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America’s Full House is Back

Many 20-somethings who look upon the phrase “Full House” and experience nostalgia for the days when they watched a more innocent Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen play the TV character of Michelle, who tottered beside Dad, Joey, Jesse, and company, may now be living their own real-life version of the hit TV series, according to March 2010 census data from the Pew Research Center.

Approximately 49 million Americans live in multi-generational homes, with 47 percent of these households composed of three or more generations of family members. The 2010 data indicate that in 2008, approximately 20 percent of young adults from 25-34 years old lived in a multi-generational household, compared with 11 percent of that demographic in 1980.

The percentage of individuals living in multi-generational households has not been this high in over half a century. In a short item about the young adult trend toward multi-generational living in the July/August 2011 issue of The Atlantic, senior editor Hanna Rosin remarked on some of the difficulties a young person might encounter when seeking to establish their independence in this multi-generational environment: “For the young people, the small humiliations are endless: How do you date, invite friends over, feel like a grown-up going to a job interview, when your mom is polishing your shoes?”

Rosin highlights some serious obstacles for young adults indeed, though not the ones she directly mentions in her article. The first obstacle to independence indirectly touched upon here: coddling. Why should a parent allow a child of any age to pawn off simple chores like cleaning up their own messes or polishing shoes (which must be a euphemism for doing laundry, because not many young adults take the time to iron their shirts let alone tango with shoe black)? Just because you go home after college doesn’t mean you are five years old again. If anything, the polished shoe should be on the other foot. Mom and dad should have Junior clean out the garage before moving into the apartment above it or include some weekly yard work in lieu of rent, in addition to having him help out on a daily basis.

Of course, parents at any age will still be parents, and some feel that it is their duty to provide—and they enjoy providing—the kind of comforts at their home that young adults would have to provide for themselves if they lived on their own, like a hot, home-cooked dinner. (Or are they providing this because the 20-year-old’s cooking skills consist of boiling water and adding pasta?) While it is wonderful to have parents who are willing to do these things, it is equally important for the independence of the youngest members of the multi-generational home that in addition to attending school, job searching, working, or some combination thereof, they share in the responsibility of running the household. True independence and the grown-up feeling that accompanies it require an understanding of one’s relation to and responsibilities toward others. No matter whose roof you live under, you still have familial obligations, which is a concept that has worn thin in a society of fractured families.

Perhaps the increasing trend toward multi-generational living will help 20- and 30-year-olds overcome another obstacle that lately seems to retard maturity: dating.  Or more accurately, the way in which many 20- to 30-year-olds date.  Living at home as an adult does not make it impossible to date like an adult, rather, more difficult to date in a manner to which the family has some moral objection. It is a lot harder to have a revolving door of boyfriends and girlfriends spend the night if Grandma is at the bottom of the stairs in the morning greeting both parties with a wagging finger and sharp reproof. Moreover, because individuals are increasingly waiting until they are older to get married, living with older family members who can offer feedback—even though it might be unsolicited—on dating choices and relationships may provide those young adults who ultimately seek to marry with a better ability to choose a mate with whom they can build a lasting partnership.

Apart from reinforcing moral fiber, living with and assisting older generations in the home will teach a younger generation besot with millions of self-absorbed tendencies (Twitter, and endless hours of reality television, anyone?) that life is not all about them, and that a life of virtue, not happiness, is the paramount goal. How will these households do this? By reviving a languishing concept of family where the wisdom that comes with age is sought, valued, and respected by younger generations, and by teaching the 20- and 30- year-olds that some relationships are challenging, lifelong works-in-progress that cannot be deleted with the click of a “de-friend” button.