A friend's son has moved back home. Not that he wanted to. Or she wanted him to. But after four years away at college and a year of teaching abroad, he's back in this country and jobless. So he's come home, where his mother is less than excited to have him there. The reason: Though he's actively job searching (she thinks), he sleeps till 11:00 a.m. and somehow can't find the time to do chores she's asked him to do--chores she sees as his contribution to the household that's taken him in and is feeding him. The dad tells her to go easier on the son, that the son sees himself as an independent adult. "But he's not independent," the mom says. "We're feeding him and he's living at home."
Another friend's son--the eldest of three--is back home as well, and the dad is increasingly unpleased.The son had been in North Carolina helping a friend in a rent-a-beach-chair business but at last summer’s end, he came home jobless. He had been a marketing major in college but couldn't find a job in his field. He finally took a job as a door-to-door window salesman. "It's a frustrating job. I get that," the dad says. "But he gripes about it all the time. Some days when I get home, I don’t want to hear about it. I've had my own bad day." The dad says he’s about to have a chat with his eldest son about money. More precisely, he's going to tell him that the support is about to stop--the free meals at home; use of the father’s old car for which the father pays insurance; the free ride of a cell phone, which is included in dad’s cell phone plan. “I've got to kick him out of the nest," the dad says. "He has to stand on own feet and make his own mistakes.”
The front lines may be reporting frustration and misery over grown children living at home--the little annoyances add up. But researchers see a bigger picture and a brighter side.
In an op-ed piece in a recent New York Times, Karen Fingerman and Frank Furstenberg (their work is affiliated with the adult family project), detail their research on re-nesting which shows that the return home of college graduates "is not necessarily the nightmare scenario it’s made out to be. Our research shows that the closer bonds between young adults and their parents should be celebrated, and do not necessarily compromise the independence of the next generation."
That bit of sunshine is followed by these observations: "Grown children benefit greatly from parental help. Young adults who received financial, practical and emotional support from their parents reported clearer life goals and more satisfaction than young adults who received less parental support. This support ranged from room and board to making a car available, to parents’ listening to their son or daughter talk about the day."
The researchers also take note of how the re-nesting phenomenon has evolved over the last generation. In 1986, about half of parents reported that they had spoken with a grown child in the past week; in 2008, 87 percent said they had.In 1988, less than half of parents gave advice to a grown child in the past month, and fewer than one in three had provided any hands-on help. Today, nearly 90 percent of parents give advice and 70 percent provide some type of practical assistance every month.
"Maybe we just need to get over this discomfort," Fingerman and Furstenberg write. "In fact, we could be celebrating the strong bonds between today’s young people and their parents, rather than lamenting the foibles of the next generation."
All of which sounds great in the abstract but loses some of its luster on the front lines. Or maybe it loses its luster when the college grads are a year or two out of school and still struggling to gain purchase in the upwardly mobile work-a-day world. Everyone--parents, kids--wishes the grown children could get a decent job and move on with life. When they finally do, maybe then the front-line parents can look back and see all the positives the researchers see in those years of enforced togetherness.