We’ve all read about the 30-year-old man whose parents took legal action to evict their large so-called adult child from the family home once and for all. A few years ago we met a couple who resorted to selling their home and moving into a small condo in a last-ditch effort to ditch their immature, dependent son. It worked. Oh, that it should come to this.
While most baby boomers can’t imagine living with our parents a day longer than absolutely necessary, it seems we’re the generation that launched the unlaunchable generation. A much smaller proportion of boomers went to university than today’s young people, not only for economic reasons but also because there was not as much emphasis and insistence upon post-secondary education when we graduated in the sixties and early seventies. When we finished high school we considered ourselves launched and headed off to the big city to get a proper job, earn money and begin our lives.
The high proportion of young people today still living with their parents past the age when they should be off on their own got me thinking about why this has become so ‘normal’. Let’s take a look at why we were so anxious to cut the cord and today’s young people are not.
- Real life is not easy. The parents of boomers, also known as The Greatest Generation, lived through the Great Depression and many were veterans of World War II. They knew genuine hardship and made sure we appreciated every single advantage we had growing up. Everything was hard-earned and nothing was taken for granted. They instilled these values in their baby boomer children while simultaneously offering us a better life than they had. Helicopter parenting was unheard of. I clearly remember one day during my working years when four people in our office (including two Vice Presidents) were working on their kids’ school projects. How does that teach young people responsibility and accountability?
- Freedom. We had to be home for meals and frequently had to help prepare those meals and hand wash the dishes after. We had multiple chores to do around the house for which we were most certainly not paid. If we were disciplined by a teacher, we got it again when we got home. Parents defended the teachers not their precious misbehaving children. Parents were clearly our parents and not concerned with trying to be our friends. By the time we finished high school, we were anxious to be free of parental restrictions and go out on our own. It’s called growing up and I don’t see how this can be construed as a bad thing.
- Economic responsibility. Weekly allowances were just enough to get us into the Saturday matinée and perhaps buy a comic book on our way home. When we ran out of money, the supply dried up. We had to collect pop bottles for extra change. When we were old enough we got after-school or weekend jobs, babysitting, cutting grass, waitressing, whatever we could do to earn extra spending money. Today’s young people just ask for money and it’s handed out freely. How does that teach fiscal independence and responsibility?
- We learn from our mistakes. Despite our parents having high expectations, boomers were given plenty of latitude to make mistakes. We hurt ourselves; we made bad decisions and had to deal with the consequences; we were accountable and often had to make restitution for our mistakes. That’s how we learn to become responsible adults. Our parents knew that protecting us from physical and emotional hurt (within reason) was not character-building. They were there to pick us up and get us on our way again but they made sure we learned the lessons we needed to learn from our mistakes.
- Gifts are for birthdays and Christmas. It’s shocking to see the volume of toys and games children today have at their disposal. Boomers received toys and gifts on birthdays or Christmas only, and they were modest by today’s standards. A bicycle was special. Many of us did just fine with hand-me-downs. My own two-wheeler had been owned by two girls previous to me before my father bought it from a neighbour and repainted it for my birthday. Monopoly and Scrabble were high-end, expensive gifts. How is it possible to truly appreciate a gift when a child already has everything. I understand some parents are now discontinuing the distribution of loot bags at children’s birthday parties because they can cost parents up to $200.00 in total and children are so spoiled they usually toss the contents anyway. Material consumption is way over the top for everyone, including us old boomers.
- Your first home does not need granite countertops. How many boomers grew up in a 1,000 square foot house with one bathroom for a family of five, one phone and one black and white television? When we left home, we often shared a room in a boarding house or packed three girls into a one-bedroom apartment to afford the rent. By the time I’d rotated through a series of spartan accommodations over a period of several years when I started working, I was thrilled to finally be able to afford my very own walk-up bachelor apartment on Vaughan Road in Toronto. It had a claw-foot tub in the ancient bathroom, no countertop at all in the itty bitty kitchen—just a big, deep laundry sink, and I had to walk several blocks with my bundle buggy down to St. Clair Avenue once a week to do my grocery shopping and go to the laundromat. But it was mine and I loved it. Even when boomers got married, we didn’t expect to buy a house immediately. We lived in a cheap apartment while we scrimped and saved to accumulate a minimum down payment on a starter home ‘way out in the burbs. No granite countertops. No ceramic flooring in the kitchen and bathroom. No air conditioning. When I got married the first time, we didn’t even have a clothes dryer in our first home because we couldn’t afford the full complement of appliances. I hung clothes to dry in the basement for the first couple of years we were in our new (town)house, and I was in my thirties.
- Money is not fairy dust. It must be earned not sprinkled from above. Having skin in the game always makes the outcome more meaningful. When parents and grandparents keep bankrolling young people after the age when they should be launched, they’re enabling dependence.
- The boomerang didn’t come back. Returning to our parents’ home after we left was not an option. There was no safety net because our parents made it clear we were grownups and we were expected to fend for ourselves. Once we left, we were off the payroll, permanently. And we were usually still teenagers. That forced us to get our shit together and get on with life.
I recently read an essay in The Globe and Mail written by a young woman who felt universities should be providing much more support in terms of mental health services and guidance for students transitioning into the working world. She felt lonely, isolated and disillusioned living in her tiny studio apartment within walking distance of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where she got her first job. The more I read her essay, the angrier I became. First of all, it’s the parents’ responsibility to instill independence in young people, not the university’s. This young woman graduated with no student debt; she spent holidays with her parents in Maui and there was no mention of having worked summer jobs or internships. Clearly, she was one of the entitled and ill-prepared for the real world. The comments from readers that appeared under her column were unanimous in telling her to grow up. Life is not easy and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you develop coping skills.
Every generation has its own identifying characteristics. The Greatest Generation lived through the Depression of the thirties, worked hard, fought in World War II and hatched baby boomers. Boomers discovered rock n’ roll, the sexual revolution and amazingly, the digital revolution. Gen X piggybacked on and benefited from the freedoms introduced by boomers. Then, along came millennials who are often maligned for being entitled and spoiled. No doubt, many do qualify for this distinction but not all. Each generation tries to improve on what they grew up with.
Young people who are independent, resourceful and prepared to start life with less than their parents spent their entire lives working for are more likely to succeed and become better citizens. Life truly is not easy and baby boomers themselves have been responsible for enabling boomerang kids and grandkids. Have we created a monster that’s forever going to need constant feeding and nurturing like the thirty-year-old whose parents needed the courts to boot him out? I’m not sorry I won’t live long enough to see how much longer this false foundation will stand up.
Take a look at this Baroness von Sketch example of a coddled Millennial applying for a job. It sure made me laugh and I think you’ll enjoy it too. Says it all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MU1Qe16E1E.