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In 2001, Sally Koslow's then 25-year-old son moved back home after graduating from college. (Jim Tierney)

Laying Down New Rules For The 'Not-So-Empty Nest'

by NPR Staff
Jul 17, 2012 (Talk of the Nation)

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Sally Koslow is the author of the novels The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, With Friends Like These and Little Pink Slips.

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A few years back, Sally Koslow was settling into an empty nest. Her two 20-something sons were launched out of the house and into the wider world. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, her sons landed back home. She was startled and depressed to learn they were part of a much larger trend.

According to the Pew Research Center, one-fifth of young adults aged 25-34 live in multigenerational households. The bad economy is the main contributing factor, but the trend also reflects shifts in social norms.

In her book Slouching Toward Adulthood, Koslow explores these changes and presents her research and interviews on the phase she calls "adultescence."

"When young people come back," she tells NPR's Jennifer Ludden, "there's a tendency for parents to treat them the way that they treated them when they were teenagers instead of establishing new boundaries, and it's not a pretty picture."

Koslow talks with Ludden about how to make the best of living with adult children.


Interview Highlights

On adjusting expectations in the 'not-so-empty nest'

"Many people find it very hard because some mothers kick right back into mothering mode and really kick it up a notch in their worrying about ... their daughter's driving late at night. And they're frustrated if their kids don't, you know, if they're coming home for dinner. Can they plan a family dinner? Some parents think of this as ... a really cozy stroll down Sesame Street. And the kids really don't want to be with them, and so the parents are disappointed."

On laying down financial boundaries

"Sometimes, parents disagree about how much help they should offer. And sometimes, financially, it's rough because ... the parents are dipping into their future retirement resources to help kids go back to college or to ... give them, let's say, a car.

"... I think these are very personal decisions. Sometimes, it's just between the parents. And sometimes, it's the parents and a financial adviser, who have to be very frank with them and say, you cannot ... pay for law school if you're going to retire in a few years. Many people in the country have lost their jobs or they've seen the portfolio seriously compromised. And as loving parents, they want to be generous, but they may have to suggest the kids take out loans. And it's very complicated."

On the causes of the trend

"I'm not necessarily blaming anybody. But if there's blame ... much of it can squarely sit on the shoulders of people like me and other baby-boomer parents who try to create lives for their children that offer their kids only the best, and sent the message that only the best would be acceptable.

"And these kids slammed into an economy where many, many people are unemployed. Many people are carrying enormous amounts of student debt. The new entry-level job is very often the unpaid internship. ... It's really a difficult picture. But parents have really helped their kids into believing that they were perfect little snowflakes who would be able to wait for the right thing to come along. And some of the young people are waiting and waiting and waiting. And in the meantime, time is not standing still, and opportunities are passing them by."

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