By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 15, 2005
When I asked parents whether their adult children, particularly college graduates, should be allowed to move back home, the responses generally fell into two camps.
In one were those parents who vehemently believe their job is done after 18 years of home training and another four or five years of supporting their children through college. Once these young adults have degrees, it’s time to kick them to the curb, they argue.
“I believe it is appalling that so many young people consider it their right to move home after an expensive education meant to secure their futures as wage-earning adults,” one reader wrote. “I would think graduates would think past their home base to the freedom and personal pride in having achieved the goal they worked so hard to obtain. Perhaps some of the degrees earned are no more than a piece of paper to nowhere.”
Here’s what Kaye Gibbs, a single mother from Pennsylvania, said: “Parents are not cushions or havens from life. In other words, take care of business. No one, especially your parents, owes you a free ride.”
By taking care of business, all the parents in this camp believed that young adults, especially college graduates, needed to figure out how to finance their own life.
“This trend of continuing to depend on someone else for their own welfare is disturbing and, I believe, harmful to the children’s, and indeed America’s, future,” wrote C.H. “Bud” James of Vidor, Tex. “Most of the cases I have seen are simply that they have it good at someone else’s expense, and they are too lazy to take responsibility for their own lives. And the sheer gall of a college graduate to come home is unbelievable. What about the parent’s right to an easier life? These young people, college grads or not, need to get off their duffs.”
In the second camp were parents who see the family home the way a baseball player sees the dugout. It’s where their children can come when they strike out at life’s fast financial pitches.
“In my 26-year-old daughter’s case, she has never left,” wrote Mary Ann Lakeman of Buffalo. “Dreams die hard. This generation has had to face that fact much quicker than mine did. Today, education is very expensive and good-paying jobs are few and far between. Their dream job may have been outsourced to China or India and what is left is what they may have to settle for. It’s a sad state of affairs for today’s youth.”
We know that the top reason people go back home is for economic relief. But is that so bad?
Susan Knapp of Quartz Hill, Calif., thinks so. She wrote: “People do not grow and develop into productive adults when they live at home with their parents. Living in a one-room flat and riding the bus to work does wonders for motivation and determination.”
I don’t think that’s an absolute truth.
You know your child. You know if you’ve got a trifling young adult whose return home is just another bad decision in a long history of bad decisions. You know that what he really wants is his mama’s house to be his hotel.
If that is the case, don’t let him check in. Put the “no vacancy” sign up. Play tough so he, or she, can learn to be independent and self-sufficient. To do otherwise is to allow an able-bodied adult to be infantile.
On the other hand, if your child has done the best he or she can and falls financially, why not reach down and give a hand up?
And when I say help, I don’t mean baby that adult. You are not helping if you allow a grown person to sponge off you. You are not helping if you rob your retirement savings to bail your child out of credit card debt. In England, they call such adults “kippers,” which stands for Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings.
I like what one reader finally concluded about her sister’s return to their parents’ home.
“Until two years ago, I used to really hold rancor about the fact that my baby sister sponged off my parents at home,” wrote Kelly George of South Riding, Va. “I used to gripe about her not being an adult and living on her own. And then I realized how much my parents need her. Sometimes living at home shouldn’t carry the black spot it does.”
George said her sister boomeranged back home after two years of working and not making much money. By moving home the sister was able to switch careers and attend a culinary school without incurring debt. Now she’s running a small catering business out of the parents’ home.
“What do I care if she’s not on a fast track?” George said. “Sometimes, with the right situations, living at home isn’t considered failure, but noble and loving.”