How Do You Grow a Grown-up?

June 6, 1985.

My mother circled the date on the calendar, informing me that from that moment forward, I would no longer be on her payroll. It was the fall of 1981 and, after getting me settled into my freshman dorm at the University of Georgia, my mother marched me to the registrar’s office and asked for the academic calendar for the next four years.

Imagine my 18-year-old delight when my mommy presented it to me, declaring, “I don’t know how long it will take you to graduate, but I’m only paying for four years.” Her attitude might seem a bit harsh to today’s coddled kids, but it’s probably no surprise that all three of her children graduated from college in four years or less and were gainfully employed within days of shucking their caps and gowns.

Once her chickees left the nest, we only returned for holidays and vacations. Mailing us her rental rates shortly before graduation probably provided additional motivation. Who knew that drafty little bedroom was worth 500 bucks a month?

But times have changed, and the number of twenty-something children living in their parents’ homes has grown by 50 percent over the past 30 years. A recent press release from home-cleaning products company SC Johnson states, “Baby Boomer parents find themselves offering financial and emotional support to help their ‘boomerang children’ become self-sufficient.”

I can see both sides of this situation. On the one hand, it might make sense for a grown child to spend a little time with mom and dad to shore up their savings so they can get a foothold in the ever-escalating housing market.

Yet, on the other hand, if mommy is still pressing your pants for your 30th birthday party, you’re not a boomerang kid; you’re a dead-weight adult who has landed squarely in the middle of your parents’ sofa.

The failure to launch phenom has been well documented in movies and magazines. Kelly Semrau, vice president of global public affairs and communication for SC Johnson, says that these days, “Parents’ responsibility for their children no longer ends once they send them off to college.”

However, for every shirtless stud parading women in and out of his parents’ rec room, there’s a set of wannabe empty-nesters wondering if their bill-paying gig will ever end. But, in many cases, Mom and Dad have created such a comfortable environment that there’s no incentive for Suzie or Sammy to move out.

Who in their right mind would abandon a Jacuzzi and a flat screen for a shared bath in a dumpy duplex? I wonder how many couples are craving the empty nest, and how many may be subconsciously trying to avoid it. After all, when you’re complaining about your kids, at least you have something to talk about.

But at the end of day, you don’t do your children any favors by spoiling them. If you do find yourself with a boomeranger parked on your couch, SC Johnson’s Semrau suggests that creating a plan to ultimately equip adult children to manage their own lives is the best strategy for parents.

The company’s tips include not offering them a free ride (charging room and board is not unloving, it’s a dose of reality) and setting expectations for household chores. I’m thinking that getting a job and paying for your own deodorant is probably a fine step on the road to adulthood as well.

My own mother passed away several years ago.  While she wasn’t perfect, because no mother is, I’m forever grateful that she gave her children the gift of self-reliance.

So thanks, Mom. You raised three grown-ups who all hold jobs, know how to clean a toilet and plan on buying their children luggage for their 18th birthday.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of The Triangle of Truth, a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for Leaders, “the ultimate guide for solving problems and managing conflict.”  She is a keynote speaker, business strategist, columnist and the President of McLeod & More, Inc. an international training and consulting firm.