I'm completely irresponsible and I live at home mooching off my parents

They bought me a truck and do everything for me, but it's killing me and I think I have to leave.

By Cary Tennis
May 2, 2008 2:37PM (UTC)
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Dear reader,

I woke up this morning thinking about the Rev. Wright. You know what bugs me about this whole Rev. Wright thing? I identify with that Rev. Wright character. I saw clips of him on "The Daily Show" acting kinda crazy and I thought, gee, I relate to that guy! He's just having a good time stirring things up!


I mean, he's a troublemaker too. But on behalf of all the other half-crazy troublemakers in this wild and crazy United States, I say: Americans, just relax and chill out! These newscasters on TV are acting like high school kids.

It's just been bugging me.

Anyway ...


Dear Cary,

I'm completely irresponsible. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I feel I haven't learned from any of them because my parents take care of my problems for me. I'm almost 21, in my third year of college, I live at home and my parents pay for my full tuition, a new truck, and my gas and food bills. Only in the past few years have I come to terms with how hopelessly dependent I am on my folks. My freshman year of college I lived away in the dorms and for the first time ever I had some semblance of independence. As a result I went into academic poor standing two semesters in a row and was kicked out. When my parents found out, they went to the local community college, enrolled me and bought me said truck to get me to and from class. After two mediocre semesters there (but exponentially better than my first two) I got accepted into a closer university where I could still live at home and attend. However, I found I preferred the smaller, more relaxed nature of the community college. I suggested to my parents I should stay there for a while longer but they absolutely refused to let me "settle" for anything less than university.

During the interim summer I somehow convinced my parents to let me get a job, despite their staunch resistance. I worked as a janitor for three months at a health food store and really enjoyed my time. I was making my own money, becoming more responsible for myself and even developed a pretty decent work ethic. Despite having a "crappy" job I was happy. But as soon as the school semester started my parents put pressure on me to quit and concentrate on academics. I gave in and here I am in my third year completely disillusioned with the whole college experience. Despite four years of high-school college preparatory indoctrination I don't think going to school right now is the best choice for me. Now I feel I'm just stagnating at home and school, I have yet to choose a major, and for the past year I've been taking a myriad of unrelated courses. I'm afraid I'm going to be living at home the rest of my life and I'm inclined to take a break from school for a while and live on my own, do some practical learning, something I feel may be far more useful than anything I've learned in college. Most of all I want to be in a position where I can make some mistakes and be forced to take care of them on my own, and maybe maintain that parental safety net if things get too out of hand. But even the slightest passing mention of moving out and my mom nearly breaks into tears and my dad threatens to cut me off entirely. I don't want to break my mom's heart, and I'm scared to sever myself completely from their support.


I've talked with my close friends about my issue and they all seem to think I should just move out. But they all have full-ride scholarships and/or already live away from home. I seem to be the only person I know who is so deeply entrenched in parental support. Which is another aspect of my situation I've been grappling with. Everyone I know seems to have moved on and matured into independence, while I still feel like an underachieving spoiled child suffering from younger sibling syndrome (my older brother is one of the full scholarship types and is currently working on his master's).

Am I just being unappreciative? Should I just learn to thankfully accept how lucky I am to have such supportive parents and fulfill what has become more their dream than mine, of getting a degree? Or should I forsake everything they've done for me and try to make it on my own?


Unwilling to Stay Home, Unable to Move Out

Dear Unwilling to Stay Home,

I suggest you use your truck to start a part-time cleanup and hauling business. Stay at home while you finish school. Declare a business major.

Your parents probably won't think that starting a cleanup and hauling business is suitably shiny upper-middle-class behavior for their boy. But just do it anyway. Talk business with them. Get some spreadsheets or something. If you have any friends who are business majors, get their help making some spreadsheets and learn a little business lingo.


Because here is the thing about completing four years of college and then getting an office job and an apartment: Employers are not your parents but you still have to ask them for money. They still notice when you come in and when you leave. And they can cut you off just like that, and don't think they won't, young man!

So if you want to be truly independent, you need your own source of income. Starting your own business while living at home will require negotiation, but it avoids the traumatic fight you'll have if you just move out without a plan. You have to edge out of the situation slowly and cautiously.

Now, your parents might not understand it, but I relate to how you enjoyed the janitor job at the health food store. I did a busboy gig at a health food restaurant and some old guy taught me how to mop. That was excellent. Really. I didn't know how to mop before then. He acted like mopping was a big thing. Secretly I laughed at him because he took mopping so seriously. But I enjoyed mopping, and something about his demeanor made me respect him. He was a serious mopper. If you mop well, it can be like writing. You cover everything and make it clean and orderly. You try to use a flowing, economical motion. You need a mop with a long-enough handle. That's key. The handles on mops you buy for the house are too short. If you have a mop with a long handle, you don't have to move your feet. Rather, you move the mop. You mop behind you and in front of you before you take a step. You double the trajectory of the mop. It conserves energy. The old man who taught me to mop learned that in the Army. He was just passing it on.


I'll bet your parents have upper-middle-class anxiety. They don't want to think of their boy mopping or shlepping. It's beneath their class status. It's sad how parents project. They want their kids to reflect class status on them. So they try to hold on to you and make you do what will make them look good. And in the process they snuff the life out of you.

So you have to find a way to go your own way and yet show respect. I think starting a business is the way to go. Because at least you're a business owner. You're an entrepreneur. If they can't respect that, well, they're just not good Americans!

Don't quit school. You've already put in enough time, you might as well get the degree. If you don't get it, it might screw you over later. It's amazing how many people think having a degree makes you smart. But pick a business major.

And meanwhile hang in there on the home thing. It's a good gig economically. You'll be out before you know it. And having the part-time business will keep you from dropping dead of boredom.


Got parents? Read pp. 242, 255, 259, 263, 279 ...

"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.

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