To the Parents of All Those 18- to 34-Year-Olds Still Living at Home: You’re Doing It All Wrong

mom and dad

(Some) parents just don’t understand

Oftentimes I’ll look at my kids with rainbows, shooting stars, and unicorns dancing in my heart, dizzy with the loving knowledge that I’ll be their mom forever and ever.

Even more often, though (or at least it feels that way when I’m wiping traces of poop off the bathroom floor or making a new peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich because the last one was apparently cut at an incorrect angle), I’ll look at them with daggers in my soul and realize I’ll be their mom at least until they leave for college, or until the apocalypse, whichever comes cursedly later. Mark my words: They will leave for college. Or at least they’ll leave for somewhere that is not located under my roof when they turn 18.

Business Insider reports that one-third of 18- to 34-year-olds still live with their parents. I can assure you my kids will not pad that statistic.

After I graduated from college, I moved back home with my parents for seven months, until which time I saved up enough money to afford a place of my own. Even then, my dad unofficially paid a lot of my rent for another year or two. I could fault him for enabling me, but I more applaud him for getting me out of my parents’ hair. I wouldn’t have wanted me around then, so I can’t imagine they wanted me, either. It was a win-win.

In the years since then, my life hasn’t always coasted along on a smooth trajectory, but never was it an option to move back home. My parents laid the foundation, supported me emotionally, but part of being an adult is sometimes making hard choices, working even harder, tightening your belt more than seems comfortable, and sucking it up when necessary. It simply wasn’t how I was raised to even assume that moving back home was an option after a certain point. I grew up, went to college, got a job (lots of them, in fact) and lived happily ever after — some days much happier than others. I get that there are some cultures and countries where this isn’t always the case, but it is here. Or at least it was.

Then the millennials and the Gen-Yers came along. And apparently times have changed. One of the reasons is because as college tuition has increased, so has the number of kids forgoing an advanced degree — both of which is happening at the same time that the job market is more competitive and therefore a college degree is even more necessary to be qualified for a career that will afford you the opportunity to live on your own. Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok has been tracking 18- to 34-year-olds, and recently found those able to get their college degree have so much debt upon graduation that the price of living is sometimes only right in their childhood bedroom.

Another reason those in the 18- to 34-year-old bracket are circling back to the nest nowadays is attributed to the 19-year low in U.S. home ownership, thanks to tight mortgage credit for first-time homeowners especially.

I read all of that, and while it makes sense, I still think there’s more to it. I think so many parents today (and some of them yesterday) are coddling their kids too much. I coddle my kids, too, but not more than I try to toughen them up. We all make a series of choices in life. Sure, sometimes we’re just a victim of plain old bad luck, but more frequently it seems we tell kids they’re too good for less expensive colleges or community colleges. We tell them they’re too good to take menial jobs that will get their foot in the door. We tell them they’re too good to take thankless, low- or unpaid internships when they’re younger that might lead to bigger opportunities later, as well as lifelong connections. The result? They act like they’re too good, and until the day comes when someone realizes they are qualified to start at the top instead of working their way up, mom and dad can wait on them. Because they’re that good. Mom and dad told them so.

Times change. I get that. I really do. What hasn’t changed for me, though, is that when I go home to visit my parents, I still climb into bed with my mom after dinner and watch TV with her until it’s time to go to sleep. I still talk to my dad on the phone almost every day and rely on his counsel for so many big and small matters in my life. But I’m a grown-up with a career and a responsibility to honor how I was raised by being on my own, for the most part.

My kids are being raised with unlimited love. But they’re also being raised to know that while the love will never end, their own sense of responsibility and accountability will start at some point, and it won’t be for show. It’ll be for real. That’s how I think it should be, and even if some of their peers might be bunked in their old bunk beds after their 18th birthday, my kids won’t be unless it’s just when they’re getting started or for a visit.

It might be tough love, but if you ask me, it’s the love part that’s the most important.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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