Facilitating Independence

Strong opinion warning.

I’m not a fan of adult children living at home. It’s one thing if you’re on break from school and you’re a temporary visitor. It’s another thing when you’re able bodied. I’d even argue that the best thing for 18 year olds staying local for community college would be to kick them out of the house.

Trust me. They won’t die of exposure.

My opinion is that coddling teenagers leads to dependency. From a sociological perspective, I hypothesize adult coddling of teenagers and young adults has lead to an elongation of adolescence. (Some say it ends at 26? Crazy.) Likewise, raising a child from an early age with the goal that they will become happy, healthy, and independent young adults will prepare them for the swift kick that comes after high school graduation.

Enter Lisa.

I was Lisa’s youth pastor when she was in high school. She’s the eldest child from a great family. She worked hard in high school, was faithful to God, her parents, and a dedicated student. She’d be the first to tell you that she wasn’t perfect in high school. But something in Lisa’s character kept me investing in her. When she was a sophomore she and a few others started showing up for a 6 am Bible study. I thought they’d come for 2-3 weeks… and to my amazement we kept it going for almost 2 years! After high school she headed off to Grace College where she’ll earn a degree in just a few weeks with an emphasis on criminal justice and adolescence psychology.

Last November, I was on a flight using the wifi late at night when we struck up a conversation on Facebook chat. Inevitably, I asked the question: “So what do you want to do when you grow up? What’s next?

She had some ideas but expressed some frustration. She really wanted to go back home to Michigan but feared that she’d either not find a decent job at all or be forced to give up her dream of working with teenagers. Let’s face it– Michigan is a tough place to be a recent college grad.

I was afraid for her. My fear was that she’d move home, not find a decent job, end up in  something like minimum wage… unhappy and stuck in a cycle of paying off student loans by doing jobs that she wasn’t passionate about– and living at home.

I offered a potential solution we both agreed to pray about it.

What if you moved in with us, watched our kids during their summer break, and spent the summer chasing some of those social justice dreams by volunteering with San Diego-based non-profits?

Lo and behold after a month or so of praying about it we all agreed it’d be worth a shot.

Starting in June Lisa is coming to live with us. She has the first 6 weeks of time with us to volunteer for some non-profits. (We’re basically paying her to be a volunteer!) Than the second half of the time her concentration will shift to watching our kids when school ends July 15th.

We pray it’s a win-win. She gains some experience and exposure to what God is doing in the social justice community in San Diego. And our kids have a sweet nanny.

The hope, naive as it may be, that this will be a “halfway house” type of experience. We hope that through this experience that she’ll be able to find a permanent job, land a place to stay, and move on at the end of the summer to the next phase in her life. (Probably grad school being in the not-too-far distance.)

Independence is possible. We just need to facilitate it as opposed to fostering dependency.

This is how we’re helping a societal problem. How are you?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

4 comments

  1. I’m in total agreement with you, Adam. When our kids turned 15, they had to go on a mission trip by themselves. They had to choose a ministry and raise support and it had to be for at least a month. That gave them a chance to experience God in a safe environment separate from parents and the comfort of their youth group. At 16, they had to get a job. By their senior year in high school, they were expected to be self-sufficient. That meant we had to back off and give them freedom with their responsibilities. After graduation, if college was not their choice, they had to move out and be on their own.
    I believe that teens live up to their expectations and as long as parents don’t think their teen is capable of independence, there is little incentive to prove them wrong. We didn’t just kick our kids out into the cold, cruel world. We were there if there were big problems, but how else can they fly if they don’t experience being in a place where they could fall?
    They all turned out great. They’re all responsible adults, married to good people, raising kids, working, loving God and each other.

  2. I think what you are doing is great! But I have mixed feelings about the sort of “independence” you are talking about fostering.

    I DO think that extended adolescence is becoming a severe problem in our society. And parents’ coddling are a big part of (although not the whole of) the problem.

    BUT, I also think that our western, American, nuclear-family style of living can be a problem. It is certainly not the norm everywhere in the world, or throughout history. Multi-generational homes, including servants and foster-family members (like Lisa will be for you), have been much more common in human history. Now are so disconnected, so obsessed with our privacy and independence, ideals that don’t exactly get a lot of play in the Bible. Hard work does! Earning your keep does! But not independence. Sometimes living in community, be it with family or friends, makes so much more sense emotionally, spiritually, financially, ecologically.

    Sooo…if grown up kids are staying home because they are delaying adulthood, then by all means, kick them out! But that is not always the case – sometimes adults living with parents is just the best arrangement, and we should not be shamed into avoiding it.

  3. @amyb- If we were seeing a healthy multi-generational family structure in America… this would be a better place. But with something like 75% of kids living in a home without a dad, decreasing responsibilities and expectations for teenagers contributing to the home, etc… it just isn’t happening.

    Instead, I know many MANY children who blissfully are served in their homes like gods. They do almost nothing to contribute to the family. They go to college, never work, and basically just graduate to a life of living back at home. Life for plenty of 18-25 year olds is pretty posh.

    And it sickens me.

  4. Maybe part of the problem is not only that parents believe that their kids can’t take care of themselves, or that they are passive or sympathetic, but also that some parents are emotionally dependent on their kids, and have a hard time dealing with the idea that one day, their kids might not need them to take care of them anymore.

    Just something I’ve noticed from hanging out with some underclassmen recently.

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