Friday, July 29, 2005

Inside jobs

When did it become acceptable for adult children to pilfer from parents?
"NYT: It's the Kids. Lock Up the China!"
It was not the first time Ms. Wilkner had swiped something from her mother. She often appropriated socks, spices, oatmeal, once even a chest of drawers she found in her mother's bedroom that had yet to be assembled. "That was a pretty good steal," Ms. Wilkner said. "Oh, I took a bookshelf, too. Clocks. I took artwork, a bunch of Monet prints. But my parents have plenty of artwork."

A generation ago, adult children visiting their parents' homes might have left with a Tupperware container of lasagna. Today, many of them stealthily make off with toiletries, groceries, sometimes clothing and even furniture. It is an apparently widespread practice, born of a sense of entitlement among young adults - and usually amusedly tolerated by parents - that gives new meaning to the phrase "home shopping." Like most adults, the pilferers have set up their own households, but they seem not to have given up the expectation that their parents should provide for them in certain ways. They loot their parents' houses to cut costs, or because they would rather not pay for incidentals. Or because they want things with sentimental value...Having grown up with a feeling of friendship with their parents, Dr. McAdams said, many young adults may feel comfortable taking their things. And parents, wanting to maintain the camaraderie, look the other way. Some even keep their cupboards full so there is plenty to go around...

Toilet paper is typically the first quarry in a life of petty thievery from parents' homes, many filchers said. During a visit the grown-up child notices an abundance of Charmin in a parent's bathroom, is perhaps reminded of the inferior brand in his or her own apartment, and suddenly decides to tuck a few rolls under an arm and deposit them in a knapsack. Soon the thief is taking other provisions. Toothpaste. Windex. Band-Aids. Electronics and home furnishings are not far behind.

"Ketchup and toilet paper are those things that you just really don't want to pay for," said Nicole Atkins, 26, a musician who lives in Brooklyn, adding that her parents "are generous to let me take their peanut butter and paper towels."

Debbie Jaffe, a 31-year-old actress, takes her mother's camera film. "She always has excess of everything," Ms. Jaffe said. "I took a printer recently. She had an extra."
But wait...not everyone approves!
Some parents balk at the practice of home shopping. They may remember reaching their own independence earlier in life, and how their parents had gone through the Great Depression and were extremely frugal. Taking things from them was out of the question.

"I think there is some resentment older adults might have," Dr. McAdams said, adding that these parents may see their children as "lacking focus."
Sorry, these kids seem extremely focused. They're focused on the stuff they want.
But these are generally not the parents whose homes get looted. The filchers often say they would never take items their parents truly valued. Many parents say they are amused, or even flattered, by the pilfering. "It means they need us," said Dr. McAdams, a father of two. "It's nice to be needed."

The phrase "emerging adulthood" does imply that these sticky fingers will eventually become independent. Is there a specific age by which one should finally accept the responsibility of paying one's way? Psychologists and economists point to the early or mid-30's.

"By the early 30's the assistance that kids are receiving from their parents dissipates strongly," said Robert F. Schoeni, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "The kids are establishing their careers, they're getting better-paid jobs, getting married."

Ms. Atkins, who has decorated her Brooklyn apartment with shot glasses, candles, Mexican marionettes and boxing gloves from her parents' house in Neptune, N.J., says she will cease her home shopping once she gets married and has a family.

"If I had kids and a husband, and I was still taking stuff from my parents," she said, "that would be really lame."
Is anyone feeling a bit judgmental about this blithe, rationalizing piece of fluff? Are the parents tacitly condoning this behavior by looking the other way, while their adult children make off with the goods?

4 Comments:

Anonymous geena said...

Tacitly condoning? Sounds like some of them are downright happy about it! "It's nice to be needed."

If the parents tolerate this behavior, the behavior will continue. Period.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Allison said...

Absolutely, I feel judgemental -- toward both the parents and the children.

While the children are behaving in ways that I see as unacceptable, the parents absolutely carry a responsibility to set -- and enforce -- healthy boundaries. One of the most important jobs of the parent is to help the child learn to be independent. In other words, their job is to work themselves OUT of a job.

Through all of my preaching, though, I admit that I still regularly "get things" from my parents. In my case, they're offering the goods though (hand-me-down furniture, for instance); I wouldn't dream of taking something without its being offered, and I often decline their offers of "gifts."

11:22 AM  
Blogger shrinkette said...

I thought this article was pretty outrageous...its tone, the quality of thought and writing, & its assumptions. I can see the parents not wanting to make a fuss about Charmin. But those statements about "home shopping," responsibility, and "being needed" just floored me. I have a hundred questions about those relationships...and especially, about the parents.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

I find this pretty disturbing, not to mention just plain weird.

I don't think that twenty and thirty-somethings who are doing this are childish in just this way, but grown-up in others.

I'd be curious to know how much responsibility they take for grown-up relationships with integrity in all the other areas of life, too.

How much are they donating to charity, to volunteerism, to making their communities a better place, to pulling their weight at work? I'm guessing that their attitude would be that...that's someone's else's job.

9:56 AM  

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