From the archives, NOW IN PRINT: *The “responsible” child (?)*

I shared the details of this yesterday, but here’s a quick recap: A post that originally appeared here during the first six months of the blog has been published as part of an essay anthology, The Contemporary Reader*(it can be found on page 174 of the book). The anthology is a college-level expository-writing textbook, so it’s not likely most people are going to stumble across it, and the original post appeared at a time (September 2007) when this blog’s readership was much smaller, so I thought I’d bring it back for an encore. After all, if you haven’t read it before, it’s new to you :-).

I know times have changed, and it’s a lot harder for young adults to get started on their “real” lives these days. The late-night phone calls and long-distance online counseling of my son the insomniac – who actually does seem to be making a decent transition to the post-college, living-on-his-own, working-adult world – have reminded me of this lately. Even so, I have some major disagreements with this post by Penelope Trunk’s recurring guest blogger, Ryan Healy, suggesting that it’s a “responsible” decision to move back home after college.

I sent the link to Chris for his take and to help gauge my own reaction:

me: Don’t read this unless you have a few minutes, but speaking as a parent, I’m glad you’re “irresponsible”
Chris: only took a minute to read
the points they make are kind of valid, but you could make the same argument for staying in the same city you went to school at
me: or living at home while in college, and THEN moving out
Chris: yeah
but you need to have experience living on your own
me: and once you have it, why move back home if you don’t really have to?
and where’s “home” if your parents live in different places?
Chris: there is a financial benefit
but that’s about it
me: I can see that, but yeah. that’s about it…especially if you’ve had that taste of being on your own already
Chris: yeah
me: it’s hard on EVERYONE to go back
Chris: yeah, I know

in a vacuum it doesn’t look bad
I guess it’s hard to argue the benefits for a recent graduate, especially if everything reverts to pre-college status and parents are picking up the tab for everything. And if the grad takes advantage of that – in the “good” way – by working hard and saving up that money during this time period, he or she will be much better-positioned financially for a more desirable lifestyle when the time to move out finally arrives.

I actually think being able to go away to college, living on or near campus, is a great opportunity. It’s a taste of independence – being responsible for your own time management, for one thing, along with making lots of other choices – but it’s also still sheltered, since most college kids aren’t quite as “on their own” as they like to think they are. Directly and indirectly, most are still getting a substantial amount of support from parents during this time. But having had that taste of independence can mean giving it up when returning to the family home – and as a parent, I think to some extent that’s entirely appropriate. Unless the recent grad is paying rent and other housing expenses to the parent, and doing his or her own laundry, errands, cleaning, etc. – that is, approximating living on one’s own as closely as possible under the circumstances – I’m inclined to think “my house, my rules” applies, especially if there’s also some amount of “my support” involved. And I’d suggest that rather than going away and coming back, one might ultimately arrive at the same place by attending a local university and living at home, preparing for a transition to independence after graduation. (I did this, and believe me, everyone was ready to move on after five years of it.)

For generations, it’s been traditional for young adults to have to work their way up in the world; it’s a formative experience, intellectually, emotionally, and materially. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see a lot of value to this. Depending on where you live and what you do, though, it can be harder to get on that footing and take longer to move forward – and I think that going back to the family home signals a reluctance to take on those challenges, as well as a sense of entitlement to a particular lifestyle that these young adults grew up with and don’t want to sacrifice.

I gather a lot of parents don’t want them to have to sacrifice it, either. My take on the job of parenthood is that the goal is raising functional adults, and thereby ultimately working yourself out of a job – but I know that not all parents agree, and some have a hard time letting go appropriately. I’m not talking about kicking the baby birds out of the nest, mind you, and I don’t think any parent wants to become truly unnecessary to his or her child, but I think we do more for them by helping them prepare to fly. (Teaching someone to fish vs. giving them a fish, you know…) I’m not sure letting them back into the nest really does help. I tend to think that moving back home after college has a lot more advantages for the child than the parents – but if the parents aren’t ready to let go, I guess they get some benefit too. If the parent is encouraging the child to return home, I wonder if that speaks more to the parent’s needs that what’s best for the young-adult child in the long run.

As I say, I’m probably a traditionalist, and my viewpoint is in line with my own experiences. I think those experiences were a good basis on which to raise my own child, though, and am glad to see him following that more traditional route; I hope that his upbringing has prepared him to make a good go of it. And considering that he was pretty anxious to get started on his own and not head back to stay with either of his parents after graduation, I guess he might be a bit of a traditionalist himself.

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  1. I'm glad to see that the publishers of this kind of text (a kind I've often used in first-year composition classes) are looking for good essays from all over–and this is a good one!

  2. I didn't read the article you were referring to, and while I totally agree with your points, I also can't help thinking that many families are left without the "choice" in this manner. Here in SoCal especially (and particularly in 2007, when this was originally written), rents were completely out of control. So I could see many families saying, "hey, stay here, save up, and once you can actually afford furniture, then move out."
    But I do take issue with the idea that only this solution would be the "responsible" one. If your son is able to live on his own, then I agree, he absolutely should.
    Congrats again, Florinda. I'm SO happy for you!!

  3. Very well written! And congrats again!

    I moved home after college – home was NYC and living on my own in the land of astronomical rents seemed impossible on an entry level salary. With that said, it really only delayed the inevitable – after living very independently in college, living at home under my parents rules and the accompanying lack of privacy was untenable. So I found an apartment and found a way to make it work. It was a good lesson for me.

    Interesting topic!

  4. April – I agree that if it's an arrangement with a planned endpoint, particularly in markets like ours, it can be a good plan. But if your 24-year-old is moving back home after college just to figure out what he's going to do next, and not preparing to become self-supporting, I really can't see how it's good for anyone. (And my position does make a little more sense if you read that first post.)

    BooksNYC – Your experience is pretty much what I'd expect to happen in that situation. It's not a bad idea financially, but in so many other ways, it's just NOT. Glad you've been able to get out on your own!

  5. Very cool that your thoughts were posted in a book 🙂 I agree with you, although after college I did move home for 5 monts between leases. I was ready to go after 5 months!

  6. April – Ooh, can't wait to read it – unless you're planning to jump all over me for my opinion on this. THEN I'll gladly wait a while :-).

    Stacybuckeye – I don't have an issue with it as a temporary thing, as I said earlier. I just think an open-ended arrangement where the adult child has a sense of entitlement about it is less than ideal. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  7. Great comments. At work, there are at least two co-workers of mine who are 25 and living at home. One left for school, changed schools and moved back home, while the other got pregnant while in college and proceeded to move back in with the parents. Neither one is providing some form of financial support to their parents.

    For those of us who moved away from home and never moved back, we cannot understand why they remain there. We have discussed the importance of discovering freedom and financial independence that you gain from being on your own and can see signs of a complete failure to understand what it truly means to have to find a way to keep a roof over your head or food to eat in both of them. Even co-workers who are their same age can see signs of immaturity and a lack of fiscal sense in these two that they do not.

    For someone to state that responsible graduates move back home with their parents completely negates the idea of what it means to grow up and go away to college. Children are not meant to be shielded by the parents forever, and responsible parents will ensure that their children are forced to learn life's lessons on their own. In my opinion, moving back home after school is neither responsible nor good parenting.

  8. My now 21yo did move out and then back home a few months ago. He's been living at home while going to college in town and we were all getting pretty tired of it. But he made a really bad choice about who to move in with. We were actually more than happy to have him come home until he could afford to get back on his feet. And we didn't even say "I told you so," even though we thought it. And we all made some concessions when he came home–we had to learn that he was a grown up now and he had to learn that this is still our house and he has some specific duties now that the other kids don't.

  9. Michelle – Very well said, and thanks for saying it. I have nothing to add :-).

    Lisa – Your son is still in college, though, so it's a little bit different. It sounds like you've found a way to make it work, though.