Avoid asking young people these 5 questions during holiday gatherings

  • In World/Europe
  • 2021-12-26 14:01:53Z
  • By Savannah Morning News

This is an op-ed by Amanda Jayne Miller, a professor of sociology and director of faculty development at the University of Indianapolis.

As families gather around the table at the end of this pandemic year, you may reasonably want an update on how your younger relatives are doing. But for many 20- and 30-somethings, COVID-19 has uniquely affected their plans. As an expert on families, I offer some gentle advice, don't ask young adults these five questions:

1. When are you going to finish school?

For many young adults, COVID-19 has disrupted the higher education process. Financial shortfalls, the desire to attend classes in person rather than virtually and even jitters about returning to campus mean that many students have been struggling. They'll get there, but their path may have been temporarily thwarted.

2. Lots of places are hiring. Why don't you get a better job?

Yes, "help wanted" signs are ubiquitous. But now might not be time for everyone to seize a new opportunity. While the hospitality and agricultural sectors are hiring, many other fields either have stayed relatively stable or require years of training. These hiring patterns mean a job change could very well mean worse pay and benefits than before.

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In addition, how workers get hired has changed. Young people can no longer just camp out in a place they want to work until they're granted an interview, unless they also want to be issued a restraining order. Instead, employers expect applicants to follow the process laid out in the job advertisement and stand out through their résumés and cover letters.

3. You're not living in sin, are you?

If you're worried about all those articles you've read saying couples who live together before they're married have higher rates of divorce, rest assured - that information is outdated. Shacking up has become a normal part of most young adults' experiences.

In fact, the number of cohabitors has nearly tripled in the past 20 years; almost 9 million unmarried couples are living together. Young adults move in together (often within just a few months of dating) for many reasons, including housing woes, financial necessity and convenience. The lack of affordable housing and quarantine rules mean that not only is living alone out of reach for many people, but also simply seeing the person you were dating was, at times, impossible. During the pandemic, living together offered a solution to both problems.

In addition, with the average wedding costing $22,500, even couples who want to get married often find doing so out of reach. Unless you plan to follow up questions about living together with a giant check, it's best to let this one go.

4. When are you getting married?

While it's true most of us will marry eventually, the median age at marriage has increased to over 30 for men and 28 for women. And fewer millennials are tying the knot than their predecessors. Even for those who are engaged, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into wedding plans.

If you're feeling disappointed that a ceremony may be a long way off, there's fantastic news hidden by this trend; even as fewer individuals marry, they're less likely to actually divorce.

And just asking this question might actually be spoiling a big announcement. One of the men I interviewed for my research said, "You know, everyone thinks we're getting married, obviously we're getting married. Save me some element of surprise, like, I have nothing left."

5. When are you going to have a baby?

Perhaps no single question raises the blood pressure of a 20- or 30-something more than this one. For one thing, it can be incredibly painful for those who have experienced infertility or miscarriage. And it's also deeply personal, even for the rapidly growing shares (44%) of non-parents under 50 who anticipate being child-free by choice.

For some young adults, a lack of time (or money) color their viewpoints on the kinds of parents they would be, making them reluctant to have kids. For others, concerns about the state of the world today lead to serious doubts. In 2020, for example, more than 40% of women reported changing their fertility plans due to COVID. As the pandemic continues to drag on, we might expect young adults' uncertainty about parenthood to have increased.

Even if we never have children, for some of us, the title of "Dog Mom" or "Fun Uncle" means we're living our best lives.

Well, what can I ask?

To be sure, your relatives probably know that you're just looking out for them in asking these questions and that you really do care. But given that the above topics can make a young adult want to skip dessert and hang out in the bathroom with the cats, what can you ask? Fortunately, you have so many options, such as:

►What are you proudest of from last year?

►What are you most excited about doing next year?

►How's your pandemic sourdough starter doing?

►What's TikTok?

►Can I pour you another cocktail?

In other words, focusing on what has been important to your loved ones or what they have been able to achieve during this often-frustrating year is a promising path to more conversations to come. Those intimate talks are often the best gift of all.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Spread holiday cheer not hiccups by avoiding these 5 questions


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