WRITTEN BY STEVE JOHNSTON
ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL SCHMID
THERE USED TO BE a fine tradition in American households where the parents drove their children nuts by the time those children turned 18, and then the children moved away. Often, the children would move away to college. The parents were required to pay for all or some of this college business (I believe it's punishment for having unprotected sex), but the child was on his/her own and starting to become a functioning human being.
You see this same process in the animal world, only animal parents are stricter with the rules. For example, parent birds take their offspring to the edge of the nest and give them a swift kick. Either Junior learns to fly quickly or he becomes a meal for another creature showing her offspring how to get an easy snack.
"You see how this works," the mother cat tells her kids. "If you sit under this nest long enough, lunch will fall out." No parents I know at the moment are pushing their children out of their homes. But they are encouraging the kids to start getting on with their lives. Sure, we like to have the kids around, even though parents know instinctively that when the kids become adults, it is time for them to try out their wings.
But what I am hearing from the home front is that kids are finding it a tough go when they move away from the financial protection of Mom and Dad. Like the baby birds that try to fly and find themselves flopping around on the ground, drawing the attention of the family cat, the children didn't learn a fundamental lesson in life.
We taught our children how to read and write, and some of us even made sure the kids could think, but we failed to teach them this very basic thing: It's a cruel world outside the front door and only Mom and Dad will let you live in their basement when you are in your 20s.
(I must digress here. Actually, only Mom will let the kids live in the basement bedroom after the parents have spent $40,000 for your education. Dad is more than willing to throw you out of the nest and see if you can fly. Dad likes to call this "character building."
(Mom calls it "child abuse" even when the child is grown up. A mother will hang on to the family four-bedroom home long after the children have gone out into the real world and Dad says it's time to sell and get a condo by the lake. "Where will the children stay when they visit?" Mom will ask, overlooking several motels down the street.)
I have come across parents with children in their 30s living in their old bedrooms. "The kids," as they are called, left home for a year or two but had a tough time making the rent and grocery money and having enough left over to enjoy a social life. Unfortunately, the year or two they had outside the nest gave these semi-adults a taste of freedom, and they think that continues when they come home.
Mothers being mothers are after these adults to check in with them when they come home from a date, and the moms really get upset when the kids stay out all night. "What can you possibly be doing all night?" Mom will ask, forgetting that when she was this child's age she was married and had children, so she couldn't afford to go out.
This bickering goes on and on, and if the father is smart he will stay out of it. Nothing drives a kid crazier than a mother who wants to know what the child has been doing for the last 24 hours.
Still, it may drive the kid crazy, but it probably won't drive the child out of the basement. Steve Johnston is a retired Seattle Times staff reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com. Paul Schmid is a Times news artist.
Steve Johnston is a retired Seattle Times reporter. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Paul Schmid is a Seattle Times news artist.
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