I try not to read things in the New York Times that are about people my age, New York City, or basically anything that doesn’t have to do with international politics. It’s just not where one should go for that kind of content. Most lifestyle coverage, when it’s not about what wealthy people should be buying, reads like the editors are trying to figure out what’s going on in the world by misinterpreting something their child said or did. The youngs are a huge mystery, only to be broached during a car ride through Greenwich: the NYT editor/parent asks, “And just who is this Skrillex? “

Over the weekend, the Times published a particularly mind-boggling piece about children moving back home after college. It suggested that a contract should be drawn up that outlines exactly what the expectations are of the parent for this feckless prodigal. Here are some suggestions of what the contract should cover:

Ҧ What is your role in the house? Nonpaying guest or member of the family? What chores are you going to do? Grocery shopping? Cooking?

¶ What are you going to do to earn money in the short term if you can’t get a job in your desired career? Flip hamburgers? Walk dogs?

¶ What are you doing to pursue your desired career goals? Vocational training? Internships? Career counseling?”

Look at these irresponsible youngs, taking advantage of Mom and Dad’s generosity, chilling on their insurmountable student debt and thinking about what a sweet deal home is. It has On Demand and the family dog! Win-win. The level of condescension towards and complete lack of comprehension about recent graduates (and their outlook) is startling, even for the Times.

Now (FULL DISCLOSURE), I am a child who lives at home after graduating college. I lived at home for six months after college, moved out when I got a job, and then moved back in when I lost that job. I live at home not only because it is my economic reality, but also because the door is open to me. I know that option is not available for everyone, and I feel extremely lucky to be able to hang out with Zelda (the family dog) and watch Eastbound & Down (On Demand!). But I do these things while looking for work and trying to figure things out in a bleak (especially for young graduates) economy.

A contract between child and parent diminishes the relationship to simple tenancy. If that is how late-capitalism dictates we continue our familial bonds, then so be it, and all of our relationships to our parents (siblings, grandparents, etc.) should be inscribed on an MOA. The Times is not beating around the bush with this one. It’s a horrible, cold convention that completely misinterprets why children move home and who is at fault (if there really is one).

That’s not to say that a child living at home should simply be a strain on the affairs of the household, in some odd retribution for the failings of the previous generation (although, what a protest that would be, right? Everyone under 25 moves home until we pass some sort of student debt relief bill). You should be generous and understanding of the situation (walk the family dog, fix the cable when it breaks). If a parent needs a contract to have the child understand the situation, then they’ve raised an asshole (and whose fault is that?).

As a society we need to seriously begin reconsidering our family unit in light of the cost of tuition, the lack of jobs for young people, and the concentration of desirable jobs in two or three urban areas. When I lived on my own, I enjoyed some simple pleasures (I picture the veritable PARADE of sexual partners entering and leaving my bedroom, without the threat of an offer of breakfast or review of my baby pictures). But mostly I worried about making ends meet, unanticipated costs, a non-functioning bathroom, loneliness, and my shitty relationship with my landlord. I envied my friends who were still living at home. It’s the smart thing to do for people with limited means.

This scorn comes from a generation (and its mouthpiece) whose own economic misdeeds laid the groundwork for a crop of graduates with high debt and severely limited employment opportunities. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so absurd. Acknowledgment among recent graduates that moving home is a mark of economic prudence and not some sort of sad failure is what will set this generation apart from the follies and coldness of the previous one.

Deadbeats of the world, unite! Occupy your childhood home.


 

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  • Pieta

    When living with others–regardless of whether or not they are relations–one should of course ‘pull one’s weight’, help out with chores and clean up after oneself, etc, to the best of one’s ability. But I agree that there is a warped callousness in this talk of contracts.

    The word ‘prodigal’ here made me think of Jesus’ recommendation for how to treat children returning to the nest. I wonder how many of the NYT writers and people who agreed with the piece consider themselves good Christians? From Luke 15:
    Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 

    “So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

    “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran  to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let us have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

  • My adult sons live at home with me and still do take advantage of the situation, but in other cultures beyond America this is common and welcomed. We have such a need to be “independent” in US we lose sight of the familial ties. I never got a chance to be near my grandparents or even my parents in adulthood, before they died young, and I like to think the closeness I have with my children is special. I enjoy their company and want to see them succeed. Life has always been tough in all generations (not just the current market), and it would have been nice if my parents would have offered the same support when I was young. Maybe my life would have turned out better?