Living in Your Parents’ Basement

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The Article

When I was sixteen, I knew for certain that when I hit eighteen I was moving out. This wasn’t because I didn’t like my mother. It was simply a matter of pride. I was going to make it on my own.

Today, I’m constantly floored by the number of young adults I meet who are still living with their parents while they “find themselves”. Recently I was chatting to a high school graduate about what she was going to do in September. She hadn’t given it a lot of thought, really. She might go back to high school, she said, because she really liked some of the sports teams. If not, she supposed she would get a job. For now she was just enjoying the summer while she sorted it all out. Her parents didn’t mind. They enjoyed having her at home.

At least she was only eighteen. Unfortunately, many who are a decade older haven’t made much progress in locating their true selves while they live in their parents’ basement. And they don’t seem to be bothered very much by this.

Our culture, I believe, has encouraged this extended adolescence because we have changed what it means to feel good about oneself. Today, many people are quite content with their lives even if they do not have any accomplishments to speak of. They’re good people, after all; what does it matter if they aren’t settled yet?

Perhaps this starts in the nursery, where we tell children that they are special no matter what. And it continues in school, where instead of stressing achievement, because that might make some children feel badly, we stress being nice to each other. We have “student of the week” awards for children who have been friendly, rather than “math pro of the week” for a kid who aced a test.

We also rob kids of the feeling that they can handle things themselves. When it comes to school, most kids can’t get through it without their parents helping with homework, something that was virtually unheard of twenty years ago. Now it’s expected by the schools, the parents, and even the kids. Attend a grade eight graduation and you’ll hear parents muttering in the stands that it should be them getting the diplomas after all the work they went through!

When children graduate and move on to university, again they’re still relying on their parents. My generation expected to pay for higher education ourselves. Kids today can’t even dream of paying their own way. Twenty years ago university cost $7,000 a year, including tuition and all living costs. Today, $7,000 just covers tuition, at the same time as the wages that students earn have stagnated. While you might expect a kid to be able to pay $7,000, no kid can pay $20,000, not without serious loans. So our kids can’t become independent in the way other generations have before them.

Maybe it’s not so surprising, then, that the number of young adults who still live with their parents has increased. Twenty-five years ago a quarter of all men in their twenties lived at home. Today it’s a third. Of course, many twenty-somethings live with their parents after schooling because it takes a while to find the right job. If they have a plan to get out, that’s not really a problem. But if kids are living with their parents because they don’t want to make any plans at all, I have three words of advice: Kick. Them. Out. Don’t switch margarine brands in the hope that they’ll leave (as one commercial suggests), or subtly leave real estate pages strewn over the kitchen table. Cut off the purse strings and let them go.

Many of us want to give our kids a great life, but floating them when they should be caring for themselves only impedes maturity. Somehow we need to find that balance between doing what is necessary for our children and encouraging independence at the same time. We may waver on this during the teen years, and even during higher education, but once a child is an adult, it has to be their show now. At one time, kids relished this. There’s no reason why they can’t again.

S. Wray Gregoire
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