We’re on the cusp of a cultural shift here in the United States, and many people are not willing to see or accept it. Family units are coming back, but I predict that it will be another generation, at least, before we see a positive view of it by the population at-large.
It all started coming to light for me in El Paso, Texas. My family was the distinct minority—Caucasian, blue or green eyes, and unilingual in English. As such, we didn’t receive the warmest of treatments, but we were still immersed in the dominantly Hispanic culture. The concept of family there is undeniable. Kids still live at home, even into their own family expansion. Kids are groomed from a young age to be good wives or providers. Babies are everywhere (and they are not at all uncommon to teens.) The elderly are at home too. Parents staying with their adult children was so commonplace that you almost didn’t pay any attention to it.
The Hispanic friends we did have while living there ushered us into their families without hesitation. We were even befriended by a waitress at a nearby restaurant we frequented. She would pull us to sit in her section (or wait on us from afar) and the woman would have gladly taken home our daughters as if her own. Hugs were dealt out freely, and she knew our “regulars” by heart. And we always shared news of each-others children.
We all used to converse openly about differences in the Hispanic and “American” cultures. One of which being family units. American families used to stick together. I believe it wasn’t until the “Baby Boomers” that typical American kids started pulling away from their parents as quickly as they could manage. Now, most parents start planning (or using) their “18 and out” speech when their kids start high school. I won’t say this trend was completely lost on our family-oriented friends, but they certainly disagreed with it. I have to say, I envied them a little.
The tight-knit family unit is not exclusive to Hispanic cultures. Fast forward through several deployments to Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Afghanistan, plus several waypoint stops, and I can say that all of those cultures maintain a strong family unit as well. There is an additional layer added for tribal unity and affiliation, but the basics of staying at home after school age, working, and helping provide for your family is all still there in each of those cultures. In fact, at least in Iraq and Afghanistan, when a man takes a wife, she moves in with him and his parents. You certainly do not see that in the US very often.
When the economy bounces back, this will be a moot point
Meanwhile, here in the United States, record numbers of adult children are living with their parents again. A recent study by Pew Research finds that of all Millennials (born loosely between 1980-2000), approximately 36 percent are living with their parents. That equates to roughly 21.6 million kids as of 2012. That number has continued to grow for the last four decades.
Several sources blame the economic downturn over the last decade as the reason why so many American kids are living at home again, including Pew’s study. USAA magazine recently published a story, “Taking Care of Their Own”, which discusses the “squeeze generation.” This generation of people, who fit inside the Baby Boomer category, are finding themselves financially responsible for their aging parent(s) as well as their adult children. According to Andrea Peck, the author, some 13 million US adults are facing this squeeze, and financial institutions are telling others to start planning for this scenario. Even D.R. Horton, Lennar, and other homebuilders have started rolling out multi-generational floor plans for the squeeze generation. This doesn’t sound like a fad.
While I see merit in the financial downturn as the primary reason behind the exodus home, I believe that was just what set the reaction off. A convenient excuse, if you will. Certainly financial burden will force the downtrodden back to a safer place, it’s one of Maslow’s basic needs, but there is much more going on that a poor economy and shortage of local job opportunities.
People have begun to get frustrated and widely depressed with the lack of social closeness (and lack of sunlight, I expect). We are burning out from having hundreds or thousands of “cyber friends” but few to no actual ones. One quick glance at Facebook elicits at least one picture stating “remember when this was the norm…” I, for one, refuse to text people in my own home, but I know people who do. I’ve known people who sat in the same room on two different computers, sending instant messages to each other.
It doesn’t stop there. There are now public places sporting “NO WIFI” zones, restaurants that are giving discounted dining to those not using cell phones, and anti-technology movements springing up everywhere. A Forbes article from February, 2013, “How groundbreaking new technologies are smothered by anti-technology ideologues” calls these groups “societal Cassandras”, (though I believe the author misused the metaphor) and goes on to tout the positives of genetically modified foods and other advances.
People are just tired and ready for a simpler time. I don’t know about you, but the simplest of times for me were when I was living at home, working or going to school, and spending my free time doing things I enjoyed, like fishing, relaxing, and just being in nature. My daughter couldn’t wait to get out on her own after graduating high school. She wanted to see California and New York and model and party. She’s done all of these things before 21 (the partying prior to being legal I did not condone, by the way.) Now, she sees how self-centered, hateful, and distant people have become. She saw the results of scam artists trying to take advantage of others as quickly as possible before their attention turns elsewhere. And she sees how expensive things are in the “really real world”. She’s ready to come home and get back to that simpler time also, and we will let her.
My wife and I have discussed this reversion to family-first a lot over the last month. We have the opposing side of the coin within our family as well, and they simply do not see how we can “keep taking care of our kids like that”. The funny thing is, who’s to say we won’t be taking care of them in another 20 years also? At this point, I wouldn’t even consider it karma.