Empty Nest? What Empty Nest?
by James D. Porterfield
My children—two of them. anyway—are not happy. Ages 19 and 22, they still live at home (the 26-year-old is in the military). Although that fact may make them unhappy, their more immediate concern is that I’m writing this piece about them. They know me to be outspoken (think Larry David, but with less yelling) and so are worried about what I might say. They attend a local university, afforded a discount by virtue of their mother—an ex-wife—working there. I’ve lamented, more than I should and aware that I shouldn’t, that this has left me “trapped.” The cost of living here is high, and my work as a writer does not require me to be here (my position at the same university was dissolved five years ago)—two good reasons to move elsewhere. However, any savings produced by such a move would be offset by the added cost of school housing.
An empty nest? That’s a dream deferred, and one likely to remain so for at least another four years (barring one of my books making the bestseller list).
My situation is not unique. More and more, young adult children are living at home, thanks to a scarcity of quality entry-level jobs with benefits. Some, burdened by student loan debt, are returning after college. The very definition of “adolescence” now extends beyond the “teen years” to embrace people as old as 30 (one definition said 36). Increasingly, states are recognizing this situation by requiring health insurers to cover unmarried children living at home to age 30, not the traditional “19, 23 if a full-time student.”
Contrary to my children’s fears, however, I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about our situation and certainly have nothing bad to say about them. Well, on second thought, my son could do better at putting his laundry in the clothes hamper, and neither of them seem to have figured out how to place dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Our biggest problem, with one car among us, though, is managing our schedules. There was a time—while they attended public school—when I could control much of my day. After all, the school bus came at 7:15 a.m., and the late bus made its way back at 6:15 p.m. Barring an illness or doctor’s appointment, it was “Up at 6:00 a.m., dinner at 7:00 p.m., evenings free for work or play.” Midday calls to change that schedule had to involve either hair on fire or blood flowing. Now that they control their own schedules, with classes apparently optional, every day is an adventure. The solution? I set and announce my schedule for the week (after consulting them on theirs—work, activities, exams, and the like) on Sunday evening and remind them that changes after the start of each day leaves them on their own (with me helping if I can).
During our weekly adventures, we encounter several other challenges:
1. Tolerating the confrontational nature of dialogue (there isn’t anything a college student doesn’t already know everything about).
2. Enduring an unwillingness to read anything printed on paper, be it instructions on how to assemble a floor fan, a newspaper article on how to overcome an addiction to computer games, or a book on careers in law enforcement.
3. Seeing through a rant provoked by such things as a suggestion on how to seek help with a course that is challenging.
Minor, really. And the solution? Loving patience (almost every time).
The benefits of the situation far outweigh the disadvantages. I am a witness to and participant in the continuing maturity of my children. Always one who, as a single parent for over 12 years, carefully picked my fights, I am left with children who can function under most circumstances entirely on their own—and make good decisions. They tell me the freedom I gave them when they were younger led them to trust me, with the result that we’ve had some remarkably frank conversations about subjects which, if the ads on television are any indication, many parents to this day cannot broach with their kids. I’d read somewhere that children share only about half of what goes on in their lives with their parents. I’d guess that in my case the percentage is closer to 75. That leaves me with tremendous peace of mind.
And on those days when it is quiet in the house, when one child is away for a weekend and the other is working a double shift? Well, I pause to envision that time as a peek into my future. It doesn’t always leave me feeling happy.
Some various points of view on the empty nest or lack thereof:
Money Rules for “Boomerang” Kids
When Should Children Leave Home?
Adult Children Moving Back Home: Don't Let "Boomerang Kids" Derail Your Goals
Failure to Launch, or Failure to Respect the Facts?
The Hands-On Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home
Jim Porterfield, who is actually a much happier guy than his headshot indicates, is the author of Dining by Rail: The History and the Recipes from America's Golden Age of Rail Travel and From the Dining Car: The Recipes and Stories Behind Today's Greatest Rail Dining Experiences, as well as other books and articles on rail history and travel. Learn more, and get a free recipe, at www.jamesdporterfield.com. Jim last appeared in Empty Nest in Summer 2008.