Yesterday I read an article on Huff Post Parents about a program in Colorado that deals with young men who have a "failure to launch" problem. These men have no apparent motivation to do anything other than play video games or work a few hours at a coffee shop and worst of all (gulp), they have no desire move out of their parents' house. Many of the men quoted in the article cited depression and anxiety about heading out into the "real world" as factors in why they were having trouble taking that next step on their own. The article states that young men are twice as likely as young women their age to live at home with parents, drop out of college and be unemployed. That stat surprised me. Like, a lot. Martha Irvine, the article's author, sums up the problem of these frightened young men by saying "In essence, they say, adulthood just doesn't look that appealing."
So my reaction to this story is mixed, especially being a parent with three young ones at home and another on the way. I think that it's easy to conclude that the young men of that article and who have this issue across the country are simply spoiled by how easy their lives were in childhood and adolescence. Who wants to leave a five-bedroom home with a washer and dryer (and mom to clean up) for a studio apartment with smelly carpet and coin-operated laundry three floors up? Why pay rent or have to go to the grocery store? It's all really a no-brainer if you compare the living situations of parents who have had two decades (at least) to make their way in the world as adults to 18-year-olds with zero life experience outside the home. However, it can't really be that simple, can it? (the article does go in depth about other contributing issues like depression, the prevalence of marijuana use, etc.)
I think about my own ambitions when I was an 18-year-old. Mind you, I was (am) a girl so I suppose this won't be a fair assessment. I'd like to think that some of the spirit of youth transcends gender though and that the desire to set out and make a life for yourself is innate in all young people. I couldn't wait to go to college. After my freshman year, I couldn't wait to live off campus in my own place with two girlfriends. We signed that lease with no parental input and it was actually a really bad choice of house. It was OUR choice though and we learned from it. When I graduated from college with no job in my field, I took a restaurant manager spot in a very small Indiana town where I knew absolutely no one and signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment. After a few years, I moved to Orlando with a boyfriend. We broke up (almost immediately) and I took over our lease on my own (soon discovering I was pregnant). When I was pregnant with my daughter, living alone and working two jobs, my family suggested that I move back to Indiana where there was plenty of space and were lots hands to help me parent. I was able to arrange a reasonable schedule with my job in Orlando though, and turned down the generous offer.
The list sort of goes on from there, with a few temporary free rides along the way from friends and family when I desperately needed the help. Right now our family of five (going on six) actually lives in a home owned by my father-in-law (not his primary residence) where we pay "rent" but not nearly the market value. We have plans to move into our own place, though, and are thankful for the opportunity to get our ducks in a row before diving in over our heads with four little mouths to feed. I'm thankful, yes, but every ounce of my being hates living in someone else's space. I feel bad. I feel like I'm in the way. I feel ashamed that despite having a full schedule with the kids, let alone any work commitments, I do not bring in more money. I have a holiday job at Pier 1 and seeing all the shoppers buy decorations for their homes depresses me. I have the opposite of "failure to launch." I believe I suffer from "aversion to dependence."
My husband, on the other hand, is not troubled. I'm sure that he would prefer we have our own place too. But he is just too practical to be concerned. When I say that we would save money on gas by moving closer to where he works, he (literally) does the math and shows me that it wouldn't save enough. Not by a long shot. He knows I won't be bringing in any money at all for a few months after the baby comes, so it makes sense to him that we make the determination to move after baby is here and we have made it through the beginning months. He's a realist, in this regard, and I'm a dreamer.
But we both set out as young adults to blaze our own trail. We aren't "living in our parents' house" because we have no desire to achieve anything more. We have been in the real world, know what things cost, know what is happening to jobs in our industry, and at this point, we are being smart. I wonder though how we will explain this portion of our life to our children? My four-year-old stepson will likely remember some of the time spent living in grandpa's house. How do we explain in fifteen years that he needs to leave and go live in a studio apartment with smelly carpet, even though we accepted the generosity of our parents when we were much older? This troubles me a bit, though I realize that the situations are totally different and that my stepson will see the difference as a young adult.
With the economy the way it is, a lot of parents in my generation are living in three-generation households, at least temporarily, as a means of survival. I wonder how this dynamic will affect the way these children view blazing their own trail in the coming decades. Will "failure to launch" simply become a normal phenomenon that no one writes articles about because it is so widely accepted? Or will our kids desire their independence even more as a result?