Life or Something Like It: A new high in parental milestones

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By Suzanne Darland

The most important milestones in parenting might not be first tooth, first steps or even obtaining a driver’s license.

Sure those were exciting enough. We celebrated every one of those achievements with the obligatory smiling photo, delighting the grandparents.

But I’m reveling in the beginning of a new chapter in the parenting adventure. As of Oct. 1, all three of my children have found full-time jobs. With benefits. And my heart is singing.

I’m grateful for the Affordable Care Act provision that allowed my boys to remain on their parents’ family plan health insurance until they were 26. Last year, 15 million young adults who were no longer full-time students were extended such insurance. And my youngest was among them.

But he turns 26 in February, just a couple of months after the 90-day trial period ends at his new office job. He’ll get a raise and be eligible for the perks of full-time employment.

My sons and daughter-in-law had the misfortune of graduating from college, even with master’s degrees, during a time when the economy has been extremely slow to rebound from the Great Recession that began at the end of 2007. They’ve had a difficult time finding any full-time work, let alone in the fields their degrees are in.

A 2012 Associated Press study said they’re not alone. A little more than half of young college grads are jobless or underemployed. What job growth there’s been has been in areas that don’t require college degrees — retail sales and fast food — and don’t offer full-time employment, for the most part.

I’ve heard stories of job seekers, degree in hand, filling out application after application without any acknowledgement of receipt, much less a call back for an interview. One friend said he sent out 150 resumes before finally landing a job.

My two youngest have been cobbling together part-time jobs to make a living for several years now. Our middle son lived in Austin after graduation but then moved back home three years ago. Our youngest stayed in Lexington after graduating from college in 2010. I’ve worried about whether he has enough left after paying the rent and filling his car with gas to eat. That’s most of the reason why he bought a used bike to get to work — pedal power is free. When he’d come home for a visit, I’d send him back with goodie bags of food.

But that’s all changed now. When our friends show us videos on their iPhones of their children or grandchildren flashing a toothy grin or taking those first steps, I too can tout my children’s ultimate achievements. All three are living on their own. Making it. Paying their way.

Isn’t that our real goal as parents? To kick them out as fully-functioning independent tax-paying members of society, ready to make their mark on the world?

Bring on the fireworks. I’m celebrating.

Suzanne Darland teaches journalism classes and is director of the faculty advising center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.