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.
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?”
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.)