Sunday, July 1, 2012

They Ended Up Here...

How do kids end up living in their parent's basements?  Lets look at some real-life examples and see if there are any common themes.

As I noted in How to End Up Living In Your Parent's Basement, there are a number of common denominators that affect your chances of being a "boomerang" or "bounce-back" kid.  And most of these are not economic by themselves - although they affect your personal economics.

The media is rife with "bounce-back" stories, about how awful the economy is, and how this is causing young people to move in with their parents.   In some instances, young people are doing this - strategically to pay back student loans or to establish a nest egg.   But in most other cases, it is merely a matter of convenience - maintaining a pretty cushy lifestyle, at your parent's expense, well into your 30's, if not forever.

And I don't think it is healthy, except in some limited circumstances for limited times.   When you sacrifice your own life to be a perpetual child, well, you aren't really experiencing life.  Going out in the world and supporting yourself and building up your own estate through your own hard work, well, has to be one of the most satisfying things you can do.   And that ain't gonna happen in your parent's basement, unless that is the location of your new tech start-up company.

Let's take a look at some real-world examples of people I know who have done this.  Their names have been changed for obvious reasons.  You will see there are some common threads in each tale.   And while the overwhelming majority of them are men, I have three examples of female bounce-backs, which are somewhat rarer.

1.  Jim came from a wealthy family.  But it was a family of inherited wealth, not earned wealth.  Jim's Father pressured his sons to succeed in life, but one of them - Jim's older brother - suffered from a depressive disorder and was on medication by age 18.   Distraught one evening, he took his life in an overdose of his prescription medications.

This sort of thing tears apart a family.  But the damage wasn't done yet.   Shocked at their loss, Jim's parents never gave him any pressure to succeed at all.  And in short order, Jim found he could get away with bloody murder, if he wanted to.   He graduated from high school with a C average, which his parents said nothing about.  He went to Community College and muddled through there.

Most of the time, he smoked a lot of dope, drank himself into oblivion, and would do things like shoot off firearms.   His parents never said a word about this, but let it slide.   They were too broken up over the loss of Jim's brother, and didn't want to lose Jim as well.

Jim worked at odd jobs, on occasion, to get pot money.  But for the most part, he hung around and fished a bit and just, well, wasted time.  He did this for 30 years, never leaving home.  When his parents died, he inherited their house and a small inheritance, and proceeded to drink himself into an early grave.

Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol use are the common denominators here.   Afraid to "lose" Jim, his parents never confronted the problem, or force Jim to confront his own problems by having to make his own way in the world.

Of course, Jim isn't bothering anyone, I guess.  But he is a very unhappy man.  And that makes me sad.

2.  Joe and James live with their parents.   Handsome and rugged, they are a couple of 20-something "dudes" who like to hang out, hop up old Japanese cars with questionable "mods" and smoke a lot of pot and drink a lot of beer.

Joe and James' parents are both professionals and hoped that their sons would be as well.   But they looked the other way when their son's grades started slipping in high school - as a result of their marijuana use.  The boys acted like big goofy children, even though they were pushing 25.

They both were accepted at good colleges, but after a few semesters of partying, dropped out.  They never took their coursework seriously, and frankly, had no idea what they wanted to do with their lives.  They liked tinkering with cars, but of course, being a car mechanic would be beneath them - and their parent's expectations of them.

So they both moved back home, spend their spare time smoking pot and chasing girls, and worked odd jobs to make money.  Their parents gave me the friend with the perpetual problem routine whenever I saw them.  Always bitching about their bounce-back kids, but doing nothing to change things - and in fact enabling them.

It has been several years now, but the kids are starting to find a direction - one is going back to school, and the other is learning a trade.  They move out for a semester or two, and then move back, in a sort of bounce-back oscillation.

They are finally starting to realize that whatever it is they want to do in life, it will not be what their parents expect of them.   In fact, their parent's vague urgings for them to "go to college and get a good job  as a professional" are part of the problem.  Great advice, but short on specifics.  And not everyone is cut out to go to college - nor should they be.

There is hope for them - they realize that chicks don't like to date guys who live with their Mothers, and this alone is giving them incentive to become more mature.  And they seem to be finding their way - or finding what it is they want to do.   The best thing for them, though, would be to move away from their impoverished home town and seek a new life elsewhere - in another, more prosperous State.  But that ain't about to happen.

What are the common denominators here?  Smoking pot, drinking beer, of course.   Parents who don't push their kids and in fact, welcome them back into the home (while complaining that they never do the dishes or take out the trash) and children who see no reason to change what for them, is a pretty "cush" lifestyle.

They also suffer from low-self-esteem.  They are having a hard time viewing themselves as "serious adults" mostly because of the pot, but also because they still feel like big, goofy kids.   Living with Mom and Dad lowers their expectations and allows them to remain children for another decade or so.

3.  Jane wanted to be a Nun and joined a convent.   For whatever reason (Jane doesn't like to talk about it) she left the convent and moved home with her parents.  She has a good paying job, but she stays at home.  Her parents are "ashamed" of the fact she left the convent, apparently under duress.  Jane suffers from similar shame issues.

Catholicism is fucked up, I tell you.

So Jane stays at home, convinced she should be an old maid and a spinster - that a life of her own is just not in the cards for her.  Rather than find someone to love and live with, she remains a perpetual child living with her parents.   And her parents don't seem to mind.

Jane is an unusual case - as drugs and alcohol are not involved.   But she is not able to break free of her parent's expectations just like Joe and James.  Her parents viewed her as a failure as a Nun, and thus her only option was to live the rest of her life as a spinster, in shame.

She also suffers from low-self-esteem which may be related to depression.   Staying at home, of course, feeds the low-self-esteem-engine and fosters yet more depression.

Moving out and moving away would be her best options - for starting her own life on her own terms.

She can afford to do so, but is afraid to try.   And that to me, is sad.

4.  Jerald had a scholarship to a good school.   He smoked a lot of pot and drank a lot of beer, though.  And within a few semesters, he dropped out and moved back home.  Rather than transfer to another school or go to night school, he "hung out" with his old high school buddies and smoked a lot of reefer.

He played the guitar and went South with a band in search of "gigs".   Over the years, he would play in different bands, usually at bars for cash under-the-table, or tip money.  It was never a good-paying gig, and at one time they were living in an old school bus.

Somehow 30 years elapse this way, and Jerald and his girlfriend break up along the way.  She has weird ideas about raising a family and not living in a school bus.   Jerald can't fathom this.  All she cares about is money!

The last band he was in breaks up, and he hitch-hikes home.  Nearly homeless at age 50, and living in his parents' guest room.  He gets odd jobs at local factories, sweeping the floor and such, but the pay is pretty poor.

Jerald was a smart guy - his scholarship attests to that.   But another fine mind sacrificed on the altar of the ganja.  30 years of pot smoking has basically eroded his personality.

He hates living at home.  His Mother, he says, is a "Nazi" as she does not relish the idea of a bounce-back kid at this stage of her life - she is nearly 80!   Jerald is still a big kid, though, and still viewing life through the prism of the parent-child relationship.   Many people Jerald's age are grandparents by now.  It is sad.

Common denominators?  Drug and alcohol abuse, and low self-esteem issues, yet again.

5.  Jill's parents are abusive alcoholics.   I met Jill at an ACOA meeting.  She complains that they are abusive to her, and scare off any potential boyfriends.

Jill has a good job that pays well - she has a brand-new car, after all.  Of course, the car payments and insurance now make it hard for her to move out, as it takes up a lot of her income.

We ask her why she doesn't just move out - and she stares at us, mystified.  Move out?  Why?   And yet she complains about her parent's wild behavior at every turn.  And she worries that as she gets older, the chance of meeting a "nice guy" and settling down are getting slimmer and slimmer.

Once again, alcohol abuse is a common thread - but this time, of the parents, not the child.  Low-self-esteem is another issue, as is the emotional abuse from her parents that add to the problem.

There is an economic issue here - but a self-inflicted one - Jill would rather have a new car than a new apartment.  And to some extent, this is true of a lot of "bounce-backs" - they can have a better lifestyle living at home than on their own, as we shall see.

6. John lives with his sickly parents.   He has a "pad" in the basement, with a new stereo and wall-screen Television that he "bought for his parents, as a gift".   Freed from paying $500 to $1000 a month in rent on an apartment, John has a brand-new car and all the latest electronic gadgets, toys, several high-end bicycles, and of course, the "gifts" he buys for his parents - but conveniently uses, since he lives at home.

As the eldest, this seems like no big deal at first - the family is together as always.  But when his younger brothers and sisters grow up and move out, it becomes more embarrassing for John, as they get apartments and even houses of their own.

After several years, John realizes that it isn't cool to live with your folks.   He moves in with his girlfriend, and they share a place.  John realizes how expensive it is to live on your own - for the first time.   You can't have unlimited data plans, new cars, and all 500 channels of cable.  That shit costs money!

No wonder he preferred to live at home - where ALL of his income was disposable and of course, he saved none of it.

And yes, pot and beer was involved, although John was not quite a "chronic".  But he did enjoy the lifestyle of going to concerts and raves and 'hanging out' with his buds.

The self-inflicted economic issues again are an issue - John can "live large" at age 21 by not paying rent.  But he really is living beyond the means of an average 21-year-old and is saving nothing for the future.

Living with your parents IS a good way to save money - to pay off your student loans, or to save up a "nest egg" for that first home or whatever.  But John squandered this opportunity in a mass of car loan and credit card debt - and had to learn later on in life, some painful lessons on supporting yourself - lessons he should have learned at age 21.

7.  Jason partied his way through high school and college.  He graduated with a C average and could not find any jobs.  He was at least fortunate not to have any student loans to pay back.

He lived at home, smoked dope, drank himself into a stupor, and yes, suffered from depression as well as mild forms of schizophrenia.  See any patterns here?

After several years of living at home, his parents got nervous.  They actually paid their other son to help him move across the country.   Now safely away, he was no longer a problem to his parents.  However, they had to continually bribe the other son to let Jason live in his basement, and eventually the brother had enough and tossed his stoned ass out.

Jason bummed from one odd job to another and then got arrested - again - for possession of marijuana, driving under the influence, and the whole bit.  He decided to go back to graduate school and try to clean up his act.  His parents paid - relieved he wasn't moving back home again.

He did end up finding a job and doing OK for a while, at least.

Common denominators?  Pot, again.  You see why I really hate it.  And booze and depression and mental illness.   Living at home, though, is never the answer to any of these.  It was only when Jason had his ass tossed out on the street and experienced some "harsh" living that he got his shit together for the first time in his life.

Unfortunately, Jason kept smoking pot.  He married, but his wife left him when he decided to marry the Ganja instead.  And last I heard, he lost his job and was thinking of, well, moving back with his folks, at age 55.  Sad.

8.  Jordan had mental health issues.  Tormented and bullied in high school, he was diagnosed with panic disorder and hospitalized several times.  High school sucks, really.  But Jordan could not see beyond it.

He finally graduated from high school by age 20.  But by then, he had convinced himself that he was damaged goods, and had turned his panic disorder into a major hobby.  He would regale listeners about his symptoms, attacks, and hospitalizations, as well as his newest medications and doctors - all from the safety of his divorced Mother's basement.

What is sad is that Jordan walked away from opportunities to move out - and opportunities for relationships, embracing his "problems" as his primary relationship.

30 years later, he is still living in his Mother's house, although she has passed away.

No drugs or alcohol here.  Just depression and a missed opportunity to live life on your own.  It is sad.

9.  Jennifer was a crack addict.  Well, she didn't start out that way, but she was a "wild child" from the get-go.   Always up for a party, skipping school, having sex with boys, smoking pot and shoplifting clothes.  And that was before age 15!  Children have their own personalities - and often this is less affected by environment than who they innately are.

I wrote about Jennifer before - how she would "borrow" money from her grandmother, conning her out of thousands of dollars over the years.  And Grandma would find her jewelery missing, on occasion.  After Grandma died, Jennifer was caught, at the funeral, wearing one of the missing pieces of jewelry.  She told her parents that "Grandma gave it to me" and Grandma, safely in the grave, could not contradict this.

Her parents let Jennifer move back home after she flunked out of college and her escalating drug use caused her to lose one job after another.  She was nearly 30 and doing crack, meth, and whatever she could get her hands on.    Soon, a collection of very unsavory friends were hanging out with Jennifer in their basement.  And Jennifer's Dad had to break-up late night parties on more than one occasion.   Once, one of Jennifer's friends tried to rough up Dad, and pushed him down the staircase.

And things started going missing from the house - jewelry, electronics, money, and the like.  Confronted, Jennifer claimed her friends stole them.   After more than a few visits from the Police over various bits of trouble Jennifer brought home, her parents bought her a one-way bus ticket to California.

The last I heard of Jennifer, she had several children, and was working part-time as a cashier.  Her children are actually supporting her now.  It is very sad what drugs can do - aided and abetted by low-self-esteem and mental illness.

Letting Jennifer live in their basement did not solve anything though - and in fact caused Jennifer's parents a lot of grief.   They are fortunate that the violence and thievery did not escalate further than it did.  In some cases, parents end up DEAD in situations like this.

Taking a crack addict into your home is never a good idea - even if it is your kid.

* * * 

Drugs, alcohol, depression, mental illness, low-self-esteem.   Are these the cause of bounce-back kids, or does bouncing-back enable some of these behaviors?  It is an interesting question.  Throw in the behavior of the parents, and you have a perfect storm.

Granted, you may not be able to cure mental illness with the wave of a wand.  But alcohol and drug use can be stopped.  And letting your adult children live at home isn't helping them out in this regard, but enabling their lifestyle even more.

And you have to ask yourself, maybe you like this?  Maybe you like lording over the ruined lives of your children, and bitching to your friends about it?  Maybe this is giving your empty life meaning?  It sounds sick, but a lot of parents of bounce-back kids do just that.   Really examine your motives here, as it is key to getting the kids out of the basement.

And maybe another common denominator is communication - or lack thereof.   Parents rarely sit down with their kids when they are in the ninth grade and say, "So, where do you see yourself in five or ten years?"  It sounds stupid, but that should be the age when you are thinking of some sort of career - or at least start thinking of one.   Oftentimes, these discussions don't occur at all, or if they do, only at age 18, as high school graduation nears.

Many parents pressure kids to "go to college" when the kid has no idea why or what for.  When this happens, it is all to easy to drop out, simply out of lack of interest - or because they are studying something that is not what they want to do in life.  And sometimes dropping out of college can be a good idea - particularly today when it costs so damn much.

And of course, communication regarding drug and alcohol use is very hard as well.    Parents don't want to confront this, and of course it is very hard to change a young person's mind about this.  The marijuana user is convinced that not only is marijuana not harming them, but that it is in fact, enhancing their lifestyle even as they live in their parents' basement.

Tossing your pot-smoking kid out on the street might force them to confront their own habit - or at least pay for it with their own money.   Yes, when you let your kids live with you, rent-free or at a reduced rent, you are basically paying for their pot.  That is the long and short of it.  And you know what?  They won't even share it with you!  Ungrateful bastards.  Toss their ass out.

I "bounced back" to my parents' house, for a full week, after I dropped out of college.   My Dad didn't want me around, and the feeling was mutual.  I landed a job within a week, working at an Aeroquip hydraulics distributor (making the staggering sum of $4.25 an hour) and found an apartment about a half-hour away.  I was not getting rich, by any means, but I was supporting myself.

If I had stayed at home, things would likely have been different.  If my parents indulged me and let me live there (and if I was the type of person to tolerate being a kid forever) I likely would not have found that job.  In fact, what motivation would I have to even bother to look?  Kick back, smoke dope, hang out with your high school friends - many of whom were living in their parent's basements.

Thank God our home was built on a crawl space, I guess.

Trying to live on $4.25 an hour was pretty harsh.  But this motivated me to look for a better job - making a whopping $8 an hour at Carrier - who paid for my tuition to go back to college, at night.  In fact, it was the desire to be utterly financially independent from my parents that motivated me to finish my Engineering degree and go to Law School.  I never, ever wanted to be dependent on crazy people, ever again.

I never wanted to end up like many of my friends - even today - who have to suck-up to crazy senile parents, hoping they don't change the will at the last minute before they croak.  That is just sad!

Having to struggle makes all the difference in the world - and struggling makes you stronger.   You cannot become a weight-lifter without lifting a lot of weights.  You cannot master the violin without a lot of practice.  And you cannot learn how to live life without actually doing it - and making a lot of bonehead mistakes (like buying a new car).

Living in your parents' basement is not living.  You do not learn much from it, other than how to have a good time.   Struggling sucks, but you learn that working slacker jobs suck - and that maybe trying harder is a good idea.  And that maybe marijuana is a dead-end that is keeping you a child for far too long.

I think part of the problem also  is that parents tend identify some children as delicate hothouse flowers, who need special care.  Once marked like this, the child will live up to the expectations made.  This happened to Jim, after his brother killed himself.  Or to Jane, after she left the convent.  Or to Jason, when he was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia.  Parents make excuses for their kids, or in fact, coddle them.  Maybe sometimes this is necessary.  Other times, not.

If you have bounce-back kids, think about where this is going.   Are they going to live with you forever?   Are they smoking dope and getting drunk all day long?   Are they acting responsibly or just raiding the refrigerator at night and leaving dirty dishes for you to clean up?

And moreover, at this stage in your life, what about your plans?  Where are you going to live if you want to retire?  Yes, believe it or not, I've known parents who give up their retirement plans because they are afraid to broach the subject of selling the house, with their live-in adult children.   And I've looked at Real Estate with live-in kids, and seen them firsthand, try to sabotage a sale, so they don't have to move.  No, really.

And yes, it is sad that sometimes kids end up as homeless crack addicts, like Jennifer.   And that breaks your heart.   But letting them move into your house only means you have a homeless crack addict in the basement - stealing all your shit. You've done the best you can, raising your kid.  They have personalities and lives of their own - and it is not necessarily "your fault" they they turn bad.  Letting them live in your basement is not making that situation better, but probably worse.

And if you are living in your parents' basement and smoking dope, think about where this is going, and whether marijuana really is your pal, or just an evil bastard who tells you sweet lies.

Just a thought.