Should It Be OK For Adult Children To Live With Their Parents Long Term?

I’ve been working on this post for over a week, but haven’t found a way to finalize it. It turns out this video might be what I’ve been missing. Remember Stanly Johnson? I thought that was hilarious. “How do I do it? I’m in debt up to my eyeballs. Somebody kill me. Please?” This is the “new” Stanley Johnson, and a perfect lead-in to my question:

I grew up in the Air Force. My dad was a career enlisted man, and retired as a Tech Sergeant with 21 years in 1987 in San Antonio, Tx, where he still lives. Spending my high school years in San Antonio, most of my friends were military brats as well. The majority of us planned to either join the military or leave for college after we graduated. I can’t remember anybody saying “I’m just going to live rent free with my parents until I have grandchildren.” I’m being mildly factitious, but only mildly. I can’t ever remember thinking that I would not be ashamed to be living with my parents as an adult. I’m hardly a representative sample of ANY group, but I distinctly remember (and my mom, up to her passing away, kept bringing it up) that when I was 4, I informed my parents I was moving out. They told me I could not move out until I was 18, so I spent the next 14 years planning to move out on my 18th birthday. I had a few pesky snags in that plan, like having 2 months left in high school and a Kentucky Fried Chicken salary that wouldn’t cover living alone at the time, but 2 months after I turned 18, I graduated and left for Navy Recruit Training and never looked back. I joined the Delayed Enlistment Program at the end of my Junior year of high school, when I was 17. Sometime during my Senior year, my mom approached me and said that if I wanted to live at home after I graduated, I would have to pay rent. I told her I already had an enlistment contract and that would not be a problem. (She knew that at the time, which has left me wondering to this day why we had that conversation.)

Seven years later, after serving in the Navy for six years and working in San Diego for about a year, I moved to New Jersey on a job offer that included relocation, which I could not match in San Diego. I was 25, and I was proud to have my own apartment. I’d already been splitting an apartment with a friend for 3 years, but this one was all mine. I was completely shocked to find that just about every other 20-30 year old I encountered still lived at home with mommy and daddy. Many weren’t even expected to chip in for rent or do very many chores. It utterly blew my mind. I’ve been to some interesting countries. I spent a summer when I was 17 with a German family. My mom had exchange students every year. I’ve been to places that some who may read this post might not be able to locate on a map. I’m hardly a world traveler, but I have seen a few things. Nothing shocked me as much as adult children proudly living with their parents long term. (The runner up was in Bali, when I could not walk two steps without people either begging or trying to sell me cheap junk for money, and when I pulled my money out of my pocket, people swarmed from out of nowhere and started grabbing it. That really freaked me out, and once we got a hotel room I was afraid to leave.)

I’ve lived in New Jersey for 9 1/2 years now, and I still can’t get past this concept. I’ve even seen people who were married and still living with parents. NOTE: when my brother was married, he still lived with parents, both ours and his wife’s. He still lives with my dad. It still blows my mind.

I’ve pondered the situation over the years. I used to look down on people who lived with parents as adults except for those in extenuating circumstances like a temporary financial setback or parents in need of care. I’ve tried to figure out why this is considered acceptable here and come up with three reasons that might work, but I still don’t think so.

Cost of living

My wife claims it’s the high cost of living. When we met, she was 25, I was 26. She still lived with her parents and I had just bought a two bedroom condo. I used to buy the cost of living reason, but I don’t anymore. Sure, it does cost a lot to live in New Jersey (last time I checked, our property taxes and car insurance rates were #1 highest in the union) but our gas is a little cheaper. I doubt that balances out. I admit that houses generally do cost a lot more in my area. In 2002 when we drove to San Antonio to see my parents, we saw the same houses being built and selling here for $250k and up going for $80k to $100k in Texas. However, the average salary here is higher, so to a point that provides balance. Still, even if the cost of living is higher, shouldn’t that provide a drive to excel and earn enough to get by alone, or share an apartment with a friend?

Cultural

I think this is probably the easiest category to file this one under. It does seem like the cultures that make up the south Jersey/Philadelphia area tend to be more family oriented. Don’t get me wrong, they’re just as dysfunctional as us military families, but they do seem to hold to tendencies that support allowing adult children to coast through adulthood without really having to grow up and move out on their own until they have their own children. Many of the people that I know here (including my wife and many in her family) claim to be “Italian”. Most have never been to Italy (I have), some can’t find Italy on a map or know the first darn thing about Italian history (like, what was the world empire centered in Italy), but a lot of people claim to be Italian. That’s something else I’ve never understood. Perhaps my past isn’t well documented enough. I know that the majority of my descent is Germanic. My grandmother used to have some handwritten documents that everybody claims I lost that document her side of the family back to the Grabau clan in Germany. This is, obviously enough, traceable to a village once called Grabau. My mom told me that we have some Indian (as in native American, not the subcontinent) in there somewhere also, but I don’t know where it fits in. The thing is, I have ALWAYS considered myself an American, and nothing else. I was even born with dual citizenship to Spain as I was born at Torejon Air Base outside of Madrid. My former Spanish citizenship was little more than a novelty to me, and I believe it was automatically forsaken when I joined the U.S. Navy. I can’t say I understand how a family can live in one country for 4 or more generations and still claim to be another nationality. I’m better off leaving that for somebody else to chase down though. On the other hand, though I grew up as a military brat, my family came from Buffalo and Pittsburg, so I can’t be that far removed from the cultures here even though that last time I was in Pittsburg was around 1981 and my last visits to Buffalo were in 1984, 2002, 2005, and 2008.

Lack of goals

I think this one has to fit in somewhere and could be the best explanation, at least from my point of view, why adult children still live with their parents. I’m hardly an alpha personality, nor am I the world’s most ambitious man. (I was called an overachiever once or twice, but I don’t buy that. If I’m an overachiever, the bar is set low enough to step over and the person who said I was an overachiever has not noticed.) I’ve always believed, however, that you’ve got to have goals to get through life. You’ve got to have at least some idea of where you’re going next. Believe me, I’ve set and missed thousands of goals in my life. I’ve also had plenty of areas in my life where it never occurred to me to set goals in the first place. I’ve had areas of my life that I’ve let coast. But when it comes to my livelihood and my responsibility to support my family, I’ve always tried to keep my next move planned out. I hate to become complacent in a job. I finished my Bachelor’s degree last year, I just started my current job in March, and I’m already trying to figure out where to go next. Should I look for a Master’s in engineering, or an MIS? Should I go after an MBA? Should I look for another direction entirely? How long should I sit in my current position before I need to worry about another move up the career ladder? These things go through my head most of the time. I know people who seem to have set no goals for their lives farther than what seats to buy tickets for at the next Eagles game.

OK, so what have I accomplished in this post? Probably nothing other than live up to my blog’s new theme, “The Stand-up Philosopher” (which comes from Mel Brook’s classic line in History of the World Part I). I’ll include a link below. This Amazon Affiliates program has some interesting uses. I would like to note that even though I still don’t understand why adults would want to live with their parents or why parents would enable their children to do so, I don’t look down upon those in that situation anymore. My wife’s 21 year old sister lives with us, rent and responsibility free (partly against my wishes), so I’m hardly removed from the situation. I just don’t understand it. Sure, I would love to set a goal to live in a nice place that doesn’t cost me anything and there are no expectations placed upon me and I can come and go as I please, but I can’t reconcile that philosophically with reality, therefore I maintain the goal to provide a nice house for my family that is ours.

I appreciate constructive, respectful, well thought out comments.

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One Response

  1. I think it’s nuts for “kids” to live at home as long as they are anymore. I have a 27 year old stepson who proudly lives at home under daddy’s roof, lets daddy make his lunch and he doesn’t pay rent. He doesn’t save a dime either .. full time job and not a dime?? wth?

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