At age 30 our “children” are still at home. Sometimes we parents keep them. But getting them used to autonomy is a path that also requires our effort.
Giulia has 4 children, is divorced and has just bought a house with two bedrooms: one for herself, the other for her youngest son, a university student. The three big ones are out now. What if they come back? A comfortable sofa bed awaits them in the living room. After so many years in their service, Giulia has decided to finally devote herself to herself. It’s nothing but fear of the empty nest. She can’t wait for the fourth to take off.
Giulia is an isolated case. First of all, because there are much more parents who suffer from the idea of finding themselves with an empty room. Moreover, because our former children are so happy in that room that they don’t even think about leaving. And so the cohabitation continues, between ups (few) and downs (more and more frequent).
Antonio Polito, columnist for Corriere della Sera, talks about it in his new book, Prove tecniche di resurrezione. How to get back to your life (Marsilio), dedicated to the men and women who one day look at each other in the mirror and discover that they have reached the turning point. To be aged, in short. Not that it’s beautiful, but this phase of life also has its opportunities. To seize them, however, you have to learn to “give up” the heavy loads. Like children. The time has come, the author suggests, to direct them towards the door and to retake possession of the house and ourselves. “Guilt should come if you don’t do enough to push them out. There is nothing worse than addiction. You need to have the courage to free love from constriction and care,” says Polito. Just like Julia.
In Italy there is a cultural question. We’re still there making his bed at the age of 30. I mention the 30 not by chance, because it is precisely that age, says Istat, when our children leave home (the girls a year earlier, nothing compared with the Swedes or Danes, independent at 20). Of course, there is an objective problem of youth unemployment and high rents, and the 2008 crisis made the situation worse. I’m not in Italy and not just in France, as we saw in the film Tanguy. Even in America, where today the children who remain are called Kippers (Kids in parents eroding retirement savings). Recently, a couple from New York, Mark and Christina Rotondo, turned to the judge to force their 31-year-old son to leave. The young man was evicted and left.
But if the obstacles to independence are real, they must not become an alibi. The children stay because they are comfortable but also because no one moves them: it’s up to us to do it. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with putting ourselves at the centre. When there is an emergency on the plane, adults must first wear the mask and then put it on to the children, Polito suggests. The selfishness, the healthy one, is to be appreciated: “It means making it clear that mum and dad have a life of their own, that the couple were there first and will be there later”, says Stefania Andreoli, psychotherapist. “If they focus on themselves, the boys will grow up and learn to be autonomous”.
But this awareness can’t strike us all of a sudden, maybe after yet another quarrel over whoever unloads the dishwasher. Better to move on. “For many couples, children are the goal of the family project. For them we sacrifice ourselves, we continue to care for them forever. And it’s unhealthy,” says psychotherapist Maria Cristina Koch. “There is a vice of departure, if we think that we cannot enjoy life, and that if we did, we would take something away from someone”. It is therefore necessary to start from the beginning of the story of the couple to make the most of it, eliminating in the beginning any distorted bond from the sense of guilt, from the necessity of sacrifice, from always being there and in any case.
If you start when your children are young, it will be easier to get them out of the nest. Of course the path is tiring. You have to believe in it and help yourself with some daily exercises: explain the value of money, ask the children if they are grown-ups, to contribute to the domestic budget with some work. And also make it clear that the time will soon come when this budget will be reduced, because mom and dad will retire, and will have the right to enjoy life as well, to make some trips, take away some whims, sooner or later. Better first, by the way. “Instead, children come to therapy who stay at home because they feel the need to oversee the family,” continues Stefania Andreoli. “They ask themselves: how will Mom and Dad do without us? It’s not good”.
Mom and Dad will do very well on their own. And since not only do they love – but above all they value – their children and have confidence in their abilities, they know that they will be able to take care of themselves on their own. Without continuing to prepare their lunch and dinner.
BUT HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO KEEP THEM?
We asked Daniela Missaglia, a lawyer and author of Family Injustice. Chronicle and reflections on family 2.0 (Cairo publisher).
The obligation to support children, in our legal system, is not anchored to a specific age but remains, regardless of age, until the achievement of the so-called “economic self-sufficiency”, ie the condition of independence that allows children to provide for their own needs of life.
The laws do not provide the criteria for assessing economic self-sufficiency: the Supreme Court considers this to be the case in cases where the child receives “an income corresponding to the professionalism acquired in relation to normal and concrete market conditions” (Cassation no. 25528/2016).
The problem does not arise for those young people who, by decision shared with families, continue their training in the hope of better capitalizing on their studies, and for those who, while willing, are unable to find decent employment, perhaps disadvantaged by environmental factors.
The situations that raise the most complex questions concerning the so-called ‘slackers’: the judges, for years, have been inclined to privilege the interest of parents not to become perpetual ATMs and have established that “the duty of maintenance of a child of full age ceases […] even when the parent proves that the child, although placed in a position to achieve economic autonomy, has not made a profit, voluntarily evading the performance of an adequate job and corresponding to the professionalism acquired. (Court of Appeal of Ancona, 27.6.2017).
The more the age of the Lazzarone son increases, the more the judges derive a presumption of parasitism that can no longer be protected, so much so that the Court of Milan, in the grounds of a recent measure, has indicated, for example, a threshold limit (34 years of age), although it cannot, with this judgment, aim to set a binding precedent.