Koslow is the author of “Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations From the Not-So-Empty Nest,” which looks at what she calls the generation of “adultescents,” college graduates in their 20s and early 30s who are returning home after college instead of striking out on their own. She says the blame does not fall entirely on the shoulders of the offspring. Co-dependent baby boomer parents can’t stand to see them go.
Q. This book sounds as if it was inspired by your own situation.
A. It was kicked off by an experience that I had with my sons, but I went far broader than my own experience because mine was pretty short-lived. I felt as if there had been so much written about raising younger children and I didn’t want to write a child-rearing book. There’s also been so much written about the sad empty nest. My experience was that the empty nest wasn’t sad at all. It was really fun. Empty-nest syndrome isn’t final, it’s a short-lived experience that keeps happening again and again. There’s something really different going on with the generations. I’m a baby boomer. We had our summer of love, and then it was over, and then everyone lead fairly conventional lives. That’s not the case now.
Q. Can we blame the baby boomers for the fact that kids are graduating from school and moving back home?A.There are a lot of factors at play. We can’t discount the economy. We didn’t have a great economy when most of us boomers graduated, but it was much better than what they have now. But young people have higher standards than their parents did, and their parents had instilled those standards in them. The generation of kids raised in the 1980s and 1990s have been indulged, groomed, polished, and airbrushed. Often these kids were shielded from the real domestic workings of the house, so they don’t really know how to take care of things themselves. They don’t know a car has to be serviced. They don’t know how to do their own laundry. There’s a lot of do-it-yourself drudgery that parents excuse their children from doing.
Q. What led to this behavior?
A. I want to stress that the parents’ behavior comes from a place of love. They allowed their 2-year-old child to interrupt them when they were on the telephone. But they still did that when the child was 10 years old. That comes from a place in the heart that the child is more important than any person they could be speaking to on the telephone. They’re not thinking that it’s going to give the child a center-of-the-universe mentality.
Q. What is it about this generation of adultescents that lacks the motivation to start a life for themselves?
A. There’s a really interesting factor at play. The parents have a feeling about themselves that they are not going to get old. That 60 is the new 40 — all of that. Many parents look really great, and behave in a very energetic way. Parents have this feeling that they have all the time in the world. Kids pick up this feeling. They think, what’s the rush to be an adult? I’m going to live a long time and my parents don’t really want to behave like strict adults. So there’s this vibe among people in their 20s that they have this inflated sense of time available to them — not realizing that opportunities close down. You can’t turn around easily, when you are 33 years old, and think “I’m really sorry that I didn’t interview for one of those well-paying finance jobs.” The fact that it’s harder than it used to be to get a job makes you try less hard. Because you think, “Why should I even put in all this effort?”
Q. Do you think parents need to get the ball rolling on this to get the kids out?
A. I think that parents need to step back so kids can step forward. Parents of really young kids are starting to do this. These parents lead frantic lives, so they’ve started expecting more of their children. That’s a good thing because there are many things in life that no one can do for you. You have to know how to get along with people in an office, how to reach deadlines, how to accept disappointment, how to deal with the inevitable boredom and disappointment that comes with work. This isn’t a generation that’s learned to accept disappointment, because they haven’t felt like they’ve needed to.
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_