Home, Sweet Home, Again

When a young neighbor recently spoke of her college-age older sister, I suggested that she must miss her terribly. “Yes, but she’ll be back home in a few years,” the girl said.  I asked if she was certain her sister would return to the nest.  “Oh, yes,” she replied. “She’s going to have trouble getting a job in her field.”

I was amazed that this was a foregone conclusion, when big sister was still a freshman. However, this seems to be the normal course these days: attend college, then move back home and figure things out.

I became aware of this phenomenon a few years back, when reconnecting with a high school friend on the east coast. She mentioned that her 20-something daughter planned to live at home until she could buy her first house, and that her sons would probably follow suit.

It’s definitely a different scenario from when I was growing up. The general path then was: go to college, graduate, get a job and move into a cheap apartment, go through a few roommates and then cohabitate with your beloved and think about marriage.

And, a few decades before that, in my parents’ era, the plan was often: go to college, graduate, get married, move into a cheap apartment and start a family. When I see photographs of my parents as a young couple in their mid-20s, wearing suits and dresses and surrounded by babies, they look so grown up.

Life was different then. Because of World War II and the Korean War, many young men had to grow up quickly. They rushed to marry and received assistance for college. Jobs were plentiful for veterans.

Today, college can be unaffordable, youth have few societal pressures to marry and with our depressed economy, entry-level jobs are scarce.  As a result, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 6 million people between the ages of 25 to 35 – about 40 percent in that age range — return home to live with their parents.

So, I when my friends and I commiserate about our challenging teenagers, we should stop reminding each other, “Well, you only have three more years…” as if our parenting duties will cease when these youngsters head off to college.

Like my young neighbor, we should prepare for more time together after these children earn college degrees.

Sally Koslow – a former New York-based magazine editor – recently delved deep into the subject of “boomerang kids.” Her just-published book, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest, “gives voice to the millions of parents who are bewildered, and exhausted by this growing trend among their young adult offspring: an unwillingness, or perhaps inability, to take flight,” according to Amazon.com.

Koslow calls this group of kids “adultescents,” because while they are legal adults, able to drive, vote, work and drink, they are not quite ready to launch into society.

In a recent interview in the Huffington Post, Koslow explains that this cultural shift is due primarily to the economy – few jobs are available for those with little or no work experience – but also because of parenting style:

“Each generation seems to be more invested than the one before in trying to raise their children the ‘right way,’ “ she notes. “And…this seems to be to treat their kids more like hot house plants. Each child is a perfect specimen… Affluent people might spend vacations for two years looking for colleges. Everything just seems to be amplified.”

It seems that the more we treat our kids as if they were “perfect snowflakes” deserving “the very best,” says Koslow, the more these youth will continue to demand our emotional and financial support, because their high expectations for life in their 20s will be otherwise impossible to achieve.

I’m wondering what, if anything, my friends and I can do to buck this trend. Should we do more to prepare our kids for life’s realities, and remind them it’s okay to struggle in their 20s? Must we give ourselves permission to force life’s hard knocks on our offspring?

Following graduate school, a friend and I moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. We had to walk up a worn, narrow staircase to reach our fifth-floor apartment; we didn’t have an elevator. The bathroom contained a stained bathtub on clawed feet and a toilet in a 45-degree corner; if you turned around to flush, you might burn your bum on the hot-water pipe. The bathroom had no sink, so we brushed our teeth in the kitchen.

When we moved in, we pulled up the kitchen’s filthy carpet, only to reveal a prosperous colony of roaches.  The living room window faced into a narrow, brick lined chute, and was so old-style, when my oldest brother visited, he leaned out and yelled, “Hey, Norton!” (If you have seen reruns of The Honeymooners, you’ll understand.)  We loved that place and were thrilled to be “making it” in New York.

My starting salary was so low, after paying rent, I figured I had $6.30 a day to spend on everything else. So, I walked the three miles to work (saving subway fare), learned to love bagels and take out slices of pizza (the kind you fold in half and eat while walking down the street) and discovered bars that served free “happy hour” appetizers, which made a fine dinner.

I was poor by most standards, but thrilled to be living out my dreams and succeeding on my own. I understood that the years of deprivation would be short, and that my salary, living quarters and diet would eventually improve. How can those of us parenting young adults assure them of the same?

 –       Linda Williams Rorem, 18 June 2012
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  1. By the way, I just found a great article in U.S. News listing tips for parents with “boomerang kids”:http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2012/06/18/7-tips-for-boomerang-kids

  2. I was just telling my kids yesterday about the roach that crawled across my face while I was sleeping in that 5th floor walk-up. My parents were (not-so-secretly) appalled at the place, but I was sorry to leave it. And you!

    • By New York standards it wasn’t horrible, but I still have nightmares about those roaches! However, I agree with Sara below: would we have appreciated our nicer homes later if we hadn’t first “struggled” a bit?

  3. Sara in Berkeley says:

    I’m wondering if our 30s would seem so great if they didn’t come on the heels of our struggling 20s. I’d be sad for my child to miss out on that transformation!

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