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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Exactly Why Are the Kids Coming Home?


The age of "residential adolescence" is upon us, apparently. Nearly 45 percent of adults ages 20 to 24 now live at home with their parents. That's 1.7 million more than in 2005.

Nicholas Retsinas, a real estate expert at Harvard Business School, blames the trend in part on tough times. Jobs are hard to come by, and lenders have become super-strict about writing mortgages. Economics no doubt play a part.

But this return to the nest didn't start with the 2008 economic meltdown. Many children were already moving back home because — pardon the bluntness — they are slackers, and their parents are doormats.

The phenomenon was central to the 2006 movie "Failure to Launch," about a 35-year-old still living with his suburban parents and whose best friends were living with theirs. In scenes meant to be funny, the mother serves him a pancake-and-sausage breakfast and vacuums the crushed chips from his bedroom rug. The parents eventually trick him into leaving, then apologize(!) when he discovers their ruse.

Retsinas sees a change in the traditional adolescent yearning to "escape from parental rules, schedules and oversight." I see children returning to homes where there is none of the above. If anything, they're freer, since any money earned can be spent on fun things, not food, shelter and cable TV.

One mother I know hires someone to mow the grass, as her 25-year-old son and girlfriend hang out in his (now their) room. They ditched their apartment last summer, arguing that they needed a few rent-free months to save for their own place. Almost a year has passed, they're still there — and they're working almost not at all.

I appreciate that young people have lost jobs and take on household duties when they move home.

Some contribute rent. Some have returned to school. And some are even supporting unemployed parents.

But I've seen too many cases of children simply living off hardworking parents. A divorced manicurist told me that her at-home daughter had dropped out of college a few years ago. I asked her what the 26-year-old was doing. "Nothing," she responded, somewhat embarrassed.

But what about the freedoms of having one's own pad as immortalized in such TV shows as "Friends" and "Sex in the City"? In my observation, most "unlaunched" 20-somethings pretty much do as they please. Parents who didn't ask their high-schooler where she was at 2 a.m. are not about to confront their 24-year-old.

Some bring home lovers for the night. There was a time when unmarried sex partners, even if acknowledged, could not share a bedroom in the parental home. It is now no longer rare to see middle-class parents taking in their unmarried daughter, her baby and the boyfriend.

Why do parents do this? For starters, they may never have established an identity apart from being parents. Perhaps their homes had already become motels, with each teen having had his or her own room with cable, high-speed Internet and a parking space. (All that was missing was a minibar.) Perhaps they lack the guts to say "go."

A reviving economy will surely change some of these dynamics, as children genuinely stuck at home find the resources to leave. Some parents may finally get fed up. But many adult children will conclude that living for nothing with full Mommy services and adult freedoms is too sweet a deal to end.

As for the parents, what can you say about people who do their grownup child's laundry? If they truly want their kid to leave, they should insist that he do their laundry, while noting that real-estate prices have rarely been lower.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
I'm currently estranged from my parents over this very issue. When I was 18 I shipped out for the army and never looked back. In the past ten years i have earned a bachelors degree, visited dozens of countries, was commissioned as an officer in the navy reserve, and now have a civilian job that pays six figures. I made it on my own, with the help of the Service. My younger brother is now 25. He bounced across four different colleges (hello History degree!) and now has a factory job and lives in my parents' basement with his woman. I kept quiet for the first year. I kept quiet when he bought the stainless-steel grill. I kept quiet when he bought the king-size bed, the fancy truck, the 50" flat-screen, the wii, the hunting rifles and brand-name camouflage. But the motorcycle? That was the last straw for me. I dared to speak up. "Why aren't you at least paying rent?" I dared to ask. His reply, "I don't work at Pizza Hut anymore! I am here for reasons mommy understands well!" My sister (his twin) and I got into a heated argument with our parents over this at a restaurant and were basically told nothing is going to change, it's none of our business, and if we don't like it, too bad. My sister and I haven't spoken to our parents in months now. There are 5 of us kids, and the other four of us went to college (or the Service) and never moved back in. But apparently he is special. And with the sweet deal he's getting how can you blame him?
Comment: #1
Posted by: titan76543
Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:26 PM
I actually had the opposite situation. My parents *wanted* me to stay home. They offered to pay for everything, and they did pay for most. I stressed that, at 23, I desperately needed to be on my own and to learn how to take care of myself. I ended up moving to another country so that I could work on that. My parents ought to be spending money on themselves, not me! I'm certainly grateful for everything they've given me, but I don't want to be 30 and still living at their house. They should enjoy their time together, without us "kids"!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Emily
Thu Jun 30, 2011 1:58 AM
Great column! Harrop mentions that one of the possible reasons that parents allow this is that they have never developed any identity of their own besides being a parent. That may be true, although I wonder why this has happened in the times when SAHM-hood had already become not the only option for women, and SAHD-hood had not yet become completely socially acceptable. After all, most 20-somethings have parents who have probably both worked at least some of the time after having children. This is different from people who are now in their 40s and 50s and who most likely grew up in the times when women (their mothers) did not work outside the home after they got married or, at least, after the first child was born.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ariana
Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:45 AM
On the flip side...I as a single mom worked hard, bought several pieces of property that my "little" kids really loved and said they liked ranching. Everything as fine until recently. As it turns out, neither boy ended up on either ranch so now I have two to take care of and it is very stressful. Fortunately I sold the third when prices were right (my primary residence). I can't make up my mind on which ranch I want to live in my old age a each has a different set of circumstances. Now my youngest son has married a real citified New Yorker shrew...(only met her twice...second time at their wedding) and she doesn't like ANYTHING about me or the ranches! I think she thinks I am a redneck hick, although I have a lot more class and upbringing in my little finger than she will ever have. Woe is goes my thoughts of having a lot of fun with my to be grandkids on the ranches! All my retirement dreams down the drain.
Anyway the point is, parents should not make long term plans for themselves involving their kids. I have very good relationships with my boys, but their careers have also taken them to other places. Neither are slackers. Parents should do what they want to do in the present and not worry about investing (to a degree) for their kids. Have a will , do what makes you happy, and let them have the remainder when you kick off! It isn't worth the disappointment as family units are not as they were in the my parents and grandparents days.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Charlie
Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:59 AM
I got quite a chuckle out of this typical liberal not seeing the forest for the trees. It doesn't dawn on her that these parents and their entitled offspring have been nurtured and molded by a lifetime of democrat thinking and policies. Nothing is their fault--society must be "fair" and insure equal outcomes. Harrop should be required to read Thomas Sowell every day for a year before being allowed back in print.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Joe Redwine
Sun Jul 3, 2011 12:25 PM
Having recently sent 2 of my 3 step-sons packing.....because they didn't want to work or help with household expenses.........I can fully understand and agree with this entire article.
After all,when your ''children'' are 31 and 33 years of age,I believe that it is past the time when they should
begin assuming the roles that adults start to practice when they finally leave their teen-age years behind.
My wife...their mother,is an enabler..................she gives them smoking and drinking money and honors
their every financial wish.
She may soon find herself on the outside looking in if this enabling doesn't stop.
Comment: #6
Posted by: mike gushee
Tue Jul 5, 2011 8:18 AM
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