Last Thursday, Pew released new research on the upward-trend of multi-generational households in the United States. It reports:
A record 57 million Americans, or 18.1% of the population of the United States, lived in multi-generational family households in 2012, double the number who lived in such households in 1980.
Most pertinent to us, however, is the increase in this number among young people, ages 25-34. Pew writes:
Young adults ages 25 to 34 have been a major component of the growth in the population living with multiple generations since 1980—and especially since 2010. By 2012, roughly one-in-four of these young adults (23.6%) lived in multi-generational households, up from 18.7% in 2007 and 11% in 1980.
Further, Pew reports that among young people, men are more likely to be living in multi-generational households than women, which, Pew writes, “might simply be that young men’s living arrangements are more sensitive to employment fluctuations than young women’s are.”
A number of factors are at play in the increase of young adults living in multi-generational households. Consider, for instance, the increased diversity of the Millennial generation. Latino families, for example, most often live in multi-generational households. Similarly, history tells us that multi-generational households have been present throughout history. Extended education, delayed marriage, poor job markets, and all sorts of other factors are at play, but regardless of what’s to blame the facts hold true—young people are living at home longer.
Over the last few years, young pastors have followed the lead of guys like Mark Driscoll, yelling at college guys to grow up, move out of their parents’ basement, provide for themselves, get a wife, and otherwise. Driscoll often refers to guys who live with their parents as, “boys who can shave,” citing the common name for the phenomenon, “Peter Pan Syndrome.”
It frustrates me when pastors like Driscoll and others make passing comments in sermons or blog posts about how young men who live with their parents are less-manly or less-Christian than other men. As if it is somehow more Christlike to pay for your own meals and apartment the second you graduate from college.
This issue hits close to home with me. I graduated college in January of 2013 and have a number of friends who live with their parents. These friends of mine certainly are not bums.
For example, one of my 24-year-old friends lives with his parents. He also likes to play video games. He does not have a girlfriend. But, he does have a full time job that aligns with his degree and a significant amount of student loan debt.
Because this friend is only one of many friends of mine living with their parents, I sometimes cringe when I hear pastors talking down to guys like this. It hurts me to see my friends be treated as if they are immature by no measure other than their living situation.
The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization with which I often agree, recently published a blog post. In it, the author, Jeff Medders, writes about men with what he terms, “Peter Pan Syndrome”:
They are men biologically but boys theologically and practically. They graduate from high school, kite around for a few years, wish they had a girlfriend, wish they had a job, wish they had a wife, wish they didn’t eat dinner with mommy every night—but do nothing about it.
He writes later:
Stop waiting for your dream job and learn to make a latte. Don’t let those britches that mama bought you get too big to flip burgers, collect shopping carts, sell shoes, or stack lumber while you are waiting for the job you really want.
The tone of Mr. Medders in his blog post is the sort of tone I think may be unhelpful in reaching young people who live with their parents, particularly young men. He tries to address the problem of a 20-something living with his parents by telling him to make a latte. If Mr. Medders thinks a barista is paying his or her own rent and utilities by making lattes, he’s going to the wrong coffee shops.
Medders, and other pastors like him, are right to challenge men to grow in maturity, and I trust their hearts are in the right place. But, perhaps they can be more caring in the ways in which they challenge them, rather than bullying them into some sort of pseudo-mature self-sufficiency. The harsh challenge the many pastors offer to young men in an effort to push them to maturity may speak to one sort of guy, but it may crush another at the same time.
My friends in the Reformed community—a community built around the doctrines of grace—are often the first to call out these “boys who can shave.” It seems as though grace can be shown to the chief of sinners but not the guy who “eats dinner with mommy,” as Medders writes.
Are there a lot of men today who simply cannot seem to grow up? For sure, and for that reason, pastors should be working on the hearts of these men, convicting them to spiritual maturity. What’s interesting, however, is that I have seen a number of grown men living on their own, with families and children, who do not show the same spiritual maturity as some of my friends who live with their parents.
A lot of young guys need to be shepherded into maturity, no doubt. I simply wonder if there are more helpful, constructive, and perhaps encouraging ways in which we can shepherd young men to spiritual maturity than calling them “boys who can shave.”
Making fun of men who live with their parents is no more mature than living with one’s parents.
So, that begs the question, if bullying them into self-sufficiency isn’t the way to go, how do we disciple the increasing amount of young people living in multi-generational homes?
Real men love.
Why not start praying for them as brothers in Christ?
It’s about time older men stop demeaning these younger guys and start discipling them.
What if older men stopped making guys who lived with their parents the butt of our jokes and started making them the object of encouragement?
Real men don’t make fun of guys simply because they live with their parents.
Real men come alongside them and love them.
Pastor, your church is likely home to a number of young college graduates who still live with their parents. Some of them may pay rent. Some of them may pay for their own food. Some of them may not pay for anything.
These people are not bums (usually). These people are not sub-Christian (ever).
These people are your young brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s love them like they are.