The Transylvania Times -

The Journey Inward: When The Empty Nest Becomes Crowded


May 11, 2017

(This is part two on the topic Empty Nest)

In my collection of poetry entitled: “January Snow” I suggest in the poem, “Go Forth” that leaving the familiarity of home and college is a vulnerable time for young adults.

“They, not yet ready to say goodbye, mingled with family and friends, pushing to the side, wind-blown tassels from their mortarboard caps, then stepped, in their newly polished black shoes, on the soft spring grass toward the arch of their fragile intentions.”

Waving good-bye to your children after graduation or when in other ways they leave home, you hope they will safely find their way into the adult world. When they left “toward the arch of their fragile intentions” perhaps there was a mingling of grief and relief. Eventually, parents adjust to a way of life without children living under their roof.

Then you hear a knock on the door. With hat in hand your son or daughter has returned seeking shelter and safety. “Welcome home again!” Well, not so quickly. This time is different than their quick weekend visit to wash dirty clothes; their arrival is a bit more complicated.

One of the staggering ironies of the 21st century is that at the crossroads when young adults want to spread their wings and gain their independence, many are forced by circumstances to return home.

According to a New York Times Magazine article about the “boomerang kids” (the term coined to note young adults returning home) one in five people in their 20s and early 30s are living with parents. Roughly 38 percent of 18-29 year olds are living in their childhood rooms. The empty nest is becoming crowded again for many families.

The reasons for this trend are related to a number of systemic changes — the growth of foreign trade, rapid advances in technology, changes to the tax code, instability of the job market, economic disparity, sky high apartment rent and college debt. Young adults at the top of the economic pyramid are doing quite well; those from middle and low income families face more challenges.

Having your young adult child in their 20s and 30s (sometimes even older) under your roof can be a major source of stress and tension. “A delicate new set of household dynamics” (“Huffington Post,” 2013) comes into play when they return to the nest.

Writing from personal experience I attest that the return of a young adult is challenging emotionally, financially and spiritually. A major shift occurs when parents temporarily put on hold plans regarding their future. Similarly, there is adjustment for children living back home.

A major adjustment for some is loss of privacy. For instance, having another adult living down the hall may stifle emotional intimacy between the parents. Frank and open discussions become limited if parents move back into the role of model parent (trying to be the “good” Mom or Dad). The young adult, too, may feel like an imposition.

Karl Jung, the eminent psychiatrist, noted that in the first half of life we focus on externals — building a career, establishing a family, buying a home, etc. Toward middle age and beyond Jung suggests we begin to shift our attention to our inward life.

As a result, cross generational tension is possible. While parents seek freedom from their cultural role their child may need financial and emotional support. Slipping back into old roles and patterns is natural; but, both parent and child have different needs because of where they are in life.

Let me illustrate from personal experience: one of my mistakes in the beginning of the welcoming home phase was over investment in good outcomes. I scoured the job opportunities section of the newspapers and even spoke to prospective employers.

Not a good idea. My child’s problems were becoming my own. I needed to step back and trust his maturity and interests. Also, there was some underlying resentment over casting myself back into the earlier role of “good” parent at a time when I wanted to shed cultural roles and journey inward.

If resentment or anger is recognized, shaming and blaming can be avoided. Feelings, when expressed for the purpose of resolution (different than venting), open the heart. Recall those times after an intimate sharing; you felt your body more relaxed, even “breathing with love.” Recognition and expression fosters intimacy.

Alongside honesty, relating a plan on how to live together is crucial. For instance, do you agree to create a timetable for your child about the length of their stay? Should that be linked to finding a stable job? Do you want them to contribute to household expenses and responsibilities?

A guiding plan provides agreement. If Jack parties and sleeps until noon or Jill turns down every job possibility, your bond of trust is broken and requires further negotiation. Parents are entitled to live comfortably in their own home. Boundaries are, therefore, important. Unfortunately, in some situations the return of your adult child just doesn’t work out for the child or the parent.

Boomerang stays are mostly transitional and short-lived. One writer in Forbes Magazine offers this useful perspective: “Getting to know your grown-up kids as the adults they are becoming turns out to be more important than their dropped towels on the floor.”

The “crowded nest” after all may be an opportunity to discover your child’s unique outlook as an emerging adult. In turn, a young adult may experience firsthand their parents’ journey into a new stage of life.

(Dr. John Campbell is a semi-retired resident of Brevard)


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