How old is too old to stay living with your parents?
What do you think?
You ask two good questions. Which one do you want me to answer first — the apparent question, or what I strongly suspect is the real one?
The apparent question is, “Now that I’m an adult, is there anything wrong with wanting to move out of my parents’ home and become independent?” What is it, though, that makes me suspect you’re not really thinking about independence? Remember what independence would mean: You wouldn’t depend on your parents for rent, groceries, health insurance, college tuition or anything. Right now, the salary from your part-time job goes toward tuition. If you became truly independent, you’d have to work full-time just to support yourself, and you’d have to find other means of covering tuition — probably college loans. You say nothing about assuming these responsibilities. So your real question seems to be, “Now that I’m an adult, am I right to demand that my parents support me in an apartment somewhere, instead of in the family home?”
Now perhaps I’m wrong and you’re thinking all sorts of responsible things that you didn’t say in your letter. If so, I hope you’ll forgive me. And I hope that’s the case. But I don’t think it is, so I’ll continue.
The answer to the first question is “Yes, of course!” It’s normal to want to assume adult responsibilities (if that’s really what you mean), and these days it’s rather heroic to relieve your parents of the burden of supporting you while you’re still finishing college.
The answer to the second question is “No, of course not!” Your Mom and Dad aren’t obligated to subsidize a life of bogus independence, in which you would actually remain dependent on them, but enjoy an adult’s freedom to live outside their home, outside their gaze.
By the way, the law sees things the same way I do. As an adult, you have the legal right to assume responsibility for yourself — financially and otherwise — and your parents are no longer legally responsible for supporting you. If they do continue to help you out, they haven’t any duty to do it on your terms.
I haven’t yet addressed the background issues. Your letter hints that you view your parents as overprotective. They may be; some parents are. Suppose your view is correct. Still, you’re already in your third year of college. It would be mighty hard to finance life and college on your own, and for what? To live under the rules of your parents’ house for another year or two wouldn’t be so bad, and if it seems to you that it would be, perhaps you’re not as grown up as you think. Strings are attached to every privilege in life, and the difference between an adult and a child is that the adult has recognized that true freedom lies in the glad acceptance of responsibility. Growing up doesn’t mean getting your way more, but getting it less.
Besides, if my guess is right — if what you really want isn’t real independence but faux independence — then maybe your parents aren’t so overprotective after all. Maybe, with the advantage of years, they’ve merely sized things up better than you have. Give them a chance.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2005 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.