What you need to know:
- Fearful of society's expectations, sheltered and entitled this new crop awaits to harvest their aged guardians’ lifelong sweat
- The lives of these men are compounded by the inevitable midlife crisis, a stage of restlessness and apathy
- In the face of it all, many elderly parents are coming to terms with their grey-haired sons who are still living in the same rooms they did as adolescents
Josphat Kanyi comes from a long line of wealth. His grandfather owned large tracts of land in Nyandarua, Murang'a, and Kajiado counties. It is a fete Kanyi likes to boast about as he staggers home from his drinking escapades in Murang'a town. "Who am I? I am a dynasty!" When his grandfather passed away in 2011, Kanyi's father inherited 20 acres of land. Out of these, he has sold off fifteen and used the proceeds to set up commercial and residential houses in Kitengela town.
Now that his father is 65, Kanyi believes that he is next in line to enjoy the fruits of inheritance. But unlike his father, there is little hope that Kanyi will improve his family's fortunes. The 40-year-old has not worked since quitting his bank job at the age of 26.
Over the last 14 years, Kanyi has been living at his parents' house. "I will be rich soon. I know I will," he tells whoever cares to listen. Perhaps in resignation, his parents have made peace with the fact that he will never leave the nest or start his own family. They provide him with food, shelter, clothes, and monthly stipends.
"He is still my son and as a mother, I will never stop loving or caring for him," says Kanyi's mother, Zipporah Waruguru, 60. Her voice betrays a tinge of bitterness and heartbreak. It goes unsaid that her only son is waiting for their death so that he can take over and squander their property.
The lost generation
Kanyi is one among a whole generation of men who are no longer in a hurry to jump off the nest despite hitting their thirties and forties. They are littered in Nairobi elite estates like—Karen, South B, Ngong, Komarock—and other major towns across Kenya.
They are aged between 31 and 46 years. The lives of these men are compounded by the inevitable midlife crisis, a stage of restlessness and apathy. In the face of it all, many elderly parents like Kanyi's are coming to terms with their grey-haired sons who are still living in the same rooms they did as adolescents. This phenomenon, our investigation shows largely affects middle to high-income families in both rural and urban areas.
Sociologist Christina Chanya Lenjou singles out the cause as that of middle-class mentality where parents struggle on behalf of their children. "Parents say they don't want their children to struggle as they did. But over the years, this approach to parenting is breeding irresponsibility among children," she says. "Parents continue carrying their adult children responsibilities and baggage."
Traditionally, parents drew the line on when their children would move out. Every young male adult knew that once they completed school, they had to move out and fend for themselves. Ms. Lenjou says that this is why you would find young men from well-off families working at construction sites to get a sense of hard work, independence, and discipline.
"The society has now evolved. More parents have adopted the helicopter or cosseting parenting style. They are at their sons' beck and call." Ms. Lenjou says that the ripple effect is a boy child who is raised and schooled through a system that doesn't mold confidence, is averse to failure, and doesn't establish the child's identity in a competitive world.
“These kids went to academies, where they were spoon-fed, taught to cram to pass exams, and left with little room for creativity. At home their parents did everything,” the sociologist says. She adds that the children didn’t develop critical thinking, making their later life to be robotic.
The result? A man-child, a man who has failed to launch into the world.
"Parents who get too protective leave no space for independence to thrive. Consequently, even in adulthood, this child will want to cling to their parents and be dependent on them for material support and decision-making approval," she says.
Edith Kamindo who is in her late fifties regrets being a cosseting parent. "I was protective in an overindulgent way when raising my son. I never allowed him to experience failure," she says.
Edith admits that she micro-managed her son's life and almost every decision he made came from her. From choosing which subjects he should pursue to the number and class of friends he had to keep. "I thought I was being a caring parent. I took him to the best performing private schools to an extent of buying exams. But I didn't know that I was stifling the life out of him," she says.
Her son who is now 36 dropped out of university in his first year and has never been able to hold down a job. "He says the world is too tough for him," she says with a tinge of regret.
In some cases, helicopter parenting can turn into breeding an animal that will eventually turn against you. In Kenya, instances of men who refused to leave the nest killing their parents so that they can take over property are not alien. In December 2020, a man in Kenyenya, Kisii, murdered his mother after she refused to bequeath to him a piece of land. The man strangled his mother with an electric cable over inheritance, which he had intended to sell off and acquire a motorbike.
Today, Patricia Mueni's mother is grappling with her second-born son who won't leave home. "My younger brother is 38. He still lives in the same bedroom he grew up in. My mother has brought him three wives but even this hasn't manned him up," she says. None of the three women who were brought in lasted a month. "They all said he was too irresponsible," says Patricia.
Patricia attributes the immense wealth their late father left behind as one of the factors driving his brother's irresponsible lifestyle. Their dad was a wealthy man who had invested extensively in real estate. He left behind three apartments in Eastlands, Nairobi, where Patricia's mother collects rent, a residential plot in Githunguri town, and a tea farm in Kiambu.
"My mom is 72. My brother thinks she doesn't have much time to live," she says. His eagerness to see her mother die scares Patricia. "I feel like he's so greedy and eager to take over the property that he could commit something awful," she says. Since age 34, her brother has been demanding his share of the inheritance. To calm him down, Patricia's mother allowed him to be collecting rent from their residential plot in Githunguri. "He collects Sh21,000 in rent, which he uses to fund his alcoholic lifestyle," she shares.
According to sociologist Joseph Orinde, this sense of anticipation and entitlement to inheritance is nurtured by parents. "While it is not a crime to stack up wealth for your kids, it is a different ball game when a child is made to realise that whatever a parent owns is theirs to inherit. This fosters laziness, entitlement, and on some occasions unbridled greed for the property. The child will lurk around waiting to take over," he says.
“Why start from the ground up when you are accustomed to so much already?” many of these men wonder.
This resonates with Felix Ombasa. The 38-year-old confesses that he can't bother looking for a job. Although he scored an impressive grade in his KCSE, he has never bothered applying for college. He believes that he is an heir to his father's throne. "My father is a wealthy man. Why would I go looking for a job?" he says. Ombasa likens himself to Prince William of the United Kingdom. "If a whole prince still lives with his parents, who am I to move out?" he poses.
A poorly performing economy, the economic slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and job losses have sparked the age of boomerang children. With limited employment opportunities and massive job losses, more adult single men are returning home to live with their parents because they can't afford to survive on their own. A popular former TV anchor returned to live with his mother at the age of 39 due to financial strains. "After 18 years in media, I got a job in another County that required me to take a pay cut. To compensate for the cut, I took loans and ventured into a wrong business," the ex-newscaster gave a testimony of his life. "It reached a point where all my money was going into loan repayments. Stress streamed in, my spouse left, and at one point, I couldn't even afford rent nor take care of my personal needs. At age 39, I had to go back to my mum."
Still, men who live at their parents' houses want to enjoy the perks that come with adulthood. Some bring over girlfriends, while others marry in their parent's houses.
The Sunday of November 8, 2020, was the day James Waweru's new girlfriend visited his house for the first time. He had planned the day perfectly but he couldn't stop being anxious. She arrived at around 2 pm. At first, she thought he was restless because it was her first time visiting him. "You have a nice house," she said as they settled on the couch. "Ni–ni–nikujaribu tu!" he stammered as he gestured with his hand. Tiny balls of sweat glistened on his forehead. "You are sweating already," she remarked. Moments later, an elderly lady walked into the room and shouted 'Junior!' James froze. "Uliachia nani nguo zako kwa corridor? Utahama lini wewe?" Visibly shaken, James turned around. "Pole mom!" he said. His girlfriend was shocked.
"Junior! Mom! This is not your house, is it? You live with your parents? Oh my God!" she quizzed as she picked her handbag and walked out, her face in her hands. "Mooom, sasa mbona unaniharibia?" James shouted at his mother.
Failure to launch
In most cases, men who refuse to leave the nest never get married. Orinde christens these types of men as Celerac babies. "This is the type of man who grew up getting all that he wanted. He now finds that the world is tough and different. He is unable to hold a job and ends up retreating to his mother's for freebies," he says. Among these men, marriage is translated into moving out, something they cannot afford to do. Josiah Mbugua, 35, who is still living at his parents' house, concurs. "My parents provide me with free food and shelter. If I get married, I will be risking moving out. I am not ready for such an undertaking," he says.
According to psychologist Ken Munyua, some of the men who refuse to move out despite advancing in age subconsciously attempt to adopt and live their parents' lifestyles. "The root cause is the lifestyle under which they were brought up. These are men who have been accustomed to getting all their wishes. They fear that by leaving the nest, they will lose all the privileges. A good home, easy food, and prestige," he says.
Munyua says that the parent's empathy encourages parasite males. There is an age at which a man should not miss the milestone of moving out.
"If a man gets a job paying Sh14,000 after college and wants to move out, the parent stops them by arguing that the money is too little to survive on," he says.
This rings true for Moses Kubai. The man in his 30s lives with his mother in Milimani, Nakuru. Kubai says that he had intended to move out at age 25 when he secured a paid internship as a surveyor in Nakuru town. "I got an internship that came with a monthly stipend of Sh10,000. I told my mother that I wanted to move out and rent a single room for Sh2,000," he narrates.
His mother, a moneyed landlord objected. She said that moving out would ruin her social status and prestige. "She couldn't allow me to rent a low-class single room when she had a five-bedroom mansion," says Kubai. Since then, Kubai has never bothered to look for a job or leave his mother's mansion.
Some wealthy parents with undisciplined young male adults have however taken steps to nip the happy-go-lucky attitude of their young adults on the account of future inheritance. This includes world-renowned celebrities. For example, popular martial arts star Jackie Chan has made it public that he will not leave any wealth behind for his adult son who has been having run-ins with government authorities. "If my son is capable, then he will make his own money and wealth. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money if I leave it to him," said Chan. His estimated wealth stands at over Sh40 billion.
Global case examples
- The US: Cases of men who refuse to leave the nest have been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In the US for example, data from the Pew Research Centre shows that over the past year, the majority of young male adults are now living with their parents. By July 2020, over 52 per cent of male young adults aged between 18 and 30 years old were living with their parents with no intention of ever moving out. This was the highest number to ever live with parents in over a century.
- The UK: Data from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of men aged between 18 and 34 who are living with their parents is on the rise. This number currently stands at 37 per cent up from 25 per cent who were living with their parents in 1997.
Stats: Marriage and moving out
- Marriage in Kenya is often tied to a man leaving the nest. Culturally, it is widely considered taboo to marry while at your mother's house. In Kenya, the average age of marriage for men is estimated to be 24.8 years.
- According to Munyua, a man must start contemplating how to live on his own by the age of 21. The journey begins at around age 21. A young man will likely be in his third year in college or university. This is the time he should start hustling so that by the time he lives in college, he's ready to rent and live on his own.
The law, murder, and inheritance
Kenya has witnessed cases of sons killing their parents over an inheritance. According to Section 96 of the Law of Succession Act, a child who murders his parents is not entitled to inheriting them. "A person who while sane murders another person shall not be entitled directly or indirectly to share in the estate of the murdered person," the Act says.
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