healthy giving, neither the giver nor recipient feels “injured”.  Parents of our generation have been able to do so much more materially than most of our own parents were able to do for us. Consequently, it has been more difficult for many baby boomers to stop “giving”, especially in the area of cash infusions. The data is pretty clear, and I recently addressed this in one of my blogs. For those grown children who get significant material help and do little for their parents, their expectation of continuing to get money after the parents’ death is high.  The adult children who have actually done more for the parents, have lower expectations (i.e. feelings of entitlement). Isn’t that interesting! Examine your own style of doing and giving. If you want love and respect, do not overdue the “giving” It can be a recipe for discomfort at the least, and downright resentment at the worst.

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Friday Food for Thought: The Silver Tsunami

Posted on November 7, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman, LMHC


 Camping at the southernmost tip of the peninsula that is Ocean Shores, WA, this weekend, I commented to my husband that I was glad there was no tsunami. But when we picked up The News Tribune at breakfast, I learned that I am part of a tsunami, the Silver Tsunami.


Not new, but new to me is this term “Silver Tsunami.” It refers to the aging workforce in the US. Not since the enactment of the Social Security Act in 1935, have so many older workers (age 55 +) been in the workplace.  But as Bill Virgin, (editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News) notes in his Tribune piece, baby boomers are an aging group that will be vacating a huge number of positions in the next few years.  This means more job openings and more Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) in those jobs. In fact, he says, one estimate has Millennials occupying 50% of available jobs by 2020.

Are we ready to move over and let the younger generations take their (our) rightful places in the job market?

I researched characteristics of both Gen X and the Millennials (Gen Y) for prior blogs. Here are a few traits I’ve previously discussed:


  • Millennials have their own work ethic, distinct from both ours and the Generation X-ers. Bruce Mayhew of Bruce Mayhew consulting has described Gen X-ers(born between 1965 and 1980) as ambitious, hardworking and valuing a work/play balance.  He has said they thrive on challenges, responsibility and diversity. Gen X-ers grew up with busy baby boomer parents, spent more time alone and with siblings, and became independent and self-reliant. They like to be coached, not lectured and work well on their own.


  • Mayhew distinguishes the  Gen X-ers from Gen Y (the Millennials). The Millennials grew up with more hands-on parents (i.e. the “helicopter parents”) who hovered over their fully loaded schedule of activities. They are used to variety, challenge and having their views heard. They were more likely to be raised to feel special and want an “open door” policy at work, where they can give and receive feedback. They love the constantly changing technology and are on the lookout for more efficient ways of getting jobs done. Having been used to getting much reinforcement growing up, they expect that on the job as well.


  • Millennials, like Gen X, expect a work/life balance better than what their parents had. Their concept of time, loyalty and success is different, according to Cam Marston of Generational Insights. Having witnessed the Great Recession, they don’t expect longevity at a job. They’ve also seen more instability at home in terms of family (e.g. multiple marriages), which likely impacts their world view.   They may not be as self-directed as Gen X-ers or we boomers; hence they may not look for what needs to be done next.


While I have seen baby boomers bemoan the way Millennials work, I have also seen these same boomers burn out from lack of good boundaries in their work/home lives. Maybe the younger generation has a thing or two to teach us!

We boomers may be part of the Silver Tsunami.  But another tsunami, this one composed of Millennials, is headed our way.  Let’s be ready to step aside, and even, perhaps, embrace it.


2 Responses to “Friday Food for Thought: The Silver Tsunami”

  1. angi says:

    Thank you for your healthy and balanced insight on the differences of each generation. We have a lot we could learn from each other. My parents are Boomers and my young adult children are Millenials. It’s a complex position indeed.

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