Consider these recent findings from the Culture of American Families Survey, conducted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Two-thirds of American parents of school-age children now say they would “willingly support a 25-year-old child financially” if needed. Two-thirds say they would encourage a 25-year-old to move back home if he or she had difficulty affording housing. Parents still hope, of course, that their adult children will attain financial independence, but this aspiration is no stronger than the hope that children will retain “close ties with parents and family”—both are considered “essential” by about half of American parents. The quest for long-term connection with children has taken central stage. Parenting is still about formation, but its overriding concern has pivoted from formation to connection. One has only to consider parents’ responses to the statement “I hope to be best friends with my children when they are grown” to know something new is happening at home. Almost three-quarters of today’s parents of school-age children (72 percent) agree that they eventually want to be their children’s best friends; only 17 percent disagree. The successful formation and launching of children still matters; it is just that parents don’t want to launch them very far.I have a friend who moved away from home in his mid 20s; his father liked having him around so much that he offered to switch rooms and let his son have the master bedroom if he would stay.
My own children are mixed here. My elder daughter is away at college and talking about moving to Scotland, but my sons show no desire to ever go anywhere. We noticed that our eldest son seemed to lack confidence in dealing with the outside world, and for his high school graduation we offered to send him on an expensive Outward Bound expedition to Colorado. He wasn't interested; he preferred to stay in Catonsville and hang out with his friends. His younger brother had to be bullied into going away to summer camp for a week, hated it and vowed never to go again. He recently said to me, "Why would I want to leave? I like being home." When things like that happen, my wife and I look at each other and say, "We should have beaten them more."
I certainly didn't raise my children to stay home, and I hope my sons acquire some ambition some day. But I don't mind having them around. Why would I want them to leave just when they become really interesting people?