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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Independence Day: An American Issue?

Unbeknownst to you, dear readers, I have been out of town for a few days, in an area with only sporadic internet connection. So I will respond to your comments at a later date. And, if I run out of posts, check out what the inventive and adorable Lucy Marmalade is posting.

Anyway, as my children approach the age of independence, I have been giving some thought to the whole issue, made, perhaps, particularly acute by the recent--and even on-going-- financial meltdown. Last year, there were all sorts of stories in the news about adult children returning to the nest. I think this is called boomerang something or other. These stories provoked lots of comments--along the lines of tough love required! set down ground rules! you're creating a slacker!

The responses upset me, which was a puzzler, since in general I agree with the authors of The Millionaire Next Door, who argue that parental Economic Outpatient Care to adult children indeed creates low-productivity adults. I have certainly seen this among some of my acquaintance.

I don't have any answers, but I have been mulling over the cultural basis for assumptions about independence. I always liked the responses to the boomerang tales that were written by Asians, who said that in their culture, families helped each other and that multi-generational living was the norm and not the shameful exception.

My son has lots of friends of Asian descent and has visited Japan, China, and Korea. He says that the adult children of Asian families give the older generation a certain percentage of income. He also said that he plans to participate in this tradition!

Who knows? But I wonder if the financial meltdown will provoke a rethinking of what is the "norm," including ideas about independence within families.


freddy-may said...

In Lebanon, there's no parallel to Social Security, and the elderly are basically on their own; my parents have always given a good percentage of their income to my grandparents. It's expected there.

simple in France said...

Interesting. Here in France, my husband lived with his parents off and on until he was nearly thirty and my brother in law lived with them until he was nearly 40--in fact, he now has his own apartment but still comes over for dinner--like tonight. My MIL and FIL love having their kids home and DH and his brother aren't spoiled and they are both gainfully employed, responsible adults (teacher and nurse).

I even live here now! (at 33) with DH in rehab for a car accident. I could pay rent for my own place, but it's nice living with family and knowing you have people to count on in hard times. Luckily we get along!

That said, my brothers back in the US live with my parents and are not doing so well in terms of finding work . . .I wish my parents would be a little more 'tough love' with them--I don't think playing video games all day is healthy at 30!!!!

metscan said...

I left home the minute I finished my school. My older daughter at the age of 20. I don´t think that this will happen with with my younger one. She is now 20 and suffering from depression, unable to do anything, Her school is at a pause and we can´t help her in any way, she refuses any sort of help offered, so I ( we ) are in the situation with living with an adult child. On day after another. I´m hoping for some miracle to appear. As parents, we have turned every stone to find help. These things just happen.

Shelley said...

I left home at 16, then again at 19 and again at 21 and finally made it out of the nest. Only a few years later my Dad was forced into early retirement and struggled to make his voluntary 'alimony' (they were never divorced). There was never a question in my mind but what my job was to help. He paid me back in full when back on his feet. I later took him home with for several months rather than have him stumble around in his house in his own after a lengthy hospitalisation. Being there for my parents was a black and white issue for me. When it pinched, I went for a new job in my workplace to get more money, so it was good for me in a way. It was also the other end of the stick that was being an only child. Families should help one another, but I still agree with the general principle you mention about economic out-patient care; I was willing, but just not ready until 21.

FB @ said...

It will only work if the culture/family/society as a whole believes it works.

This is the case with Asian families. They grow up with a sense of 3 major principles:

1. Parents will always take care of their kids and offer help as much as possible, such as paying for tuition, etc. And even letting them live at home until they die if they wanted. This is to ensure they are never forgotten by their kids and will be taken care of when they are older, out of filial obligation.

2. And in return, children reciprocate by never putting their parents into a nursing home and forgetting them, and can move back in anytime they want, and out of filial obligation of how kind their parents are to NOT charge them rent, they pay a percentage out of their income to clear bills in the home. Even long after they move out.

3. This breeds a whole culture of multi-generational families.

Grandparents stay at home with their kids, who have their own kids, and everyone lives like a harmonious family for the most part.

Grandparents are there to help out a bit here and there, and to act like extra caretakers.

Giving food, shelter and love to your parents in their old age, is what every parent hopes for -- so that they never live on their own and go senile staring at a wall.

At least.. that's what I've heard in principle.

With my family, it's a whole different, and weird ballgame.

Very Confucian.

Duchesse said...

You see multi-gen families in Europe too, especially Mediterranean countries.

A child who is struggling- that's an entirely different matter. As metscan says, you do what you can, one day at a time.

For the able-bodied: if living at home is free, and Mom does your laundry and keeps the fridge stocked with your brand of beer it is infantilizing and demotivating. I have seen a lot of this in the past 10 years.

In a healthy multi-generational model, the young adult contributes very significantly to the costs, maintenance and social dynamics of a household. It's like co-housing, (an approach I admire deeply), except everyone is related.

Revanche said...

I was born and raised in the States but my family continued to practice this multigenerational practice. Grandma shuttled from home to home as she bored of one family or another, we all fed and housed her when it was deemed our turn. My cousins, adult age, college bound or graduates, stayed in the home until they were married out of the family home. There are only a few exceptions to the rules, the occasional child who moves out due to job relocation, or an adult child who fails to contribute in any way.

By and large, the model of living at home until marriage (the equivalent of independence) remains.

Frugal Scholar said...

@freddy-may--That's good to know. Perhaps the USA is the aberration? I suspect that is the case.

@simple--That is great that you feel comfortable doing that. Ergghh--you are so right about videogames. Hope your husband is making good progress.

@metscan--So sorry to hear about your younger daughter. I went through a period like that (though to a lesser extent) and it may be good for you to know that I outgrew my "blue period." How good of you to be so understanding of her.

@Shelley--You should read The Millionaire Next Door if you haven't already. He says parent "weaken the weak (by giving them too much) and strengthen the strong (by giving nothing)." Definite food for thought.

@FB--You are so right--it has to work through the family and culture. Good luck with your family.

@Duchesse--Once more, you articulate my own thoughts, even as I struggle to say what I'm thinking! thanks!

@revanche--That sounds so good to me. I guess I miss my children...