A new collection of studies shows that more young adults are returning home to live with their parents. While this shouldn’t come as a flash, the study’s findings that parents are OK with this phenomenon did surprise me.
My mind flashed back to the 1980s when my first wife and I were facing the prospects of having three children in college at one time. It was my task to be not only the breadwinner, but it also fell to me to set up the game plan to make this happen financially without being sucked into a vortex of debt.
One child wanted to be an automotive technician and planned to study for an associate’s degree at a community college halfway across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where we lived at the time. Another planned to follow in dad’s footsteps and become a journalist. He’d go to Penn State. The third, and youngest, planned to attend a small liberal arts school in southeastern Pennsylvania (Ursinus College), then pursue a degree at Thomas Jefferson School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
One of my objectives as a parent was to prepare my children to become as self-sufficient as they could, as quickly as possible. In other words, if they were out of the house and on their own by age 22 (after the theoretical four years of college), or as soon thereafter as humanly possible, I would consider myself a parental success. To have them still living at home at age 26 or 27, regardless of whether they were gainfully employed or not, would not have made me a happy camper — not because I didn’t love them — but because I would have judged myself a partial parental failure.
Also at issue were entitlements. My wife and I went round and round on this one. She thought it was our sacred duty to provide all of the funding for our children’s education; I, on the other hand, felt it was important for our children to contribute to their college funding so they could understand the satisfaction of having been a part of the process.
All held part-time jobs during high school and college. I told them we would contribute $10,000 per degree to the cost of their education. If they chose to stop after a bachelor’s degree, it would be $10,000; $20,000 for a master’s and $30,000 for a — in my youngest son’s case — medical degree. We would bankroll all costs — tuition, room and board, books, spending money, etc., but I expected any debts beyond those limits to be repaid — interest free with mutually agreeable terms.
My oldest son, the one who wanted to be an automotive technician, completed his first year, but on the first day of his third semester, he called me and asked to see me, even though he was four hours away. I knew this was not going to be good. I was right. He informed me that he had discovered that this field was not his bag, nor did he know what he wanted to do. He was moving back home at age almost 20.
We agreed to these rules: He would pay modest rent and help with some household expenses; he’d do household chores; he’d continue working at McDonald’s — now on a full-time basis until he “found” himself, and he and I would have monthly suppers to assess how far along he was on the process of finding himself.
Six months later, he announced at our get-together that he decided he wanted to study to be an accountant. He went to a business school, completed the program and transferred credits to a four-year school about 60 miles away (Albright College in Reading, Pa.) and earned his degree three years later. He got a job in Reading, got married a short time later and has lived in the Reading area since then.
Middle son Mike got a newspaper job in York, Pa., immediately upon graduation from Penn State and moved into an apartment in that city.
Youngest son Paul had an apartment in Philadelphia while he went to Jefferson, which we helped finance.
During summers he lived at home.
He got married during his five-year residency program, and he and his wife bought a home.
After an 11-year process of schooling and residency, Paul owed me about $60,000, which he paid off in less than two years after he had become a practicing general surgeon in South Carolina. Middle son Mike owed me less than $2,000, and oldest son Steve less than $1,000.
Steve was out of the house at age 23; Mike at 21 and Paul at 25. I asked myself plenty of times, “Was I a bad parent because I didn’t want my kids living at home?” In my heart of hearts, I felt I was actually helping my children become self-reliant.
As in the case of our oldest son, we never turned our back on him when he decided to switch gears, but we also established rules to make him understand that this was not going to be a free ride.
So why does nearly one out of three adult children just starting out live at home? Researchers on this recent study say enduring social and cultural changes are at work, including a “child-centeredness” among families.
These researchers also found that economic factors are driving the trend and there is no longer as much of a stigma of living with parents as there was a generation ago.
The study says that more upper- and middle-income parents, including many who felt pressed for time when their children were growing up, aren’t ready to be finished with them yet — a sort of guilty conscience.