Is “Failure to Launch” Really Such a Failure?

There has been some talk lately about people in their 20’s or even 30’s who still live at home with mom and dad. Now, when I was in my early 20’s, I certainly did not want to live with my folks and truthfully, I didn’t really respect those who did. I have always said that I fully expect my kids to strike out on their own once they finish schooling. However, every time I read an article or column about how terrible it is that so many young people still live at home, I start to think that perhaps we’re off base in our thinking about this issue as a society. Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote a column this week extolling the virtue of a bit of shame in getting the young to jump the nest and now I’m really thinking I might need to re-evaluate my thinking on this one (probably just the opposite of what he was hoping for).
First of all, until fairly recently a child who moved out of his or her parent’s home prior to getting married was rare and often seen as scandalous. So what we’re talking about isn’t exactly a new thing. Children stayed put for many of the same reasons they do today – to help the family out, to save money for their future and because it was where they were comfortable. I think that what has changed – and what we should consider alarming – is that we used to see getting married and starting a family as what moved us into adulthood. Today we look at freeing ourselves of encumbrances to family and being self-sufficient as what makes a person an adult. Marriage and starting a family are no longer seen as the standard of adulthood, but as risky endeavors which should only be pursued once one is completely established as a person with no significant ties or dependency on any one. Is this really healthy? Of course, if we get rid of the push towards marriage AND we get rid of the push towards self-sufficiency, we’re not left with much by which to measure the passage into adulthood by. That can’t be healthy either. Yet I’m not at all convinced of the superiority of pushing young people into becoming completely self-sufficient creatures. Not only does it deny the social bonds and centrality of family in people’s lives, but is it any wonder that people who have been taught to measure their worth by their independence have difficulty negotiating marriage where mutual dependence is the name of the game?
The portion of Mr. Navarrette’s column which really raised alarm bells for me was this:
And if these young people live in areas of the country where home prices are astronomical, they even have a built-in excuse. Many may be unable to buy a home of their own and thus are more likely to move back with mom and dad. Some may have decided that they’d rather live in a nice area of the country, even if it means living with their parents. They must know that they could have their own home if they moved to a place with more opportunity and a lower cost of living, but they stay put.We already knew that–according to U.S. employers who are dependent on foreign labor–the work ethic is slipping among members of the younger generation. Now, also in short supply is the willingness to seek out opportunity wherever it exists.
As much as it’s become a reality of modern life, anyone who looks at our society can point to the loss of community, neighborhoods and family support which results from the high levels of mobility we have as having been detrimental to our quality of life. What Mr. Navarrette is saying is, “to heck with the kids knowing grandma and grandpa. To heck with having women you trust around to help teach you how to care for your first child. To heck with caring for aging parents – a real American goes where the opportunities are! Why do you think we have e-mail, day care and nursing homes?” As much as we all want our kids to be independent, do we really want to teach our kids that the bonds of family and community come behind seeking out the next opportunity? I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here as our family has certainly made choices about where to live based on jobs. However, I’m not certain that this trade-off is one which should be accepted so casually.
I’m not saying that I’ve committed myself to having my kids live with us until they build a hut in the family compound upon taking a bride. However, I do think that we nee to ask ourselves if a set of social norms which is so dependent on accepting family as secondary to self-sufficiency is what we should be promoting with our children. Many of us often lament the short shrift family matters get in our culture, but perhaps that’s just what is to be expected when leaving your family is seen as necessary to living a worthwhile adult life. Something to think about.

One thought on “Is “Failure to Launch” Really Such a Failure?

  1. My parents currently have labled myself (24) and my sister (19) as “rebellious” because we choose to not live at home. I am sure when I have kids of my own I will understand more deeply what they are feeling – but at this point all I have is under frustration and anger.

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