JUNE 1, 2012
This is me giving a great big eye-roll to yesterday’s New York Times op-ed titled “The Parent Trap.” Written by researchers Karen L. Fingerman and Frank F. Furstenberg, it’s the latest in a long line of tedious pieces appearing in national newspapers that diagnose “millennials” with adult infancy syndrome and describe the attendant symptoms.
This one takes a slightly different tack than most, telling parents not to worry that their college graduate is currently occupying her old room—it’s actually great for your kids’ emotional health!
Our research shows that the closer bonds between young adults and their parents should be celebrated, and do not necessarily compromise the independence of the next generation.
Grown children benefit greatly from parental help. Young adults who received financial, practical and emotional support from their parents reported clearer life goals and more satisfaction than young adults who received less parental support. This support ranged from room and board to making a car available, to parents’ listening to their son or daughter talk about the day.
Now, clear life goals and satisfaction are all well and good. But I doubt either is of much comfort to those peers of mine who can’t find jobs. The op-ed takes a weird turn in the middle, too, abandoning the task of comforting parents whose twenty-somethings are living at home to point out that plenty of people who aren’t living in this unfortunate arrangement have good relationships with their parents, too—essentially conflating the fortunes of young people who have no good prospects for launching stable careers with those of independent, grown kids who text their parents. Here's the grand finale:
In our surveys, parents and grown children alike reported uneasiness, viewing intense parental support in adulthood as a sign of damaging over-involvement. Parents reported less satisfaction about their own lives if they believed their children were too dependent. The problem isn’t with the help, per se, but with viewing that support as abnormal and worrying that it could cause harm. Maybe we just need to get over this discomfort.
In fact, we could be celebrating the strong bonds between today’s young people and their parents, rather than lamenting the foibles of the next generation. Forty years ago, the news media were filled with reports of a generation gap. Let’s be grateful that we’ve finally solved that problem.
Good news, everyone. The recession has helped solve communication problems between elder and offspring by putting children on their parents’ payroll and sometimes, back under their roofs. Uneasy with that conclusion? Maybe you just need to get over that discomfort.
To be sure, this not the worst op-ed I’ve read about young people in The New York Times in the last few months. That prize goes to “The Go-Nowhere Generation,” a real stinker which lamented the fact that Facebook has caused young folk to drive less. Or something. (Read Derek Thompson’s excellent response at The Atlantic here.)
But going forward, let’s all keep this in mind: The thousands of young people currently depending on their folks financially are victims of a lousy economy, employment trends that serially depress their income, outlandish higher education costs, and a political order that is overwhelmingly biased towards the needs of Baby Boomers. Their plight, which will have real economic consequences for the future of the country if it persists, deserves better than this kind of pop-analysis, which should really be reserved only for The Great Park Slope Parenting Wars.
The sooner that vaunted outlets like The New York Times figure this out and make their opinion pages a space for serious discussions about how to solve young people’s unemployment and underemployment problems, the faster we can all be kicked out of the house.