Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

You Can Go Home Again

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

You Can Go Home Again

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Holding Them Closer" by Carl Desportes Bowman, in The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2013.

THE NOTION NOW SEEMS AS ANTIQUE AS A one-room schoolhouse, but there was a time when American parents fervently hoped their children would grow up, leave home, and establish independent, self-reliant lives. "However painful the process of leaving home, for parents and for children," a team of sociologists observed in that distant time, "the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home."

Actually, the time was only 1985, and the book was the now classic Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah and others. Today's parents, writes Carl Desportes Bowman in The Hedgehog Review, have very different feelings, reflecting deep changes in American culture, not some temporary response to the exigencies of today's job market.

According to Bowman, who is director of survey research at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, almost three-quarters of parents of school-age children in an institute survey said they hoped they would be best friends with their children after they grew up. Two-thirds of the respondents said they would gladly support a 25-year-old child financially if necessary, and would encourage their offspring to move back home if affordable digs were hard to find. The word "home" itself has evolved; it's now common for people in their twenties and thirties to use it to describe the place where their parents live.

Such changes reflect the fact that "adulthood has become a subjective category," Bowman writes. No longer do classic life landmarks such as a landing a job, setting up a household, and starting a family mark the entry into adulthood; now, it's one's "self-perception of autonomy and freedom that matters." And it's easy for young people to develop that self-perception in an age when children are equipped with cell phones, charge cards, and Internet connections. Bowman says that adolescents "grow up in a peer-dominated bubble," immersed in "gadgets, studies, and peer-centered activities." But these bubble-bred children are poorly equipped to deal with such adult tasks as ironing clothes and applying for a job; the race to leave home has become a "leisurely stroll."

That's not to say that parents have become total softies. Seventy percent of the parents in the institute's survey said it was their job to "direct" their children rather than "negotiate" with them. …

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