Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Why won't the kids leave home?

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Is it the home cooking that keeps kids at home longer.
Photo / Thinkstock
Is it the home cooking that keeps kids at home longer. Photo / Thinkstock

When I'm bored of an evening I have been known to give my husband a hard time for living at home until he was the ripe old age 23. It's not so strange these days but considered in the context of the 1980s it seems positively clingy.

I left my parents' home in Hawke's Bay to study in Wellington virtually the day I turned 18 - and never looked back. In fact, you couldn't have seen me for dust as I sat on that Newmans bus bound for Victoria University. At last I was leaving behind my hometown and almost anything was possible. It was an adventure.

In comparison, the growing trend for young adults today to keep living with their folks seems so banal, so defeatist, so comfortable, so unimaginative. What drives this group to remain at home way past the time it was once considered sociably acceptable? May I say here that I'm not talking about people who are financially stressed; obviously living at home with the parents makes sense when money is tight. And I'm not talking about young solo mums who need parental support or people going through a relationship breakup or other emotional crisis.

I'm not talking about people for whom independent living is inaccessible and I'm not talking about children who stay on at home to support their parents in some way. Nor am I referring to people for whom multi-generational living is a well established cultural tradition as it can be for Maori and people of the Pacific and the Mediterranean.

What I am referring to is the tendency for otherwise functional, seemingly capable adults who've grown up within a nuclear family unit to stay at home well past the time of needing their nappies changed and noses wiped. Freedom and independence no longer seemed to be prized by young adults. Why is that? Surely it can't be blamed entirely on high unemployment and the exorbitant cost of rental accommodation.

Perhaps Peter Pan syndrome afflicts some young adults who display reluctance to grow up and take on adult responsibilities. Perhaps mothers and fathers are too open-minded these days, adopting the role of friend rather than that of parent. (I know my parents wouldn't have put up with the ill-advised and raucous behaviour I specialised in as a young adult. It was my view that I had to leave home if I wanted to have any fun at all.) Or perhaps there's terminal laziness at play; inertia may be induced by a fondness for home-cooked meals and a same-day laundry service. If your home offers all the benefits of a five star hotel then why would anyone want to leave?

As a young adult, I lived in some extremely basic flats. I spent a couple of years with four other students in an old house in Salamanca Road that didn't even have a living room, then in my early 20s I lived in another old house on The Terrace. Cleanliness was not a priority. We seldom scrubbed the toilet and would test whether spaghetti was cooked by flinging it at the wall. One flatmate kept his motorbike in the hallway until we called a flat meeting and evicted it. These were character building experiences that people who refuse to leave the family nest miss out on.

Perhaps young adults today aren't as tough as we once were. Could it be that members of this pampered computer generation are too soft to want to fend for themselves? This theory is considered in The Guardian piece entitled Generation boomerang: children who go back to mum and dad.

With a sub-heading that reads: "Once upon a time, children grew up and left home. Not any more. Meet the new adultescents", it explores the phenomenon of children leaving home only briefly before returning. One expert posited that this is a "more entitled generation" - perhaps with an aversion to slumming it. The article goes on to note that "biology's imperative is for younger generations to manage without parents" and "many life lessons must be learned alone".

In failing to make that leap from the cocoon of their parents' home out into the world some people are voluntarily missing out on what may well prove to be a vital developmental life stage. Perhaps the downstream effect will be legions of midlife crises as they seek to overcompensate for opportunities lost in their youth.

What do you think is driving the trend for young adults to stay at home with their parents? What, if any, are the dangers inherent in this phenomenon? What are young people missing out on in refusing to exercise their own independence?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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