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Mixed feelings and more as readers ponder no-longer-empty nests

Family ties breed both comfort and resentment. And in Malaysia, one daughter offers a completely different perspective.

August 15, 2012|Sandy Banks

I've been receiving plenty of parental feedback from readers of my Saturday column about the inconvenience of absorbing adult children back into a family that was heading gleefully toward empty nest status.

Most shared their own familial irritations: the requests for vegan meals, penchant for loud, late-night TV, and those teeny, tiny thongs (how could that possibly be underwear?) that wind up in mom's laundry.

Their message came through loud and clear: We love you guys. But it's not always easy co-existing. And we'll be glad to help you move.

And then there was this in my inbox from Kelly Ting Ee Lu, 22:

"I do understand it's not pleasant and easy for you. I feel you," she wrote. "In fact, I truly hope it would be my mum who wrote this column."

She is a Malaysian Chinese college graduate "with good academic performances," a steady job — and a mother who won't let her move out of the family home.

She was weighing in on a phenomenon that, in her culture, has a decidedly different spin.

Kelly wants to "rent a little apartment in another city and attempt to live my adult life on my own or with good friends — not under parental supervision."

But her mother insisted she move "back home after graduation to stay with her. ... She still sees me as her 'baby' and thinks I remain who I was."

As a parent, I'm guilty of that perspective. My problem with having my children at home is that it makes it too easy to cater to them. But Kelly's mother isn't wrestling with that dilemma.

"Perhaps it is the culture difference: eastern vs. western," Kelly wrote. "As a Chinese [mother], she seems obviously unaccepting towards western culture: books, music, social behavior. … I had to sleep with her as a 22-year-old."

Now, there's a way to get your children to move out.

Her mother is not trying to learn about Facebook or indulge her daughter's interests.

"She told me I should not expect to live up to my pace of life. ... Instead I should do things that's mostly of her best interests."

In her mother's world, living at home is not an imposition, but a grown-up child's responsibility. "She puts all her time and effort on her three daughters," Kelly said.

And she expects them not to run off, but to stick around, bide their time and keep their parents company.


The recession has contributed mightily, but it's not just economics. Credit goes to evolving social forces: Our children stay in college longer, marry later, travel more. They job-hop and couch-surf. They indulge their dreams and feel free to pursue their fantasies.

And even after they move out, many don't untie the apron strings.

"It's like the parent/kid relationship never changed," complained a mother in her 70s. Her two daughters are in their 40s and never married. They live nearby and visit often enough that it seems "our nuclear family of four just goes on and on and on," she said.

Mom still feels the need to nag them to pick up after themselves when they visit. Dad still heads over to their homes to fix whatever goes wrong. And every time they go out for a meal, she said, "my husband and I pay the bill."

"I do resent always putting their needs first... and continuing to encourage, cheer on, praise," she said. But she worries that she sounds "selfish. I am conflicted about it," she admits.

No need to be, say the tough-love types. Parents need to value their privacy more and indulge their grown children less.

"There is no way in hell my daughters would come and live with me once they left the house and were on their own, no matter how badly they needed to survive," wrote Chuck Dowdle, a father of five. "There would be too much of a lifestyle, culture and values clash for us to live in the same house harmoniously."

But the youngest of his daughters is 46. Children coming of age today are saddled with record levels of college debt and face the tightest job market in generations.

That makes a difference, says Arcadia reader Dennis G. Cosso, whose children are 44, 42 and 31.

They've all moved out but live close enough to come by a lot. And yes, they irritate him sometimes, "with the clothes laying around, dishes in the sink, Twitter, Facebook and all that stuff," he said.

But Cosso also understands why adult children might tend to stick close to the family home. "It seems to me young people grow up a bit later than us, and maybe that is because the world is not as kind and innocent as the world we grew up in," he wrote.

"Jobs barely exist, buying a home is really difficult, the terror of mass shootings, daily violence… Maybe with similar hurdles you and I might have lived with our parents into our thirties … who knows.

"What I do know is I will always open my home to any of my kids if the need arises. That invitation is somewhat selfish," he said, "because I like my kids being around."


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