Meet the Adultescents !
By Betsy Teutsch
My sister, Sally Koslow, writes a mean novel – three, so far – but it is her recent non-fiction book that I have chosen to review. It is a laugh-out-loud funny book, yet tackles a serious and fascinating contemporary trend, boomerang offspring. She interviewed over one hundred 18-35 year olds and parents of 18-35 year olds, to better understand this phenomenon of adultesence. These are adult children who wind up living back home because they cannot afford to move out. Their parents, while surprised, don’t seem to mind all that much, and the kids don’t seem to mind it either. How did this happen?
Slouching Towards Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest gives voice to the many changes experienced in this last generation - social, economic, technological, cultural. Baby-boomers who eagerly flew from the nest and took on independence as a matter of pride are now micro-managing their young adult children's lives in a myriad of ways. Good or bad? That is the underlying question of Sally's very witty, insightful book. She sneaks in a lot of factual information, showing how widespread many of these new behaviors are, indeed becoming norms.
Renting a UHaul to help move your kid[s], oh, say, once a year. If UHauls are not feasible, than hopping on a plane & criss-crossing the country to help children, often with advanced degrees, set up new apartments. Housing adult kids at home and/or vacationing in very nice places, on the parents’ dime. Welcoming non-married boyfriend and girlfriend-in-laws into the family, even including them in the aforementioned vacation: these are all commonplace now. I recently met a nurse, married to a retired school teacher, who has her two adult daughters living with them, along with two grandchildren. Not the empty nest stage they had expected, though they are rather enjoying the arrangement. It is crowded, but everyone pitches in.
The biggest surprise of Slouching Towards Adulthood is the massive number of parents and children experiencing this extended children’s dependence. It cuts across class lines, including middle class as well as more affluent, in all regions of the country. Another surprise was the chapter on the liquor and cocktail scene. I had no idea such a big a part of 18-35's social life revolves around liquor, though I know binge drinking is a big problem on college campuses. Makes sense that under-employed or unemployed young adults, with no job to get up for and no family responsibilities, have big social lives.
Koslow is endearingly non-judgmental, since she shares these behaviors with the rest of us. A daughter is traveling around the world working at yoga retreats or organic farms, after completing her magna cum laude Ivy League degree? Great! A son is living at home and the parents are doing his laundry? So are a lot of other moms and dads. The child quit a job he didn't like without another one lined up? Welcome to the new Lake Wobegon, where all our children are above average, just victims of a bad economy.
This is not only a great book for baby boomer parents, but also a wonderful textbook for the generation older than that - it really explains, in extremely fun-to-read prose, what the hell is going on in our country. Think of it as an anthropological tour of parenting in the 21st century. It is also a good read for adultescents themselves. While not intending to be a self-help book, it is useful to see that some of the paths adultescents choose, or fall into, lead to dead-ends and could be avoided.
This book is not aimed at parents of young children or teens. However, I recommend it for this demographic, too. It may give parents the courage to buck the trend to begin massaging children’s CV’s starting in nursery school, and instead stress and instill life skills along with academic mastery.
After reading this book I was spouting anecdotes and statistics for weeks. Don't be surprised if this book really changes the way you look at the world. I am really proud of my sister, guys!
Slouching Towards Adulthood, by Sally Koslow. Viking Press, 2012.