Why are children taking ever longer to move out? What conflicts does this phenomenon cause in families? In an interview with psychologist Marco Giorgetta, he answers the most important questions concerning the Hotel of Mom and Dad and gives parents useful tips in handling stay-at-home offspring.
Marco Giorgetta: I don't see any fundamental trend here. Until 50 years ago, young people generally lived at home until their mid-20s – until they got married. There are now bigger differences in the age at which they move out, and there is a variety of reasons for moving out. In the past, young people stayed with their parents for social reasons; today for financial and practical reasons. The much higher proportion of high school students certainly plays a major role, with many of them going on to study following their baccalaureate.
MG: Degree programs at university nowadays are a lot more intense than they were 25 years ago. Long-term degree programs permitting you to work and study at the same time and thereby earn your living barely exist any more. This means that students are financially dependent on their parents until they complete their studies. In addition, rents are high in the Swiss cities - which is where the Swiss universities are located. Hence, even high-income parents ask themselves: Why pay 500 francs or more for monthly rent when there's an empty room at home?
MG: The reasons can be very diverse: the feeling of security, less pressure to earn money, simple convenience, or avoiding having a bad conscience. I have often observed the latter case when a child is left with just one parent due to the other parent moving out, dying or emigrating. In cases like this, the child stays at home in something like a partner replacement role.
MG: What's decisive is whether the children live at home for longer due to their inner needs or for financial reasons. If living together is a mutual wish, there'll certainly be fewer problems. In so-called intact families such as these, a more mature culture of mutual understanding may develop: In such an environment of security and mutual respect, everyone feels good and the children's need to break free is less pronounced. Moreover, today's hierarchies are flatter. In the past, obedience was a requirement, but nowadays, discussion and negotiation take precedence. Bringing up children has therefore become much more difficult.
"Many conflicts from living together arise due to the relationship still being based on the standard parent-child model and due to the young adults remaining financially dependent on their parents."
MG: The parents discover more about the life of their adult child than they perhaps really want to (laughs). This can lead to conflicts, with the children wanting to distance themselves. Especially when children aged 16 are still being asked where they are going, with whom, and till what time. From my experience, I see that helping out in the house is often a major issue. Do the children wash their own clothes? Do they shop for the family? Or do they just sit back , knowing that: Mom'll handle it all.
MG: If young adults live with their parents, some sort of contract is needed. It should define the roles and the mutual expectations, like for roommates sharing an apartment. It can also make sense for the family to sit down together on occasion to clarify questions about living together.
MG: In the first instance, parents are role models. If they regularly show their children the exciting side of life and do things together, the young ones will develop curiosity for life – and this will later give them the urge to move away from home. I consider it important that parents convey a feeling of security and reliability: The children are then free to discover the world in the knowledge that they can return to the security of home at any time. It's also important that parents make it clear to their children what they expect from them and that these demands are met. The children should understand the consequences, which should be predictable – and not be applied one day and overlooked the next.
MG: I think that certain personality traits can underline the tendency for a child to stay at home. Young people who lack goals or are overly conformist or fear change and have little inclination to explore could find living at home more attractive than having to establish themselves in the big, wide world. In this connection, some parents need to get to grips with their own fears before they can grant their children the necessary freedom.
"In order to free themselves and live independently, young people must come to terms with the world and find their place in society."
MG: If living together with an adult child results in permanent conflict, my advice is to persuade the child to move out. Even if only the parent wants this. Parents really shouldn't feel guilty about this. Because now's the time that their adult child finally learns that their inappropriate behavior has consequences.
MG: In my view, there's no ideal time. It really depends on external circumstances – for example, once the child earns his or her own income – as well as the inner readiness of the children and the parents. I've experienced many parents who were happy that their children were living at home for a long time. This meant they didn't need to think too hard about their own situation or partnership.
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