Angela Mollard: Growing up wasn’t comfortable, but it was fun!

Her towel was lying on the bathroom floor.

I scooped it up to put it in the wash and then stopped myself.

My daughter is 19, at university and still living at home. Yet, as I rationalised as I dropped her towel back to the floor, she is an adult. She can put her own towel in the wash.

Nothing against my daughter because she is a delight. But with research out this week revealing that adolescence now lasts until the age of 29, that collective gasp you hear is not the uber-rich trembling at the taxing of their superannuation stockpile but ordinary parents like me shocked that our children might never grow up.

I could throw my arms up in predictable despair and mutter about “snowflakes” and how much this girl-woman is going to cost me if she does, indeed, spend another decade languishing in adolescence.

Or I could be an adult myself and recognise that I can either enable this extended teenagedom by cushioning the pathway to responsibility or do what my parents did and simply expect a level of competency and self-determination.

Whereas in 1990, adulthood started at 20 and lasted until 64, the Demographics Group report commissioned by AMP has found there are now six life stages which include childhood (0-12), adolescence (13-28), adulthood (29-55), a lifestyle period spanning 56-64 which balances work and leisure, retirement from 65-76, and old age at 77.

While demographer Bernard Salt cites the expansion of knowledge-based jobs requiring further education and the desire for career flexibility over traditional home ownership for pushing back adulthood, it’s just economic and lifestyle factors driving the change.

Rather, I suspect parents are coddling their kids and inhibiting them growing up. And I think there’s three reasons why.

Firstly, we’re more invested in our children’s lives than any previous generation. Whereas working class families of the last century expected kids to pull their weight by helping with household chores and preparing dinner, the aspirational classes will do anything to ensure their kids succeed. We’re so obsessed with our kids’ popularity, fixated on fostering their talents and dementedly trying to cement their happiness that we forget that competency is usually achieved via discomfort and failure. We work hard to afford the tutor, argue with the soccer coach when we feel our child is overlooked, and help with the assignment, thereby robbing our kids of agency and a sense of capability.

We’re also terrified of our own declining relevancy. If adolescence is now extended, so is our desire to be mates with our kids. We want them to like us so we continue to fund them and clean up after them and their friends even if it privately irks. As one parent who took her trio of 20-something offspring skiing overseas told me: “I’d appreciate if they occasionally offered to buy coffee.”

One of the triumphs of modern parenting is increased communication and the genuine enjoyment we feel spending time with our kids. But if we socialise together, embrace their partners and continue to cohabit, then it does require everyone to chip in.

Finally, we loathe conflict and so the same parents who refused to administer consequences to a toddler are now avoiding a confrontation with their teen because it’s uncomfortable and requires effort. My parents set boundaries without a second thought; I, meanwhile, second-guess every harsh word as if it might lead my offspring to a lifetime of therapy. Yet therapy – not a bad thing – is more likely if firmness and consistency are missing.

If kids are to flourish into adulthood, they need us to be smiling and assured rocks, not anxious needy marshmallows. Look at Prince Harry. Only now at 38 is his dad throwing him out of his subsidised home, Frogmore Cottage. In fact, as Harry laments in Spare, when he moved out of his father’s home, Clarence House, aged 28, his stepmother Camilla turned his bedroom into a dressing room. And the issue is?

Devora Lieberman, the medical director of City Fertility NSW, told me this prolonged adolescence is evident in her work with men, particularly, delaying parenthood and not just single women but couples freezing their eggs because they’re ambivalent about having children. “People will freeze eggs because they’re not really sure if they want to have kids but they might change their mind so they’re kicking that can down the road,” she told me. Increasingly, many are not having them at all. As Lieberman observes: “They’re very happy not having children, they’re living life, they’re travelling overseas, they have the apartment. Why would you want to screw that up with kids?”

And there’s the irony. If you enable your kids an extended adolescence, you may never become a grandparent, which is why it’s time my daughter did her own laundry. At her age, I was in a flat share where there was no heating, the hot water constantly ran out and my flatmate’s appalling cooking gave us food poisoning.

It wasn’t comfortable but it was fun. And it made me grow up.



Diane Morgan (After Life) is hilarious in Cunk on Earth, the Netflix series which cleverly skewers history documentaries with its originality.

Ballet flats

Apparently, they’re on their way back into fashion after years of ugly sandals. The French, meanwhile, never gave them up.

Face cream

My daughter put me on to La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 Balm and it’s a gamechanger. Perfectly repairs damaged skin or an overdose of retinol and serums.

Similar Articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here



Most Popular