I 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.
I 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 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.
That’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.
Living 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?