Living at Home and Maturity (Mutually Exclusive?)

Conversation at an editorial meeting preceding the publication of Leonard Sax’s “Boys Adrift:”

Female Editor: “…and these guys are living at home in their parents’ basements for years until they’re 27—even 28!”

Female Marketer: “I lived with my parents until I was 34.” Awkward silence. “Then I bought a house.”

Female Editor: “Ah, but you had a plan.”

There is a general conception that living at home breeds immaturity. I, for one, have never understood how maturity, the emotional state of reacting to situations in a socially appropriate and adaptive manner, should be dependent on the location of one’s abode.

It’s not that living away from home doesn’t have its allure. The Independent has the ability to exercise many exciting options the Live-at-Home doesn’t, such as leaving breakfast dishes in the sink, vacuuming after 10pm, and snacking on leftovers whenever he or she pleases.  In short – the ability to live without being held accountable for one’s every action. I would not, however, go so far as to call this line of reasoning “mature” by any stretch of the imagination. “Independent” and “mature” are not and never have been synonyms.

Overheard:

Conversant 1: “I’m sorry, but a person isn’t mature if they’re living at home. Sorry to say it, but if Mommy is still packing your lunches—hello! Grow up!”

Conversant 2: “Because buying your lunch at Starbucks is really mature?”

Of course, living independently does throw one into situations that are likely to develop mature behavior. Such as, for example, choosing to wash the dishes because one desires cleanliness, and not due to authoritarian dread. But, although it may be more difficult to develop these behaviors at home, there is certainly nothing preventing the assiduous adult from doing so. Moreover, plenty of people living independently never take advantage of these opportunities either, preferring to eat off paper or throw out the dishes when the sink gets too full.

At the same time, I have to admit that my behavior is very different when I’m living independently. On my own, I do the dishes without reinforcement, clean up for Shabbos spontaneously, and even prepare a brown bag lunch for the next day. At home, well, a certain amount of reminding is usually necessary. And forget the lunch. That’s why God invented vending machines.

So, do I magically mature when I leave home and regress when I return? Unlikely. Rather, when I’m on my own I’m playing house. In my house. The systems that help things run efficiently are the ones that I compose after my own trial and error. I have a feeling of ownership for my little household that I don’t have at home. When I was a teen and tried slacking off, the parents would remind me, “This is your home too.” But they were wrong. I was just living there.

Popular psychology tells us this is normal. The best way to motivate and encourage participation is to create a feeling of ownership. Etcetera, etcetera. And this would have been a good enough excuse for me if I hadn’t spent some time working in an environment with a two-tier employee system. The upper tier was a management caste that made the decisions. The lower tier was a union caste that carried them out.

Observing the union workers, I was struck by how much they resembled children going about their assigned chores. They dragged their feet, cut corners, and complained. In fact, sometimes they even whined.

Manager: “So, you were supposed to replace the candiflange. Did that happen yet?”

Mechanic: “Nope. But I recommend using the ATK-984.”

Manager: “We discussed that last week and we decided to go with the ATK-779 instead.”

Mechanic: “Piece of junk.”

Manager:  “Did you order it?”

Mechanic: “Nope.”

Manager: “Why not?”

Mechanic: shrugs “Nobody told me to.” Manager looks astounded. “I just carry out orders.”

When I heard this exchange I was initially embarrassed for the mechanic. Here was a full-grown, middle-aged man with adult children, and he sounded like a sulky teenager. Yes, he was in a situation where he did not feel ownership and so on, but he was an adult. He had a choice about how to behave, and he was supposed to choose the mature way.

And almost immediately, I was embarrassed for me. Because I’m also a full-grown woman, and sometimes I sound like a union worker. In fact, I even refuse to do things that I insist are not in my contract—like washing chulent pots.  Shouldn’t I also be taking the mature route?

Does the fact that we have always abused the better nature of our families give us the right to continue doing so as adults?

So yes, I enjoy living independently, with all the privilege it brings. But there is no doubt in my mind that living at home provides unparalleled opportunities to develop new facets of maturity.

Because as long as I’m living in this house, why shouldn’t it be my home too?

 

(Note: this does not extend to chulent pots.)

 

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38 thoughts on “Living at Home and Maturity (Mutually Exclusive?)

  1. Until Marriage it is best to live at home so you are used to taking instruction from you whole family versus marriage where it is one spouse. The independence of living alone causes you to be less amiable to marriage setup as you live independently for a while and you get used to having things the way you want all the time, and that is a real problem when it come to marriage as then it is all about giving in

  2. Usually, people are nicer in public and nicer to strangers, less careful of their character when at home with their family and possibly less nice to their family members, because, well, they’re family and of course they know you love them.

    I think, based on this, living at home is a unique place to work on one’s middos. Treat your family as strangers or better yet, treat them with the behavior you exhibit on a first date. Very difficult.

    It’s hard to always be perfect and nice to people who you are always around. But that is the challenge and that presents the opportunity to grow.

  3. I could not help but google “candiflange,” and your blog was the only result. I can’t recall the last time I got just one result from a google search. Congratulations!
    😉

  4. I can’t see a connection at all. Plenty of people who don’t live with their folks are immature and dependent. It’s just that in today’s Dr.Phil era, one isn’t a so-called “adult” if they don’t pay their own rent. But c’mon.

    Let’s say someone (such as our single selves) won’t really gain anything by moving out, especially in NYC. Everything is a cheap subway ride away. If you have to stay on an extra half hour to get home, at least you don’t have to deal with a sleazy landlord or a bunch of roommates who won’t abide by the house rules.The joy of being single at home is that we don’t have to be AS responsible as others. We put our money in the bank account, buy the groceries every once in a while, and when we do get a guy, we won’t start off with nothing.

    Okay, maybe I don’t wash dishes. Or do the laundry. But I do make my own lunch. Think of the fortune saved there.

    I like lawschooldrunk’s premise – if anyone was so self-aware. I always tell my nieces and nephews that when the Torah says to be nice to people, they didn’t mean friends, because of course you’re nice to friends. The Torah meant your annoying brothers and sisters. And really making sure you honor your parents a la Dama ben Nesina. After all, they let you live there.

  5. I have an old friend who’s never married and still lives at home, and is considerably over the age of 20. When I suggested to her that it might be time for her to get her own phone, she demurred, saying that whoever is first to the phone answers it. It doesn’t seem ever to have occurred to her that a man calling for a date might be turned by the fact that her phone was answered by her mother. Just because it’s easier and less expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that living at home won’t have social consequences if one is not careful to think things through and try seeing them from the perspective of persons of the opposite gender who might be interested in a get-together.

  6. Um, is it so traumatic for a guy to say, “Hi, is Shira there?” We all learned how to do that at age 6. If a guy is finding that earth-shattering, he is certainly not being very mature or independent. She can also check the caller ID when expecting the call to make sure she gets the phone (which is what I do). Or, she can get herself a cell phone, and have her dates call that.

    I’m not exactly sure why one has to move out for that. I don’t have to start making a dent in my savings because a guy is so incredibly insecure and immature that he forgot social graces when he bought a cell phone.

  7. lawschooldrunk and Princess Lea – I recently heard from a psychology professor that one of the reasons why we tend to vent and treat our family negatively is often because we are repressed and unable to do so in other settings because of consequences. An employee can’t openly explode in anger at his boss at the office, or he’ll lose his job – so he waits until he gets home, and due to no fault of his wife, he lets it all out, because he knows that she isn’t going to “fire” him.

    At any rate, I think this a very informative and engaging post. Maturity can and NEEDS to be learned as a prerequisite for marriage, and neither living at home nor on one’s own is the perfect setting to do so. Each presents its own challenges and opportunities, and it’s up to us to take advantage and grow where and when we can.

  8. Bad4, this is a very thought provoking and engaging post…well done! It’s funny, because I was just thinking about this very issue the other day, since I temporarily had to move back in with my parents since Sukkos, and have found that living away from home for many years, and then being constantly around family again was and continues to be a very big adjustment – not to mention a huge middos building opportunity.

    Personally, I’ve noticed that like you mentioned, the lack of ownership in a place definitely lessens the responsibility that I have to it. I’ve tried to use it as good practice in anticipating other’s needs, etc. But have often wondered if I’m becoming lazier and regressing in maturity, or if it’s just a temporary side effect of being back in such an environment.

  9. Building middot is all well and good, but there is NOTHING that compares to paying your own rent and being responsible for your own apartment, which includes bills, maintenance, cleanliness, etc. No matter how much you help out at your parents. There is something to be said for having that experience before you get married. I’m a huge proponent of living away from your parents once you graduate college.

  10. Yep, SOG, my purpose is to make blogs engaging and stimulate conversation.

    Besides your psych prof., does Rabbi Goldwicht have anything to say on this topic?

    Onward!

  11. SaraK,

    this is merely meant as a side fun fact: Some people pay rent to their parents while living at home.

  12. SaraK, believe me, I have been paying rent and bills, and all that good stuff on my own (I’m in my late twenties). Just a small medical issue forced me to temporarily be back near parents for a couple of months.

  13. In the more right-leaning circles, girls are generally expected to live at home until they marry. The exception to that general rule is a girl whose family lives out of town. It is understood that she will find a living situation in New York for the sake of shidduchim. Boys, on the other hand, tend to dorm in yeshivas, even when their families live less than 2 miles away from the yeshiva — after all, they have to stay in late for night seder, etc.

  14. Making dorming a norm for boys is destructive in my opinion. They should be learning about family life during their teen years.

    I also see no problem with adults living with their parents, if the relationship is good, AND if they can get out of the child role. Meaning, they prepare their own bag lunch. And Mommy’s too.

    And when they go shopping for family groceries, pay for it themselves. As for rent- better to save it up for their own home in the future. But if the parents are not so well off and are struggling, by all means chip in with the parent’s rent or mortgage. (I think it better to chip in for a common expense than to pay the parents- act and feel like its a common household. Besides, it may be yours one day anyway).

    All this requires of course that the parents relate to the adult child as an adult as well, without pampering, and involving the adult child in household decisions including financial ones.

  15. your example of the management/ workers is a good one. the workers are treated like immature, incapable, unthinking beings, and thats how they acted.

    An adult child living in his/her parents home may be in the same position as those workers or they may not. If they are tier two of the hierarchy- even if its a much more pleasant one than the work site- is infantilizing.

    regarding conversant one and two, the difference may have lay with their respective parents, not their value system.

  16. Kisarita said, “Making dorming a norm for boys is destructive in my opinion. They should be learning about family life during their teen years.”

    I agree if you have viable options near home. But if you’re forced to send children farther than a commutable distance, then dorming is necessary. (What’s really crazy are the kids who live a 5 minute walk away from yeshiva but the yeshiva makes it mandatory to dorm.)

  17. The only comment I have is that sometimes living independantly forces one to do things they DON’T want to do- like washing out cholent pots for example. Or to do away with cholent as the result of not wanting to wash the pot. After all, who else will do it for you if you don’t?
    That creates a new form of maturity, not just being responsible for yourself, but even doing things, for others even, that you normally wouldn’t= which stretches your giving ties to their limits.
    My 2 cents.

  18. I am with you on the distasteful chulent pot washing chore. I had a cleaning lady and would leave this chore for her. It was such an unpleasant chore that she complained about even though she was getting PAID to clean the chulent pot! Now that I am no longer able to employ cleaning help (unemployment) I have to wash the chulent pot. UGH! Not wanting to use the plastic bag insert trick (carcinogenic chulent anybody?) I have begun to liberally spray the pot with Pam. It works beautifully and I no longer detest chulent pot washing. After 30 years of marriage, this old dog learned a new trick.

  19. Forget responsibility. The growing up process that can only happen away from Mom and Dad has nothing to do with washing dishes. Moving out provides the opportunity for self-discovery and trying-of-new-things that develops a nuanced sense of self. Being outside the confines of the home provides ideological wiggle room in which to cultivate a set of personal, concrete values.

  20. JJF,

    what do you mean by ideological wiggle room? Do you mean hashkafa? Do you mean political view? Do you mean tangible life goals? What?

  21. Maturity, the emotional state of reacting to situations in a socially appropriate and adaptive manner. The socially appropriate behavior for people of that age is to move out and be interested in living independently.

  22. I have noticed that independence and maturity is a state of mind, regardless as to living quarters. If a dependent minded person leaves home, they merely latch onto someone else and believe everything they say is the gospel, but will still not exercise their own brains no matter how far away they are from the folks. An independent minded person can go out into the world, socialize and interact with others, and go home to the house where they grew up in without aping their parents completely.

    Why is living in an apartment with new people the only way to learn how to adapt or self-discovery? Living with Mom and Dad doesn’t mean never leaving the house. Go to college and learn different ways to think. Get a job and have to put up with co-workers and the boss. Having friends who aren’t exactly like you.

    Since I’m not a chulent fan, scrubbing the pot isn’t the reason why I stay home 🙂

  23. I agree that where you live doesn’t necessarily have to do with how mature/dependent you are. We laugh at my brother, who decided he wanted to experience living away from home by moving a ten minute walk away from my parents. My parents pay half his rent, and he shows up at their house all the time to raid the fridge.

    On the other hand, when I got engaged, a friend of mine who had never lived out of her parents house told me Io should get a lot of new clothes now, “cuz once your married you’ll have to pay rent and bills and stuff and you wont be able to go clothes shopping often” Umm…. I’d already been paying that stuff without being married, since I live in a different country than my parents.

    Also, even if living with your parents saved money for later, and you know about rent and bills in theory, it’s different when you actually have to sit down and pay them, and see it come out of your bank account. There are things you may not even think of before you actually experience them, and maybe if your parents really include you in all household financial matters you could learn it that way but I don’t think that’s the norm in most households, even the ones where adult children aren’t being “babied.” I’m not saying everyone should move out as soon as they’re 18, but I think having those experiences before marriage may make those first few months of marriage when you have enough new things to adjust to anyway that much easier.

  24. They’re not mutually exclusive, responsibility isn’t just paying your own rent and bills (which some people can’t do because they can’t get a job or enough hours at work aka circumstances beyond their control), it’s also taking care of yourself (doing your own laundry, cooking for yourself, doing your homework on time, showing up at work on time, etc). While you lose out on having to take care of yourself financially by living with your parents you do learn to live with others a day to day basis which is a major skill in a marriage.

  25. Princess Lea,

    I am with you on the cholent front!

    Shockingly (to most jews), it’s served maybe once every three months in my house.

  26. I’m with SaraK for the most part, though obviously there are exceptions; and some people don’t necessarily gain from this, and are better off living at home and putting away significant funds to save for the future.

    I also disagree with the notion that teen boys should live at home; when we went to Israel, those who had previously dormed were far more prepared for living with others and handling personal responsibilities than those who had not. This is not an absolute rule, but it was enough of a noticeable difference that a number of those people who were living away from home for the first time commented to those of us who had dormed previously that we were way ahead in that regard.

  27. Even more shocking? My mother rarely makes chulent. We all go, “Meh.”

    I am very much of the opinion that an impressionable teenage boy needs his parents’ influence when he is of that age. It’s one thing when the rebbe is teaching the rudiments of learning, but another when the family’s mesorah is thrown under the bus.

    There is a time for everything, and it is the father’s responsibility to teach his son what he needs to succeed in life. How many kids go off to yeshiva or Israel, flip out, come home, make serious life choices based on aforementioned flipping, and then change their minds? Parents are supposed to teach them aroyeh es hanoled. Yeshivos don’t have that as part of the curriculum.

    I’m not exactly sure how many marriages were busted up because the husband didn’t initially know how to pick up his socks. Providing a newly married man was raised to be menschlach, he’ll adapt pretty quickly to the new way of doing things (“Yes, Dear”).

  28. “The growing up process that can only happen away from Mom and Dad has nothing to do with washing dishes. Moving out provides the opportunity for self-discovery and trying-of-new-things that develops a nuanced sense of self. Being outside the confines of the home provides ideological wiggle room in which to cultivate a set of personal, concrete values.”

    That really depends on the personalities of the parents. Many parents do not have the maturity and the flexibility to accept and even encourage a child who is a bit different from themselves. Even when that child is an adult. This applies about a zillion times more to frum parents.

    That being said, if an adult child is not inclined to be very different from their parents that doesn’t necessarily make them immature.

    One more thing is sexual activity. Even people who have a great relationship with their parents would stop short of actually bringing sexual partners home. Which may be why many adults find living with their parents oppressive.

  29. Living with your parents can be great – I don’t think that leaving home by definition makes someone more mature. In many cases, living alone allows young adults to be less mature. However, living with one’s parents does seem to follow the same framework it followed 10 years ago, and for many young adults that is frustrating.

    Mom: Where are you going?
    Young Adult: Out.
    Mom: Where? With who? When will you be back? Is your room clean?
    Young adult: groan.

    If I can make a fair arrangement with my parents where I live there as an adult and am treated like an adult, then great. Otherwise, I’ll probably continue acting as my 15-year-old self and won’t mature. (Note: the young adult can be the one to break the framework – doesn’t have to come from the parents.)

    “What am I gaining by taking my time versus what I’m losing by just getting to it already? With every year I wait to be ready to get married, am I letting all the people there are to marry pass me by? Will I be a better, more mature mother at 35 or would I have been just as adept and instinctual at 25? If I live at home with my parents for one more year while I save up to be a full-time writer, will that leave an eternal mark of lame on my life résumé? Does being an adult mean having the maturity to know you’re not ready for adult things, or having the maturity to dive in and just figure it out? Won’t I be a better, happier, healthier adult if I take my time getting there?” –
    http://www.lemondrop.com/2010/08/19/nyt-op-ed-what-is-it-about-20-somethings

  30. I onced asked a guy I dated: “You live with your parents?”
    “Yes” he said. “Well… sorta… actually, they live with me. It’s my house.”

    At one point the parent child roles get reversed, preferably sooner rather than later, (but hey I’m older than many of you fellow singles.) Of course that brings up entirely new issues when it comes to dating.

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