I had no idea how touchy a subject I was getting into. After all, the four of us were registered Republicans and had grown up with much of the same–not much. We had all worked early and often. I just assumed we agreed on the importance of fostering independence in our offspring, self sufficiency being the ultimate goal. It seemed to me that post-university adults living a particular standard that they cannot actually sustain themselves is a close cousin to entitlement. Whether parents or greater society is doing the funding of that lifestyle seems irrelevant.
Recently I was having drinks with three buddies. We were all between the ages of forty and fifty, each with two or more children still in the home. Our discussion was a familiar gripe–How frustrating it is to try and keep a clean house when children (and spouses) thoughtlessly fling their gear into the air soon after stepping inside. Even my own husband who was the neatest guy I could find (he folded his socks and hung his t-shirts back when I met him) now leaves things where they fall, knowing I will pick up after him since I work at home and cannot sit down and concentrate until all clutter is removed from sight. He’s got me well trained, say my buddies.
We all agreed that smaller homes sound easier to keep neat. One mom mentioned she would like to downsize to a condo except that she desires her sons to move back home after college. My other two friends wholeheartedly agreed, one even stating that she will add onto her house if it helps convince the kids to move back home when their education is complete.
I began to laugh out of shock. "What? Are you serious?" I replied. "We’re changing the locks as soon as the last one graduates college. I’m not having moochy kids. Forget it."
The three of them insisted that I will feel the way they do as soon as my youngest is out of diapers. "You’ll change your mind. You’re their mom(!), don’t you want them close by?"
"Yes, close by at a different address. We’re giving them love, food, shelter, clothes, an education, and teaching them about compound interest. Beyond that, we’ll just be available for consult…"
My girlfriends couldn’t believe my callousness. But my argument came strictly from my experience in eldercare, witnessing the result of elderly folks who coddled their kids into later life. Parents who were child-centric to a fault, and adult children who at some point thought themselves entitled to live with or live off of their parents. (Think Will Farrell yelling upstairs for his mom to get him meatloaf).
I realize that most kids aren’t going to grow up and take advantage of their parent’s generosity, but I’ve seen it happen so many times. Call me paranoid, but when there is money involved, even family members can be self-serving.
A good example of this is Ms. B. She lived in her home with full-time live-in care and desired to remain at home above all else. In D.C., live-in care for a patient needing assistance with all Activities of Daily Living (bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, and ambulation) was $200-$300 per day though a reputable agency.
Ms. B had two daughters, each of whom received a generous annual stipend from her as a gift.
Both daughters were in their 40’s, educated, childless, and neither worked. They lived in other cities and rarely visited mom.
Ms. B’s dementia was progressing and she was losing control of her body. Her certified nurses aide could no longer lift or transfer her and consequently, she became a two-person assist, which increased her home care costs. Ms. B’s capital was then being shaved down each month, yet was still enough to last two years or longer, should her decline somehow plateau.
Instead of increasing her help as needed, her daughters cut it back fearing their stipends would be effected or worse, discontinued. Neither daughter desired to go back to work after having benefitted from Ms. B’s generosity for so many years.
I wondered how the daughters might handle their mother’s care had their own financial interests not been a factor. If the daughters were doing for themselves in adulthood, would they feel so entitled to their mom’s wealth?
There’s a growing trend in the U.S. (and also Britain) of children returning to their parent’s homes after college. These adult children are defined as "Boomerang" kids up to the age of thirty-four. Perhaps the job market and economy is indeed so poor that they must shamefully go back to mom and dad because they failed to launch. But it is more likely that they need to start out at the bottom like many of us did in order to gain experience needed to move up and I don’t believe that idea will occur to them without a little love-shove. Because the job they can get and the job they (think they) deserve may not happen all at once.
Does bathing old folks at adult day care require a bachelor’s degree? No, I was overqualified. But three years later I was managing CNAs charged with the personal keeping of my elderly clients. I made sure they kept my clients fresh and spotless. Still later, I was managing social workers and nurses. Client personal care wasn’t something someone with my acronyms did much. But, we had a client who would only get in the tub for me, not for her caregiver or even her nurse. I have no idea why except that she was a nervous little bird who became increasingly afraid of water as her Alzheimer’s progressed….And with this particular client, my previous job of correctly bathing old ladies came in handier than I ever would have guessed.
I’m always teasing my in-laws for being cheap, but they are good people and exceedingly successful parents. The guy snoring next to me is the best outcome of tough love I can think of. If his parents would have paid for him to attend U of Michigan, then he would not have gone to West Point. He’d still be smart and a very decent person, but he certainly wouldn’t have the degree of mental toughness, the physicality, or be the leader that he is now. He learned so much about life and sacrifice during his Army years and he’s better for it.
If boomerangs are allowed to live in our homes until age 34, then are we breeding them to feel entitled to certain jobs, material goods or lifestyles? Do they want to live with us to avoid slumming it on their own? Because in their quest to remain comfortable they may be losing character building opportunities or personal enrichment tasks later benefiting them professionally, as parents, or even later as health care advocates for parents.
Humility and service don’t come standard on most models so as parents we should encourage our of-age kids to carve out a life for themselves after school, without our financial help. How else will they learn to take direction, become responsible or see what they can accomplish on their own?
Yes, we were privy to the economy of the 90’s, when today’s Boomerangs were just babies. Lucrative opportunities are no longer plentiful. But shouldn’t we be teaching our adult kids to challenge economic hardship, to stand out through hard work and multifaceted skills sets rather than wait out the poor economy as adults in their old bedrooms or have their backsides grafted into the living room couch?
Boomerangs aren’t the first generation to experience poor timing, and they certainly won’t be the last. Less than worthy employment or even an unsavory job can at least pay the bills, serve as a stepping stone to management, and build character and humility. I’m sure Mike Rowe (from Baltimore) would agree.
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