Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I used to think that the majority of high school and college graduates who did not leave the house would not or could not leave because Mom & Dad's house was just too comfortable. I made that assumption because I assumed that parents who made home uncomfortable for their children raised kids who wanted to leave the house. 

Parents who maintain the same relational equidistance between their children and themselves at age 18 that they had with each other at age 0 tend to raise dependent children who will remain emotionally dependent upon Mom and Dad indefinitely. I know of a 40+ year old man who lives in the basement of his parents' house. That is not the bad thing: he still has to observe his parents' rules. And stupid, senseless rules. And he does. Every once in a while he asserts himself by leaving the house unannounced between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. much to the delight of his parents (they thought he was "growing" up), but he comes back when he falls upon hard times, each time becoming more and more accustomed to his 0-year-old self. Now he lives at home and can take care of Mom and Dad by taking out their trash on rainy days and washing their car on non-rainy days. What a "helper" he is.

Some parents (especially controlling mothers and fathers) cannot ever imagine having a mature relationship with their children (mainly because they consider it to be disrespectful). This is no lie, I have actually heard of 20-something-year-old daughters who are not allowed to move out of the house unless their parents give them permission to marry. Further, I have heard of fathers and/or mothers restricting their 20-something daughters, and even spanking or striking them for "disobedience." 

Other parents are more subtle. They punish their children by silence, by ignoring them, by actively not being supportive of their budding independence and all because the child wanted to make a decision not scripted by his parents. I have a friend whose parents are a part of a sectarian Christian group. She wanted to attend a particular college, and the parents stopped speaking with her. She married an amazing man, and the parents refused to come to the wedding. She recently had a beautiful baby boy, and the parents still have not made a move towards her. 

Do you know what would please her parents (if anything will)? If she gave up her child, divorced her husband, gave back her college degree, and came home crawling on hands and knees or in any penitent form they prescribed. This dear lady is not allowed to have a life approved by her parents (And her parents are under the impression that they "glorify" God each day of the week because their miserable lives are wasted away in their little, exclusive church where women still wear bonnets and men pretend they don't like beer). 

It seems that a key ingredient to raising healthy children is the incremental but dramatic change that happens between parents and children over time. Child rearing can essentially be described as raising a child to maturity or peerage. Children who mature to adulthood and never leave the house or who keep coming back to the house were never raised to be emotionally independent of their parents, whether or not the parents were permissive or controlling. If independence is not central to child rearing, then child rearing seems to me to be a clever way to raise slaves. 

If you liken the raising of a child to the birth of a baby, it should make perfect sense why a baby does not leave the womb of its own volition. True, he or she is quite warm, quite comfortable, quite fine in the such cozy surroundings. It is only when contractions begin that the baby, initially distressed, is coaxed out into the land of the living. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes much longer.

No. If grown children are not ever made to leave home, it is not a problem with the child. It is a problem with the womb.


  1. Good stuff. I also know scores of parents and their ministries they subservient to keeping their children from being independent and free. I would have also been one of those parents had I not snapped out of my stupor. I can't imagine there is a formula for fostering wonderfully independent kids. Maybe there's a post coming about formulas...I'd love to hear what you think about those. Keep writing. It's inspiring.

  2. I think this is related to the way in which we have idolized and extended childhood in general. When you raise an entire generation to believe that they are "precious snowflakes," why would you expect them to develop self-reliance?

  3. @Deb Paul All of the families (I admire) have had some sort of altercation with their child's growing dependence, but (with the exception of a few) rebellion seems to have been greatly curbed by parent(s) and child reinvestigating with an appropriate relationship looks like at different stages.

    @Nicholas Yes, the analogy parents give their children of being "precious snowflakes" needs to be balanced with the idea that snowflakes melt. Or get eaten my humans. Or get peed on by dogs.

  4. Awesome insights as usual my friend! I've been thinking about this topic a lot in the last few months. The way I've been framing it is that we are moving as parents from an authoritarian role (you sit here, read this, eat that), to an advisory role (You should really think about this, consider that, look ahead - the train is coming, but I can't force you to move). It's much more difficult transition for the parents sometimes (at least in our case)! When we say "Let's think about heading towards bed", we really mean "Get your fanny in bed now!", and when our teenage kids respond with "OK mom and dad, I'll take that under advisement" we don't respond well!! It feels like disobedience to us and we wonder "what have we done wrong in raising this disrespectful alien!!" Our child is just as confused and frustrated, because we have been signaling all along that they get to make their own choices!

    The authoritarian role (direct leading and supervision) is required for our younger ones, because they really don't know right and wrong, and can't see the dangers lying ahead. This is the easy and natural course for us as parents. We know the right thing to do and we do it. "Come on family - follow us!!"

    The advisory role (walking along side) is a lot tougher, because they will make bad decisions and we don't like seeing our children in pain, and of course (this is the biggest reason) we can't control the outcome! The raw truth of it is that sometimes we don't have the desire, energy or the will to deal with multiple people in our homes that have their own thoughts and agendas. One (our spouse) is enough. My sin (vanity, pride and laziness) showing through to my children, spouse and friends. Uggh!!

    It becomes even more challenging when you have kids at all different stages. In the same conversation, you can (or shall I say MUST) relate to one set of kids as authoritarian and another as advisor. It's exhausting!! My mantra for this stage of life (a quote from James Dobson) is "Parenting is not for cowards!!"

  5. @Cy You are one of my heroes, my friend. I've watched your family grow for at least seven years now, and I will take your advice!

  6. Another thoughtful and humorous post, Robbie! It IS hard, moving from authority figure to consultant/advisor, but as one my friends recently said, "It's time to get them off the payroll!" (She has one about to graduate college and one still in.)

    The story of the young lady who "disobeyed" her parents is so sad, and I've known similar situations. Sometimes, young women in those types of dysfunctional -sinful-environments don't learn the important lessons of interdependence and self-reliance and consequently marry men who are only too happy to control and manipulate them. They were, in effect, set up for more dysfunction.

    Your family, however, will not be one of those. I've always been impressed with the loving discipline and creative encouragement you and Sharilynn give your children! (I was going to say "precious snowflakes", but it's hard to convey the sly grin on the internet!)


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