It’s Not All Mary Poppins

This is “Responsibility”?

Florinda posted on this article a few weeks back, and I’m just getting around to responding to it here. (UPATE: Here’s the article Florinda wrote.)

You should really go read the original article, but, in brief, the writer suggests that the responsible thing for adult children to do upon graduation is to go live at home for a few years. Pay down their debt, explore career options, get themselves sorted out while living with mom and/or dad, and then, when they’re established, get out and get going.

You know, as the parent of an almost-22-year-old (who is living on her own after having graduated university), and an 18-year-old who is living at home while he works and takes a gap year before attending post-secondary school, I am acutely annoyed by the article. (And yes, my son is paying rent.)

“Responsible?” In that entire article, there is not one single reference to the parents in this equation. No acknowledgement that it’s their home, too. No, wait: not “their home, too“. “Their home.” Period. The article expressed no awareness that, having had their child out of the house for four or five years, the parents might prefer to preserve their hard-earned parental autonomy. How “responsible” can it be to simply assume one can return to the nest as a chick, without any reference to the needs and realities of the people who own the nest?

The self-absorption is appalling. It’s not “responsibility” he’s describing here, it’s expediency and sheerest self-interest.

In the article, the author wonders “why do we … try to go from adolescent to adult in a matter of weeks or months?”. Hello? What were those four or five undergrad years all about? Obviously, the writer thinks that university students are in an extended adolescence until the very moment of graduation.

Strange, I’d always thought that the four or five years of university or college were supposed to be the transition from adolescence to adult. They certainly were for me — but, oh, that was before the dawn of time and is no longer ‘relevant to today’s experience’. Excuse me. However, those four years also seem to have done the trick for my daughter, who is 21, and for many of her friends. Guess what? People do grow up in university, even in this day and age! Imagine.

A large part of the problem probably lies with the parents in the equation, of course. Who has given these “children” the idea that it’s all right to continue to be children into their twentes? Who allows them back, and doesn’t charge them full market rent? Who infantilizes them so that they can’t make it on their own in the face of normal life challenges?

The article is a pathetic rationalization of a fundamentally unhealthy dynamic. If we’re adolescents until our late twenties, that’s a whole decade frittered away. Why would parents encourage extended childhood in their adult-age children? Oh, that’s right: because we see childhood as nirvana and adulthood as something bad.

Yup, I’m annoyed.

October 16, 2007 - Posted by | controversy, my kids, parenting, socializing


  1. I completely agree with you. College, for me and the majority of my friends, WAS the transition to adulthood. I was able to come home to my parents for the summer following college without paying rent. All of us knowing that in the fall I was moving out to go to grad school or for a job. If I had needed to stay home, I would have contributed financially to the household and I would have asked permission. I would never simply assume that I could just move back in. I may have lived there all my life but it is my PARENTS home.
    For goodness sake, by 20 or 21 you should be able to manage an apartment on your own.

    Comment by Dani | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  2. As someone who lived at home until she got married, this one is not quite as cut and dried for me. I agree that living at home indefinitely is probably not going to be healthy in the long run. However, I do think that there’s some merit in living with parents for a while so that young adults can take greater risks when it comes to their careers and life PROVIDED they can come to some kind of agreement with their parents on how it will all work. (Having said that, I wish I’d lived away from home before getting married. The number of fights my husband and I had about managing our home in the first year of marriage is unbelievable.) I also think parents have to take responsibility in setting their boundaries on how much rent to charge, how long they’ll put up with it, etc.

    Of course, there’s a downside to living with your parents–you have to follow their rules. For most young adults, that’s enough of an incentive to leave!

    Comment by Kat | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  3. Oh god, I agree with you on so many fronts. People are fully capable of growing up in the years starting at 18. My mom informed me at 18 that I was leaving the house now, so I may as well go striaght to university and get on with my life. And guess what? When you live away from home, even with other young people, you NEED to grow up. there is no mommy to do your laundry, cook your dinner, manage your budget, keep shampoo and toilet paper in supply, make sure you wear your boots and mitts and do your homework. It’s a GOOD thing that there is some sink or swim time that has only a bit of safety net. I worked summers and came out with debt, because my parents did not go about buying my groceries and paying my rent. And so after I graduated, I moved home for a few months while I looked for a place to live and got sorted, and by fall, I was out.

    And what about those kids who don’t go to post-secondary? My sister jumped right into working, and at 23 is a fashion editor at a magazine, a stylist with a name for herself, and may soon be helping oversee designs at a major fashion chain. She’s had more help than I did, but she’s doing well and working hard.

    Responsibility? My first response was that what they are talking about is quite the opposite. It’s continuing to lean on your parents when you should be learning to take even greater responsibility than you had in school. It’s suggesting that it is impossible to sort out your finances by working hard and being RESPONSIBLE with your finances out in the world. Pah.

    Comment by kittenpie | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] statement was made by MaryP in response to another blogger. While I agree with the core of what she argues, I would take her argument and run with it in a […]

    Pingback by University… the transition? « The Pen Is [the shield] | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  5. I was gonna make my case in a comment. It became a gigantic post. Hope you don’t mind me linking to it, and summarizing by saying that, as a university student, I think even 18 is too late to be growing up. By university, the “kid” should be “adult” and ready to step out and test out the true world of adulthood!

    Comment by nebcanuck | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  6. You should be annoyed. I’m young enough I have siblings who just graduated from college, and one did move home for a year. But she was a tenant and it was awkward and uncomfortable and it pushed her to get on her own (she was having a hard time finding a job). My youngest sister grabbed herself a bunch of roommates and didn’t move home at all. My brother never moved home; I got married two months post-graduation. I wonder if part of the problem is that everyone has his or her own room, there’s cable TV, use of the car–it is nice and easy to live at home for most college grads.

    But even when I was graduating 11 years ago, I looked at friends who moved back home and thought, “loser.”

    Comment by Bridgett | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  7. I think you should all follow the link in comment #4, and go read Ben’s article (and not just because he says nice things about me, either!) In fact, although I certainly believe what Ben writes applies to himself, he being an exceptionally grounded and mature young man, I’m not sure that it applies equally to everyone his age — but, now that he makes me consider the idea, I’ll bet it applies to more than we might think at first. It’s a great read – and certainly a provocative response to the originating article!

    Comment by MaryP | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  8. I remember you weren’t thrilled about this back when you read it on my blog :-). Here’s the link you couldn’t find:

    And yes, this is STILL annoying. It’s turning out to be one of my pet peeves, actually. I’m off to read Ben’s article now…

    Comment by Florinda | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  9. […] Mary P posted the following yesterday and I am inclined to agree with her on the annoyance factor. […]

    Pingback by » The Love is Free, the Lifestyle is Extra | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  10. Yeah. I always thought of college as that transitional step between childhood and adulthood. Where for many of us, mom and dad and home and support were not too far away, but we had the chance to be more independent. And when we were done with college, it was to go off and get our own apartments/houses/whatever.

    That being said, through a weird set of circumstances, I was out on my own for about 2 years, then ended up getting a teaching job about a week before school started, back in my own childhood district and moved in with my parents due to the extreme time crunch. THEY then ended up moving out due to my dad’s job change, so I lived at their/our home alone for a while, until declining enrollment meant the job wasn’t renewed the next year. So I guess even though I never intended to move back in with them, never say never!

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  11. I was living at home, going to college and my father died. Our home was the two of us. At 19, I had to grow up. I had to take responsibility for myself and be an adult. Not when I graduated college, but at 19. I graduated high school at 17. Anyway, if mom and dad can afford for a child to come home or they want this, then I see it as ok and a personal decisions. But, to think that is the responsible way to do it is enough to make me want to barf. I am not an old codger and I see kids today that would never make it if they had been forced to even do for themselves they way I did at even 9.

    I have a cousin who is 12. Her mother doesn’t work at job that requires her to be away from home when the kid gets up for school because she says the kid “can’t” get ready and to school alone. When I was 7, my mom had to work a job that required her to leave home at 6. I got up with an alarm clock, picked out my own clothes, brushed my own hair and teeth, got on the school bus and knew that missing the bus meant big trouble. This kid is 12 and is driven to school in a carpool….I mean, come on.

    What happens when she finds herself alone at 19 and can’t brush her own hair…nevermind pay bills and get to work/school on time. I call foul!

    Responsibility and becoming an adult starts on day 1. Maybe that seems kind of horrible to some folks but it is the truth. We start out (or should) teaching our kids to be self-sufficient from the moment they are born. From that moment on, they are already responsible for letting someone know when they are hungry or need their diaper changed…and much more. Why wait til they are 22 and lived almost half of a lifetime and then let them live at home and pay off debt and blah blah blah to be called “responsible”.

    Ok, I’ll hush now, I agree with you Mary! I call foul on that one big time.

    In every staff meeting I remind my employees that my goal in owning/teaching/caring for kids that are daycare/preschool age is to teach them to be responsible for their actions. That sounds kind of corny but if we can teach these kids to interact with their peers and realize that each and every action comes with a consequence (weather it be a reward (or just nothing, or punishment), as adults and growing into adulthood, we have to learn to be responsible for ourselves and our actions. If we teach them to write their ABC’s or read or what have you in the meantime, that’s great, but let them be kids, learn what I feel is the most crucial skill in life and then let then when they reach public school age, that person will have a human being that is teachable and can then learn to read, etc.

    Ok, I said I was hushing, I just wanted to throw that in there. Oh, and I didn’t proofread so you might have to read between the lines.

    Comment by Jerri Ann | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  12. Man that last paragraph needed proofing bad. The last few sentences should read:

    If we teach them to write their ABC’s or read, etc, in the meantime (while teaching responsibility), that’s great. but, let them be kids, learn what I feel is the most crucial skill in life and then when they get to public school, the teacher will have a human being that is teachable and the kid can then learn to read, write, etc.

    Sorry, man I had a serious adrenaline rush when I was trying to type that…this topic…..umph!

    Comment by Jerri Ann | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  13. I think that you really hit the nail on the head, MaryP, when you suggest that the 20s are being thought of as an extended adolescence. My moment of realization was when my now-husband and I announced our intention to get married – everyone thought that 24 was awfully young. How could we know? What about the rest of our lives? etc. Well, yes, it’s a leap – but since when is one supposed to wait until one’s 30s to really “grow up”?

    Comment by parodie | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  14. My argument isn’t that it is always wrong for adult children to end up back in the nest, for a time (as short a time as can be managed). I can think of a number of reasons why this might end up happening, through no fault of anyone’s.

    I am arguing that deciding to do this for no other reason than to avoid some normal level of discomfort, in order only to make your own life more comfortable, is the very reverse of responsible. And don’t go pretending, to yourself or to others, that it’s anything other than selfish and irresponsible. Deception and self-deception aren’t very responsible, either.

    Comment by MaryP | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  15. I completely agree, Mary P. I think the choice of whether or not to move back home after college is a complex one, and circumstances may vary. But the author of the post you linked to seems to have the attitude that relying on your parents for everything is not so bad, what is all the fuss (for example: He seems to be writing for a very select set of 20-somethings, whose parents are well off, live in suburbs where there is no social scene, and are willing to have you live at home for free. Plus he’s not writing very well, at that. Grmph.

    Comment by Tali | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  16. Totally. Great comments too!

    Comment by Henny Penny | October 17, 2007 | Reply

  17. Additionally, what a one-sided view to imply the following:

    a) Everyone’s parents are capable of allowing a child to return home.
    b) Every young adult would be safe in returning home. (Where does the author factor in children out of the foster care system, or children from abusive homes?)
    c) That a young adult is incapable of paying bills and such things on one’s own. Additionally, that a young adult would have stupidly become buried in debt.
    d) That parents live somewhere a young adult could become established. So, what happens if my parents live in Rural Iowa and I want to be an urban planner?
    e) That moving home would be carefree. If I move home after college, it will be to care for my aging, disabled father, not to extend the so-called nirvana of a childhood that was brutal the first time around, thank you very much.

    I’m typing this from my own apartment, that I pay for, three miles away from my own university, which I pay to attend, on my own laptop, which I bought. Of course my father helps me, but good God, he buys me groceries from time to time. He doesn’t invite me to freeload while I get established.

    What a jack-a-ninny.

    Comment by sassybelle | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  18. Parents beware. Children allowed back into the home after college, or allowed to stay home the entire duration, may never leave. My brother-in-law is 35 and still lives at home. No job, no goals, no life except sleeping all day and watching TV.

    Comment by mamacitatina | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  19. Ummm… okay, I will admit something: I lived at home after college. Twice. Both times were for periods of 6-7 months, the first occurring right after I graduated, the second after I had been living halfway across the country for 2 years and became partially paralyzed after breaking my arm. I was one of those people who still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after college, and living with my parents did help me to figure it out. I also did not pay rent (gulp). However, I did buy food, made meals, cleaned the house, and conducted myself like an adult. I’m extremely grateful to this day that my parents let me do this, not only because I was able to figure out what my next move was, but also because living with them as an adult rather than a bratty teenager made our relationship even stronger. Later on, I was able to help them out financially quite a bit and I felt that it was definitely both my responsibility and my pleasure to help them as they had helped me so many times. And finally, now that my dad is gone, I feel extremely grateful that I had that extra time with him, especially as after I got a job and moved away, I saw him much less. Moving in with your parents – if done at all – should be seen not as your right as their kid, but as a short-term favor that they bestow upon you, for which you should treat them with respect, follow whatever agreement is set up (and definitely pay rent – I realize that now!), and most importantly, leave sooner rather than later.

    Comment by Kiera | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  20. I have just (10 min ago) finished reading a book by Joanna Trollope called Second Honeymoon, dealing with almost this exact issue. It was both an interesting and exhausting story.

    My father never made any secret of the fact that he could not wait for my siblings and I to grow up and LEAVE. He wanted my mother for himself abd after bringing up 5 kids I don’t blame him.

    We were all out of the house as soon as we graduated and had a job…all of us.

    Home was always there in times of crisis..ubt only for a very short time… when the crisis passed we had to move out and onwards again.

    Adults do not belong in their childhood home. Period.

    Comment by wendz | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  21. Hi Mary–such an interesting post. I can see both sides and would think that situations could arise where coming back home might be necessary.

    Generally, for me though, a child needs to be adult by the time they are going away to college. Not just in economic terms, but more importantly in psychological term. But that means we must raise healthy adults who can see that coming back home may not be the best alternative. Great thoughts here, thank you!

    Comment by The New Parent | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  22. When I was a child, I had a lot of responsibility and as a result I am quite independant.My parents both became very ill when I was young and after the first year of living with relatives, I had to learn to be responsible for myself and help out as much as possible.I started doing my own laundry and preparing meals for myself and my older sister by about 6 or 7, cleaning the house and buying groceries at 9, and working (tutoring)at 12.I covered all of my living expenses by working nearly full-time in college. Since my father passed, my mother has been begging me to come live with her since my sister is saving up to find her own place . She suggests that I can pay off my substantial student loans while staying at home for a while.While the idea of extra disposable income is tempting, I can’t imagine leaving a life I made for myself to move the 2000 miles back home, to voluntarily give up my autonomy and privacy.I think she’s just afraid of living alone because she has never done so in the pastg.Sometimes parents want their kids back home because they like having someone to take care of but I think those parents also benefit from cutting the umbilical cord and realizing that their offspring are adults.

    Comment by meep | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  23. hah, as a university student I find that patronizing. Why in God’s name would I want to live at home? After I graduate this spring I going home JUST long enough to find an apartment. Give up my independence? No thank you!

    Comment by jstubson | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  24. My parents told me early on (as I have already told my kids, ages 8 & 11) that after college I was welcome to come home to VISIT as often as I pleased, but that I was to find a place and be living on my own within 6 months. I think there was a comment that if I needed to live at home longer than that I would have to pay rent.

    After college I had a job lined up and came home for 5 weeks – long enough to pack up my room, relax a little and go to a family wedding.

    I (and DH and 2 kids) came back home again for about 2 months when we were moving closer to home. Our house sold quicker than we planned and we camped out with my mom while DH finished his MEd and then we went house-hunting.

    My brother did not go to college and did live at home for a couple of years. After the first few months, my mom charged him rent. Then at one point she told him he had 3 months to find another place to live – and he did.

    I went AWAY (like 800 miles away) to college because I knew I needed to use that time of college to gain some independence and become more self sufficient. It worked well for me and I did gradually take on more financial responsibility – my parents (and my scholarship) did pay for my tuition, room and board, but gradually I took over paying for everything else – books, meals that my meal plan didn’t cover, even living expenses the summer I lived near the college.

    I think it is good if home is there as a last resort – but not as a preferred option.

    Comment by Katherine | October 18, 2007 | Reply

  25. How I agree with you on every front.

    I lived on my own from the time I was 16. A different situation, to be sure, but responsibility? I knew all about that. I had no choice. But I was amazed by the sheer number of students in university who had no problem running back to mommy and daddy any time they ran out of money (having overspent on booze/electronics/going out) or if they couldn’t get a job. It was utterly ridiculous.

    The whole situation infuriates me. Gah! What a culture of entitlement we are creating.

    Comment by b*babbler | October 19, 2007 | Reply

  26. I’m sort of in the middle on this one, as an adult child who did live at home after university for two separate periods. I consider myself to have been a responsible adult in university: I lived on my own, paid my bills on time, worked very hard on my schoolwork (earning scholarship money for my efforts), worked part-time jobs, and so on. After I graduated, I lived at home for four months while working (contributing to bills at home) to save money to work overseas. When I returned from overseas, I lived at home again for five months (again, contributing to bills and the maintenance of the house) before moving to another city for another job opportunity.

    I do think university helped me to become a fully-fledged adult, but at the same time the job market has changed. Even an undergraduate degree is often not enough to immediately ramp you into employment in your field. Living at home enabled to get my start in my field without having to accept any old job to pay the bills. And it wasn’t just me who wanted this: my parents wanted me to work in my field and not end up working at the Gap after four years of university (note: nothing wrong with working at the Gap, but I use it to illustrate a point).

    Of course, if parent(s) feel put-upon by having the child back at home, that is a problem, but in my own experience my mother enjoyed my company and commented that it was nice to have someone there in the evenings (she was an empty-nester by this point). If it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement (recognizing, of course, that the benefits were more heavily weighted to my side) and there is a deadline in sight to when the arrangement will end, I don’t see the problem with this.

    Comment by Lucy | October 19, 2007 | Reply

  27. I agree with you whole-heartedly, but wanted to know what you thought about a child who is living at home DURING their undergraduate years. Would this affect their development into an adult? And when should the parents draw the line and have their child move out?

    Comment by Sue | October 19, 2007 | Reply

  28. Sue:

    I hope you don’t mind me interjecting, as you seem to be asking Mary directly. But as a university student I think my opinion has a little merit at least 🙂 .

    I think that Lucy has a decent point when she says that she contributed to the house when she returned home. It’s one thing to get away without rent for a time; University certainly has a hefty fee attached to it, and to throw the kid out with little or no financial support can be enough to endebt them for a long time to come! But that financial responsibility should be, in my mind, at least mostly theirs to bear.

    Which begs the question: Where is the line drawn now? Is the stay at home simply your parental contribution to make sure your adult is able to get out without dying soon after university? Or is it a) a power grab (“under my roof means you still follow my code of conduct!”)or b) a free ride? I know friends in both situations. In the former, they either rebel heavily and blow school, or struggle to find independence. In the latter, they get spoiled. Mommy and Daddy providing car, gas, food, and tuition isn’t a good way to advance an adult’s knowledge of the real world.

    Ultimately, if the student isn’t paying a good chunk of the bill and learning to deal with his/her own set of rules and lifestyles, then they tend to be a step behind their independent peers.

    Comment by nebcanuck | October 21, 2007 | Reply

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