The long-favored folk classic from 1974 “Cat’s in the Cradle” brings pause to many people, especially parents, when it compellingly starts, “My child arrived just the other day. He came to the world in the usual way …”
But I wonder when singer Harry Chapin wrote his lyrics if he ever imagined that once the child arrived he would never leave.
About a third of 18- to 34-year-olds were living under their parents’ roofs, according to one of a series of reports the U.S. Census Bureau produced over the past five years. In fact, the census bureau found that in one year more young adults lived with their parents than with a spouse, a testament to the changing nature of marriage; and almost 9 in 10 of the young people who lived with their parents one year were still living with them the next.
People who study these demographics call this life delay “emerging adulthood.” It’s the age of identity exploration when young people are deciding who they are and what they want out of work, school and love.
If you have a child under 35 still living at home, you might be relieved to know that you are not alone. You are a member of a growing group of families across the country. A look at this new generation, the millennials, is telling. The census bureau reports:
• More than 2 million, or 1 in 4, young people aged 25 to 34 living in their parents’ home neither go to school nor work.
• Most Americans believe educational and economic accomplishments are extremely important milestones of adulthood. In contrast, marriage and parenthood rank low: Over half believe that marrying and having children is not an essential part of becoming an adult.
• Young people may delay marriage, but most still eventually tie the knot. In the 1970s, 8 in 10 married by the time they turned 30. Today, not until the age of 45 have 8 in 10 people married.
• At the change of the century, the majority of young adults lived independently, which was the predominant living arrangement in 35 states. As late as five years ago, the number of states where the majority of young people lived independently fell to just six.
• More young men are falling to the bottom of the income ladder. In 1975, only 25 percent of young men had incomes below $30,000 a year. By 2016, that share rose to 41 percent (incomes based on inflation).
• Between 1975 and 2016, the percentage of young women who were homemakers fell from 43 to 14 percent.
An 11-year gap exists between our two children. Our son, now 33, left for the Army at 18, served nearly eight years, went to college at 25 and never lived in our home again, except for a six-month transitional period. Our daughter, age 22, still lives at home. As long as she wants to, she can. We didn’t chase our son away nor have we held on to our daughter in a concealed attempt to cling onto parenthood. I see our home as being reflective of what the census bureau discovered.
However, if you are chomping at the bit to help your child get on with adult life, you can try a few methods that may have applied to you when you were young. An 18- to 34-year-old must have a job, contribute at least 25 percent of take-home pay in rent, handle personal debts, do chores around the house and live by the house schedule.
Those things may not encourage young people to leave their parents’ home. But within the family, life’s pressures might be more easily managed if rules are set, for both the parent and the child.
Harry Chapin made us all think at one time or another whether our parents did enough for us or if we have done enough for our kids. The power of a 3-minute and 44-second song can be amazing at times.
“I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day. I said I’d like to see you if you don’t mind; he said, I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time. You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu, but it’s sure nice talking to you, dad. It’s been sure nice talking to you. And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me: He’d grown up just like me; my boy was just like me.”