Used to be when kids went off to college they never returned home again because waiting for them on the other side of the commencement dais was a good-paying job, one that would sustain them until they got married (soon after graduating), had a family, and raised their own kids until they too went off to college, got married, etc., etc.
But with 55 percent of college students now living at home as opposed to 43 percent in 2010, a lot of those kids don’t leave home to attend school in the first place and then they stay on at home even after getting their diploma. Jobs for college grads are not nearly as plentiful these days, and getting on in the world is too expensive. These kids are no dummies. Why live on a shoestring when you can live in the lap of luxury for little to nothing?
And so it is in our house. My third born, a son, graduated in May but has yet to move out. He’s still working the same hourly job he had throughout college, and even though I send him job postings from the websites I see online (is that the whirring of helicopter blades I hear?), he’s still not applying in earnest for work in his major. Why? I think he’s got it too good. And I’m partially to blame.
Kids have it harder today in a lot of ways. For one, competition for jobs is fierce. The kid with the decent grade point average who worked throughout school to make some money is going up against the kid who excelled in college, took internships, and went into debt to get a leg up on the competition. Those kids are the ones getting hired after graduating while Mediocre Manny is struggling to keep his head above water in the vast resume pools forming in employers’ inboxes.
Also, kids have it harder today because they have had it easier their whole lives. How so? Their parents, we, did much more for these kids than our parents ever did for us. Their whole lives they heard such things as, “You want to play a sport? Sure, I’ll put my career on hold and drive you to games and pay for all the accoutrements that go with that sport even though I haven’t had a pair of new shoes in six years. Hungry? Here’s a burger and a Coke coming to you through this magical drive-through window. Or better yet, sit down and I’ll whip up your favorite dinner, leaving out the greens that you don’t like. Have nothing to wear? No problem, I’ll throw a load of wash in for you right now and not only that, I’ll fold it and put it in your room. Or if those clothes won’t do because they’re not the latest trend, I’ll run to the Macy’s and get something that will. Oh, Macy’s is not cool enough? Just name the store. You want your license? Well, sure. You don’t have as much as a part-time job flipping burgers to pay for gas, but I’ll not only pay for that gas, I’ll throw in the car and the insurance too.” And so it went. No wonder kids can’t get on on their own.
Now our kids are coming out of college and not knowing where to start to get their lives going because Mom isn’t doing all the stuff she used to do to make it all happen. Call ours the enabling generation. According to a recent Forbes report, close to 60 percent of parents provide financial support of some kind to their adult children. That’s six out of ten of us. What’s wrong with us and, more importantly, what do we do now that Jay and Robin won’t leave the nest?
Parents’ motives are noble: they just want to help out their kids. The same motives people have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their babies and young children are in play when they allow adult children to live at home. It’s a loving gesture, not maliciousness, but it can go too far and the new graduate can turn into the adult kid who keeps hanging on and never grows up. I mean, who wouldn’t want a life that’s easy as opposed to one that’s not?
But experts say people need to set boundaries and make those boundaries clear as day, especially if the adult child isn’t contributing enough and the parents prolong retirement or put aside their own needs and wants because they are helping out the kids (and helping out can include paying all the utilities, providing an automobile, buying all the groceries, cooking them, and cleaning up afterward).
I plan to set out a manifesto of sorts and make it not so easy for my son to rely on his parents for help. Hopefully, that will motivate him to move on in life the way his two sisters did. Sure it’s been just a month and a half since college graduation, but I want to set the tone now before I’m driving him around to geriatric appointments and senior day care.