Today’s Twentysomethings Aren’t Ready for Parenthood

With Gen Y still living in the basement, Boomers become grandparents.

Over the weekend, the first of my friends from high school became a grandma. Actually, she became a “Loli,” because she hated the way “Gran” and “Grannie” and “Nana” and “Baba” and all those other old-lady grandmother names sound. Whatever you call it, the baby’s absolutely adorable, and was absolutely unplanned. It took a while for Loli to tell us—and by “us” I mean the bunch of us that were in each others’ weddings and have stayed in touch and spend the occasional nostalgia-filled girls’ weekend together—that the blessed event was forthcoming. She wasn’t ashamed, exactly. Okay, maybe she was a little bit ashamed—Christ, hadn’t she drummed “birth control” into her kids’ heads since they reached puberty? But mostly, I think, she was shocked. This wasn’t the way the life she envisioned for her son was supposed to go.

Also over the weekend, another friend, this one a good five years younger than me, announced that her oldest was expecting. In neither case do the young parents have the sorts of settled lives my friends and I had when we became pregnant—meaning spouses and houses and jobs and cars and the money to buy a crib.

These parents-to-be aren’t teenagers; they’re well into their 20s. But thanks to the recession and the general tendency of young folk nowadays to take their sweet time reaching adulthood, economically—and maybe in terms of overall maturity—they seem more like the teen parents of my youth. At 55, technically, I’m plenty old enough to be a Loli, or whatever—even a great-Loli. But because all of us put off childbearing until we were into our 30s, it’s … well, shocking to have our kids procreating when they still need to borrow cash to cover the rent. Or when they’re still living in our basements, for that matter. In our day, when women got pregnant and weren’t ready (meaning: settled, with all that stuff), they had abortions. We fought hard to have that right, so we could determine how our lives would go without the interruptions of unexpected parenthood. And now here come the kids, gaily saying to heck with that; bring the onesies on!

Part of me admires their daring. It’s true that there’s never a perfect time to have a baby, and while we may have upped the odds that our kids would have bright futures by holding off until we had our heads above water economically, we didn’t guarantee it. Nothing ever does. I used to blame parents for a heckuva lot more than I do now, having seen the curves life can throw at you. Sure, it seems complicated—daunting, even—for Loli’s son to become a dad when his girlfriend’s planning on spending the first six months of their baby’s life living with her parents, five hundred miles away. But he fought the worst demons of Logan International Airport and the Pennsylvania Turnpike to make it to his kid’s birth. However it all works out, he intends to be involved, to be there for his child. To be a good dad.

My daughter’s often said she doesn’t want to wait as long as I did to have babies. I didn’t pay much attention when she was 16 and saying that, but now that she’s 23, maybe I should. I never realized she was so self-conscious about having a gray-haired mom in elementary school. But come to think of it, there’s a lot to be said for getting a kid through colic when you’re 25 instead of 35. And if you don’t have a job, you don’t face the dilemma of whether to quit one to stay home with your baby. Working mothers vs. stay-at-home moms war resolved!

And maybe, if you don’t have a job or a house or a car, there’s something really nice about having a baby—something that’s yours, on which you can lavish all the hard work and devotion you would have given your career, if anybody was hiring history-and-philosophy majors in this job market. Though I don’t know how these brash young parents are going to afford their offspring’s swimming lessons and soccer teams and Gap Kids hoodies and private schools and … oh. Yes I do.

Congratulations, Loli. Enjoy. And keep the checkbook out.