The Third Decade is a specific period in the lifespan of two generations of adults, one in its third decade of living and the other in its third decade of parenting. Conveniently tucked in between adolescence and adulthood for the millennials and Modern Maturity and Social Security for the boomers, social scientists disagree about whether it’s a real life stage for parents, though most agree it is for post-adolescents. But regardless of what you call it, the third decade is a unique psychosocial era for both, and what happens to their relationship during it – how it changes and evolves as they do – determines to a significant degree how and whether they thrive, separately and together, in the future.
The “passages” of boomers who came of age in the Me Decade are familiar tropes , at least up until the midlife crisis, to the same generation who made “parenting” a verb. But the “post mid-life crisis” exists, too, brought on by events in which those parents are only tangentially involved; events that are (or aren’t) happening to directly to them., but to their kids. And the post mid-life crisis usually happens in the third decade.
While much of the media buzz once focused on boomers is now devoted to the millennials – sic transit Gloria mundi, after all – there’s a sizeable cohort of parents still deeply involved with its adult children financially, emotionally and logistically. More than half live with them at some time during this period, while almost that many are also caring for elderly parents; appealing as the cultural exhortation is to reinvent ourselves for those uncharted years between middle and really old age, it ignores the realities of many boomers’ lives. Whatever else happens in the third decade, they’re also navigating a new period of psychological development in which their own progress is inextricably connected to that of their kids; if they’re stuck or struggling, often so are their parents, who are also going through a parallel developmental process, if not always a mutual one.
One thing we all learned in Psych 101, or the tattered copies of ”Passages” gathering dust on our bookshelves, is that unresolved issues from previous developmental eras eventually catch up with us in one way or another. What they neglected to mention is that during this stage of our lives, so do ours kids’. How we navigate them both is critical during the third decade, which ushers in a shift in our personal priorities and a transformation of our parental identity, which is ultimately reintegrated in a new, enduring relationship with them that reflects that transformation.