What Your Grown Child Needs To Hear If He's Still Living With You -- Dr. Phil
Living with Grown Children
As with so many other families these days, my grown kids have moved back home, which has had its hidden surprises.
I did not need Brian Williams to tell me, as he did on the news recently, that 40% of all recent college graduates have moved back home. I did my own completely nonscientific household survey and concluded that three out of five Lende children return to the nest in our tiny Alaska town. The other two are nearby. I had hoped to turn a bedroom into a den or an office, but so far they haven't been vacant for more than a few months. Also, home now has a broader definition: There's the space over the garage, the apartment above our lumberyard, and now the cottage next door—all of which are occupied by our grown (if over 21 is grown) children.
My oldest daughter, Eliza, spent two years home after college, before moving about a year and a half ago to nearby Juneau to teach fourth grade.
Sarah, our second child, came home right after graduation too, but she got married a few months later and they moved above the lumberyard, where they now live with my 2-year-old granddaughter.
The third college grad, Christian, arrived home last spring. He worked at the family business before taking off to a ski resort down south, but willprobablybe back when the snow melts.
Our youngest daughter, Stoli, and her fiancé are feathering their nest in the cottage across the yard and expecting their first child.
The most recent of my birds to fly home is JJ. She worked out a deal with her university to student-teach here for her final semester of school.
I know. It is a lot. We are rich in family. Sometimes a little too rich.
This is why when the other day, after my friend Dick asked how I was doing with the "empty nest syndrome," I sort of laughed. His two children are part of the 60% who really do leave. Dick described how he and his wife drink their coffee in their backyard cedar hot tub every morning. "When the snow is falling, it's really neat."
Just that morning when I discovered the coffee jar was empty, I screamed, "Why didn't anyone tell me?" Then I hollered up the stairs, "You are all capable of buying coffee." But they were already off to work.
With the misty vision of a graying couple soaking alfresco still fresh in my mind, I asked my husband to spend a week at our little vacation cabin with me. There's no hot tub. There's not even any water except what we scoop from a hole in the ice. But we would be alone. We planned that my husband would snowshoe the 2 miles down to his truck each morning and drive to work. I would revise the novel I swore I would finish when the kids were grown. At night we would play darts and read in companionable silence.
After he leaves the first morning, I open my battery-operated laptop (there is no electricity) and look at that story, searching for a plot. I don't find one. I read a book I got for Christmas, stack firewood and eat lunch—soup from the vat I'd made the night before. "In case anyone comes," I had explained when my husband asked if we were feeding Bigfoot. "The kids might surprise us?"
It is so quiet.
I dial in the radio for our local station's Listener Personals. The messages are broadcast five times a day to people in remote cabins like ours.
Julia's cat Coltrane is missing. Kelly is looking for someone to teach ballroom dancing. Then there's a message for me. Is Sarah coming up with the baby? JJ? Stoli? Everyone? (Thank goodness I made that soup.) But it is from my husband. "Heather, I'm staying in town tonight, see you tomorrow." He had said he might have an evening meeting.
I am all by myself for a whole stormy afternoon and night. I should enjoy the tidy solitude. I wanted this, didn't I? Instead, I put a log on the fire and think about home, and what it means, and why the ties are so strong, not just for my children, but if the news is right, 40% of all young people.
The reporter blamed the economy. It's a cold world out there. I know that. But I think there's something more going on that speaks to a greater shift in society. In troubled times home offers refuge, strength and much-needed love. Plus, as my daughter JJ says, "the food is better."
I take parenting very seriously. Secretly, between you and me, I've always believed that while I'd never win a Nobel Peace Prize, if I could make my family function, that model would spread to the neighborhood, the town, the city, the state and the whole darn country. One caring family would be like the human version of the butterfly effect—you know, the way the breeze from a butterfly's wings in the Amazon stirs a leaf in Labrador?
This is where my husband will say, "Maybe a week is too long to leave you alone in a cabin in the woods."
He has a point. But I do know that no matter how good the meals were or how much money I could have saved, I wouldn't have lived with my parents when I was 20, and my parents never once suggested that I move back into their home in suburban New York. Part of the reason my husband and I drove to Alaska after we got married was that we wanted to make our own way, just like our parents had. Then, getting out was the measure of success. They were proud of us.
For my husband and me—and for many people we know, not just in Alaska, but from Brooklyn to Boise—our hope is the opposite: that our children choose to stay close. Maybe not in the same house, but with luck, in the same town or at least the same state. It could be that our generation is moving away from the expectation that our children be upwardly (or, for that matter, outwardly) mobile. Maybe we've learned that making your way in the world doesn't have to mean traveling thousands of miles away—or doing it all alone.
HEATHER LENDE is a contributing editor to Woman's Day. Her most recent book is Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs. She lives in Haines, Alaska.
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