Kids today

January 17, 2015

screamingI didn’t have kids.

Oh, a long story, but I didn’t have them. Which makes it super-hard for me to relate to the plethora of essays and blog posts my peers write about raising kids, empty nests, grand-parenting. Those are pleasures I’ve been denied and heartaches, too, if we were honest.

But I do have opinions about kids today.

“What would you know about kids today?” you might wonder.

Virtually ALL of my friends have kids, which is to say that I have observed them for decades, from childhood into adulthood.  I’ve taught college.

colourful-kidsI have also had the pleasure of the constant presence of young people in my life, since I was in my 20s. A long time.

Kids today… well, I think I have a unique view, an outside view and a more objective one,  because I don’t have any of my own.  And I’m observant.

But first, let me define “kids” as the offspring of Baby Boomers. So, they’re grown. Still “kids,” though, as it turns out.

Kids today are…different.  I’m sure every generation says that. But here’s what’s different:

Kids todayKids today don’t want to leave home.

In fact, Pew Research reported that some 36 percent of young adults between the ages of  18 to 31 still live with their parents.

Wait. Run that by me again:  age 31????

Remember the movie, Failure to Launch, starring Matthew McConaughey, where parents tried to push their 31-year-old son out of the nest?  That was 2006. Yep, almost a decade ago. It was a comedy, at the time.  Today, it’s reality for many parents.

Times have changed. Or is it parents who have changed?

Now, it’s true that at least through the 1940s, grown kids didn’t leave home until they were married or took an out of town job. For the most part.

But Boomers? A different story. Usually. But with cultural differences. For example, when my sister moved out in her mid-20s my father stopped speaking to her for a year or so. Because no self-respecting Sicilian-American girl would EVER leave home unless it was for marriage. But that was not the norm.

Regardless of cultural pressure, most of us wanted to move out.  M and I couldn’t wait to leave home and live on our own.  But many kids today don’t want to separate from their parents. Oh, sure, we hear that housing is not affordable, the cost of living, etc. Blah, blah, blah.

But when M graduated college he shared an apartment with two roommates and they had no trouble making the rent. The last thing he wanted to do was return to the nest.

Immature_AdultsThat’s not true of grown children today. Apparently, life at home today is far more comfortable than it was for us, because they often return during and after college.

Here’s what else I see among my friends: the parental dilemma.

While their children were away at college, parents developed new routines, enjoying freedom from meal prep, laundry and other chores that multiply with rearing children.  They love their freedom, but they’re reluctant to turn a returning daughter or son down. Even when it would be a good learning experience for them to do so.

On top of that, many parents find it hard to set and keep to limits, such as expecting their kids to do their own grocery shopping, prepare their own meals, do their own laundry.

Parents didn’t expect to have to rewind. And it’s happening all over the world.

So along with the returning child comes returning chores and a rewind to past responsibilities.

As a non-parent, I believe parents who say “no” when they ask to come home are actually giving them a gift: the gift of maturity. The gift of learning to problem-solve and create their own lives.

Yes, that might mean working at a job they don’t like for a period of time. Just like we once did. Or other sacrifices. The kind that build character.  For some reason, some parents are reluctant to let their grown children go through these maturing experiences.

As a consequence, many grown kids today are unprepared to face the world without a parental buffer. They’re ill-equipped to find paying work on their own, to pay their own bills, to cook their own meals,  to make their own way.

thLiving with their parents allows these young adults to live in the fantasy world of childhood longer, which can’t help but delay their maturity.

Psychologist Haim Ober is calling this “entitled dependence” and says it’s a worldwide phenomenon. In Italy it’s called bamboccioni or “big baby.” It’s “hotel mama” in Germany and “single parasite” in Japan.  All of these crack me up in a perverse way because they are so descriptive. And I had no idea that it was so pervasive.

I am appalled, but psychologists are fascinated.

Here’s more of what Dr. Ober says:

Self-fulfillment has become the essential thing. If the young person finds himself doing something he doesn’t enjoy, both he and his parents perceive this as something awful, akin to slavery. These young people who, as a result of their parents’ good intentions, just keep on getting from them but aren’t able to establish themselves, become less able to act, and feel they are less capable. Their conclusion is, “There’s no choice, they have to give me [what I want].” The parents, too, have no choice but to adopt that conclusion. They, too, feel that they have to give.

Upon reading that my eyebrows arched so high they nearly crawled off my face.  But that was nothing. How about this:

The first prominent indicator is a falloff in the young person’s normative behavior: He is incapable of functioning in structured frameworks.

I see the first symptom all the time: inability to function within structure.

The good doctor says that there are families with three or more grown children at home.  So what’s a parent to do? He goes on:

Many parents say, “I can’t persuade him. I explain things to him, but he’s not persuaded.” My answer is that of course it’s impossible to persuade him. All the parents can do is declare their stance: “We have reached the conclusion that we will no longer pay for these things, because we don’t have the money, or because we think it’s not to your benefit.”

“Not to your benefit.”  There it is. The long view. The big picture. Setting limits for the greater good of all.

Look, I know. My position is weakened by the fact that I’m not a parent and also by the way I treat my dog, which my friends call “a cautionary tale.”  Nonetheless, this worldwide phenomenon gives me reason for concern.

It makes me wonder what will happen to a world that’s left in the hands of people who have been so privileged and had so many crutches.

When the last crutch is gone, what will happen?


41 comments on “Kids today
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    Always with the two cents: I think two things–kids today, Boomer kids, are a lot closer to their parents then we were, Carol. We had “parents”, they have “friends.” I know this because it happened to me with my only child. She feels entitled to argue with me if she doesn’t like what I have to say. And I mean, stomp-off. If I had done that with my father, the car keys would be nowhere to be found for a week. And…some parents like their kids home. I have a friend who won’t let her daughter move out–the child makes more money than , well, lets say she is a financial analyst, and her mother and father want her to save her stash ( enough to BUY a house no less rent one) and commute the 15 minutes to her office.Only child syndrome? Maybe. But Boomers helicopter-we do need to let go. It’s not healthy for us or them. I love my one and only and we have a great time together, but she left after a month long Christmas break yesterday, 10 days of which I was not home, and I breathed a *tiny* sigh of relief as I watched her drive off.

  2. Laura Kennedy says:

    There is a LOT of truth to what you say. The one thing that’s missing is the fact that kids are different, innately, which is what you learn by raising several. So parental behavior is not the whole story.

    My husband and I have 5 between us…4 are out in the world and functioning just fine. One was just, from birth, inert. Has always been that way. When my husband and his ex finally put their foot down & refused more help to this almost-30 year old, he crashed and burned. Now living on the streets. Very hard and very sad.

    • I think there are always going to be people off the norm, kids off the norm. In fact, several of my friends also struggle with this. I am so sorry that this happened with your stepson and can only imagine how parents suffer with this kind of situation. I hope he finds his way out.

  3. Toni McCloe says:

    I love your post and you are very observant and I agree. I couldn’t wait to move out when I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to become my own person. I think when kids move back in with their parents they are stunting their own growth and even that of their parents who want to get on to the next level, so to speak.

    Oh, and by the way, when my grandkids moved out, I moved in! So that takes care of that!

  4. Karen says:

    You make some really interesting points here, but I’m always cautious about broad, generation-wide generalizations. Just as not all baby boomers are wealthy, smug, and hypocritical, not all millennials are over-entitled, puerile, and lazy.

    I do think that families must find the balance that works for them. For some, that might mean early independence for the kids; for others, it might mean pooling financial resources by sharing living quarters; for still others, it might mean helping one another out from time to time, as a hedge against an economy that’s stacked against the middle and working classes.

    Example: when our son was 29, we ran into an unexpected financial crisis. He was happy to lend us what we needed to pull through, as he was in a stable, high-paying job. We were both clear that it was a short-term fix. That kind of thing doesn’t make it into the statistics, but it happens.

    I do agree that when one generation presumes on the generosity or flexibility of the other, family relations are bound to suffer. It’s not good for anyone to feel trapped in a family situation that disrespects them, and like you, I’ve seen it many times, in both directions.

  5. I do think baby boomer parents are to blame for making things too easy for our kids. I remember when we moved to California and my kids started playing baseball and softball and the game always ended in a tie so no one would lose. I was appalled. Sometimes you have to lose, and the sooner you learn that and realize it’s not the end of the world, the more equipped you are to deal with adversity. It’s more important to teach children to be resilient, to learn how to stand up to and overcome challenges – and, as a generation, we have not done that. We certainly haven’t done our kids any favors by making things easy for them – and we are now paying the price for it.

  6. I agree with you on many points. I see this with many friends of my daughters’ and some relatives, too. Thankfully my daughters were and are quite responsible and moved out after college. Though sometimes moving home is necessary — like when my twenty-something daughter was in a horrible car accident and back surgery laid her up. It took a long time for her to get back on her feet, literally and figuratively. It wasn’t so bad for any of us though, for reasons Ryder above mentioned: We were and are friends.

  7. Timely blog, Carol! I was on the front end of this phenomenon when my kids graduated from college in the nineties. For various reasons they wound up back home. Thankfully, this was temporary, and all are successfully launched now.

    We at Fuze Publishing will be releasing a book on this subject in early May–Whose Couch Is It Anyway: Moving your Millennial. Authored by two psychologists, it recounts the stories of five diverse families dealing with different aspects of this touchy issue whom the authors counseled toward positive resolutions. I won’t offer a string of praise for the book–obviously as its editor, I think it’s terrific. But I’ll send you a copy as soon as it’s out.

  8. I don’t have kids ready to leave as of yet…but as teens they often say, “Well, we’ll just live with you.” To which I respond, “Mmmmm, nope! There won’t be room when we sell the house and move into a condo downtown.”

    My daughter turns 15 on Monday and is trying to put off getting her driver’s permit. She says she doesn’t want her license. I wanted to be at the DMV on my 16th birthday so I could drive myself! She likes the luxury of being chauffeured, I guess? (Don’t worry. We’re getting the permit next week and I’ll get her to the DMV when she turns 16.)

  9. So much to think about here, Carol…and so many of the comments add to the conversation, I found myself nodding over each one. If a person is not raised in a way that fosters confidence in their own decision making ability then they are set up for failure — that to me is the worst possible result in this syndrome we have come to know as helicopter-parenting.

  10. Laurel Regan says:

    No reflection on life with my parents, but I’ve always been very independent and couldn’t WAIT to get out on my own. Even though I had a low-paying job, I found a roommate and moved out just as soon as I possibly could. I can’t relate to the idea of wanting to move back home as an adult – the whole notion feels stifling and claustrophobic.

  11. Diane says:

    I see big bumps in the road in the future. Big bumps.
    Our kids have – one-by-one – moved home for a time. But only for a short time. Saving for a house. Trying to find a new job. We felt it was a good thing. I think we felt that way because it very soon ended! 🙂

  12. Although every story has different circumstances, many of your points are relevant to me. I am one of the last baby-boomers and have been on both sides. I also could not wait to leave home but unfortunately, my social upbringing had me jump right into a house-wife/mother position. (That failed miserably). A long time later, there was need to return to my parents, but that was for safety and mental healing (which is a very long story). Also, my duaghter and family came back a few years ago and how could I say ‘no’ as they were homeless. That lasted 1.5 miserable (for all of us I am sure) years. Didn’t have the needed strength to boot them out. I now enjoy complete privacy and aloneness. Thanks for writing about this, nice to see you understand.

    • I could have returned after my first husband left me, but I knew it would be such a bad thing for me, so I didn’t. Yes, it was hard to make my own way. But character building and I grew skills that stood me in good stead all my life.

  13. Alana says:

    I’m a baby boomer. My one son (mid 20’s) left (mutual agreement) our house when he was going on 20- and has been on his own since. He is fiercely independent and proud of the mobile home he rented to owned (we did give him the down payment the park owner required but that’s the only rent money we’ve ever given him) – he will be making the last payment on it later this year. It has not always been easy for him. He sees cousins his age and friends, all still living at home. More than one envies him, he has told me. I wonder if, deep down, some of these millennials realize that, at some level, things are not as they should be.

  14. Well, sometimes it is just self-inflicted pain. We encouraged our youngest to go to school in town and live at home to save money. Hopefully when he graduates a big time job awaits and he will move forward. Our very pregnant daughter and her our 23 month old grandson are living with us until early Feb. when they will move overseas…she will soon have another grandson. So, this has been a very full house and there are times we all want to scream. I just keep telling myself it is short term. I am glad we can be here for them when needed. But, when I got in the shower the other night …put shampoo in my hair…and at that moment she drew a bath for the baby and took ALL of the hot water…and when I finally got out shivering and my robe was in her room upstairs…I almost kicked everyone out! But, I remained calm…COLD, but calm.

  15. It does seem like a different world today. I know so many kids who have moved back after graduation, even though it’s temporary. Perhaps expenses have much to do with it?

  16. I just left a comment, but I think it disappeared. Forgive me for posting again. Yes, it does seem like a different world today. I know many kids moving back temporarily after graduation. I’m guessing expenses have much to do with it.

  17. Shilpa Garg says:

    Very interesting discussion. In India, parents want their sons to stay with them, forever! If the son moves out of home because of a job in a different city, it is still acceptable but not if he has a job in the same city. In fact that would be frowned upon. Daughters are expected to marry and stay with the husband.

  18. Andi says:

    Hi there, first time visiting and what a doozy! Loved it. I don’t have kids, never had them, never wanted them (sympathetic to the fact that you did though, so sorry about that). But I also have friends with kids and they are raised SO differently than when I was. I agree with your assessment. My parents loved me and I had a great childhood and not for once did the thought of going back home to live with them cross my mind when things got rough and I thank my parents for that also!

  19. Inderpreet says:

    Yep, in India we prefer our kids to stay with us! They do move out but generally move back when required.
    Though it is changing but slowly.
    Quite a debate you have there!!

  20. Carolann says:

    It might be an odd way of looking at it – but me and the hubby feel we made them, and we are responsible for them. If they ever needed us in any way we are there…that’s the bottom line. It’s just what we do and how we are. I get exactly what you are saying though, and I agree you can’t be a crutch for your kids, but bottom line is if they ever needed us for anything – even if they ever had to move back home…we are there…full stop!

  21. I’m just getting caught up on this one and I wish I had been earlier because I really want to get my two cents in here! I have two kids in there 20’s and they both know that returning to mom and dad’s is NOT an option. That sounds harsh…it should. Life is harsh and to many parents make their children’s lives to comfortable. I could and may write a whole post on this but the short story! This is the reason, I believe, for so many of our countries problems. Parents have made it so easier for their kids always giving them the latest of everything spoiling them that they have come to think they are supposed to have it all…now! The 28 year old with 2,000,000 in debt because of the best new car and the biggest house before they have accomplished ANYTHING in their careers. Parents have failed to teach their children how to work for something. How to upgrade as you go! My children were always given everything they needed and were well loved BUT they were not handed cellphones, cars etc just because and if they wanted those things they got jobs, made good grades and saved for them. That doesn’t mean I didn’t help. When they got jobs they could get a cellphone on our plan but they paid their portion of it, they both bought their own first cars and paid their portion of their car insurance. If they got a ticket or had an accident they knew they would come off of our policy and get their own. It was about teaching them responsibility and giving them the tools to want to make it on their own. My daughter would rather starve than ask me for a loan even though I would gladly give it to her. She has pride and knows if she needs something she has to depend on herself first. I think it was the best gifts we ever gave them!

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