By Sushmita Bose
Last week, a 30-year-old man in Camillus, New York, was taken to court by his parents for overstaying his welcome at home. This man (who has a 5-year-old son, who — obviously — he doesn’t have custody of) had been living rent-free for the past eight years (and refusing to get a job). The judge ruled for his immediate “eviction” (from the relieved parents’ house), and added that the 30-year-old’s behaviour was “outrageous”.
The matter has sparked off quite a debate globally; most people are — overwhelmingly — of the view that 30 is no age to be staying with (and living off) mom and dad: you’re an adult, live your life, be accountable… and don’t be a leech.
A separate thread explored whether or not this is typical First World (read: entitled) “millennial” attitude: having it easy all their lives, therefore being irresponsible and refusing to grow up. (There’s also a flimsy wisp of that same thread that looks into spiralling rents and “First World poverty engendered by job losses” that’s “forcing” the younger generation to stay at home.)
Anyway, cut to the chase: I’m not interested in millennial lifestyles and thought processes because they’ve been so overdone, and I think it’s just a ploy by smart survey agencies to get rich quick. I am, however, very interested in delving into the matter of “adult children” fleeing the parental nest and charting their own course. You see, I come from India, and — unlike in the West — among most of my compatriots, no one would so much raise an eyebrow if they were told that so-and-so’s grown son (or daughter) is “living at home”. I cannot, for instance, imagine a judge in India (or anywhere in the subcontinent) ruling a 30-year-old man staying home with parents is “outrageous” (unless, of course, there is any abuse involved); if he did, he’d certainly set a precedent. What’s more, I cannot also imagine a set of parents taking their progeny — however old — to court because he/she is living with them.
But despite my cultural baggage, I have to admit to a sense of admiration for this man and his wife in Camillus, New York, who took their son to court. There is something liberating to hear that mother and father — as a couple or as single parents — have a vested interest in their own lives: beyond the point of nurture, they don’t live for their kids, holding on to the tenuous hope that their life matters as long as they have children to supervise and care for.
Strangely enough, around the same time this story broke, there was another one going viral: the story of a yesteryear Bollywood actress who was “abandoned” by her unrepentant son and daughter and left to die alone in an old-age home. “Can you imagine devoting your entire life to your kids and then being unceremoniously dumped when you actually need them around?” someone to whom I’d forwarded the story WhatsApped back.
“That’s why I say full marks to this 30-year-old’s parents for showing him the door,” I wrote back as I sent her the link to the Camillus report.
My Indian-origin friend who lives in the US has a 22-year-old daughter who “left home” at 18 for another city to start college. “Bottomline: you leave home at 18,” my friend told me the last time we discussed the subject. “My husband and I had geared up for that moment ever since she entered high school — so when she left it was like she’s taking the next natural step.”
“And there’s no chance she’ll move back home once she’s done with college?” I asked.
“Nope,” she laughed. “This is like setting her free, giving her wings — why on earth would she want to come back to square one? So, yeah, it’s a bit sad, her leaving, but we’re also proud of her that she’s on her own, totally responsible for her own life, and that we’ve raised a kid who’s now a confident woman, ready to take on the world.” Besides, she added, her daughter drops by every now and then. “Thanksgiving and Christmas — those are a must — and we chat on weekends… there will always be a connection!”
Then, she said something pretty significant — something most desi parents will never dream of articulating (and even if they wanted to, they’d probably be too scared to, for fear of being judged). “In a strange way, we [she and her husband] were really happy to get our own life back — it’s like going back to our days when it was just the two of us! It’s romantic, you know, we now travel at the drop of a hat, spend quality time with each other and are back to behaving like a couple of teenagers.”
“You’ve never considered yourself ‘selfish’?” I probed.
“Gosh, no!” she responded immediately. “I get a lot of judgement calls from relatives back in India, but you know what? It’s only one life, and, seriously, there’s more to living than just having kids and taking care of them… In fact, if I’m speaking to my daughter and happen to ask her something like, ‘You sure you’re not skipping meals?’, she always tells me, ‘Mom, just let go please — I know what I’m doing, I’m an adult, remember?’”
“And that’s when I realise,” she sighed, “I’ve done a damn fine job of raising a kid.”
“Attagirl,” I said to her. “Both you and your daughter.”
Sushmita is editor, WKND. She has a penchant for analysing human foibles