Slouching Towards Adulthood


Tracey Columns

Last weekend, my husband and I had the fun of “boat camping” with our oldest daughter and her dear fiancé. What’s “boat camping”? We towed our boat to a campground on a lake midway between the four of us. Once launched, my husband and I used it as our floating campsite. Meanwhile, our kids camped on land. After all of us spent fun filled days together in the boat, cruising the lake and swimming in the refreshing water, we shared dinners and s’mores at their campsite, enjoying each other well into the warm summer night. It was perfection!

There was plenty of laughter as we shared our generational perspectives on anything and everything. I love to hear what these two, 30 and 31 years old respectively, have to say on social issues, politics, and even the rap music blasting from the campsite next door. (My future son-in-law’s response? He brings a toy accordion along and “plays” it as loudly as he possibly can! Was it mere coincidence that our neighbors turned down their music?)

I was especially curious to hear what these two thought about a book I had just finished reading: “Slouching Toward Adulthood; Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest” by Sally Koslow.

Part memoir, (Koslow is the mother of two), part research analysis, Koslow takes a hard look at the lives of “adultescents,” a term she coins to describe individuals between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-five (!) who are “wandering” through virtually years of experiences. While many finish college, they often travel the world, perhaps flitting from one menial job to another. Even more common, many return home to live with their parents. How is any of this possible?

For starters, Mommy and Daddy supply endless financial support. But the explanation for these circumstances is far more complex than this. Many boomers have raised their children to believe are “special” and therefore, entitled. (What, me work at McDonald’s?) The result? Parents enabled irresponsible behavior every step of their children’s way… and still do. Compounding these parenting practices is, what Koslow calls, “the grim reaper of a job market.”

Historically, individuals in this age group would have been entirely independent … for years! (Heck, by the time I reached thirty-five, I’d had some kind of employment for, get this, 23 years. I had owned a home for eleven years and was the mother of three kids.)

Koslow also interviewed countless hand-wringing parents and their frustrated/lost/confused/entitled offspring. These biting narratives, in addition to Koslow’s own hilarious experiences, illustrate what Koslow identifies as “Wandering.” It is “… an exploration that seems to go on forever, not unlike the Rolling Stones.”

Sitting in the dim light of the campfire, I re-counted all of this to my two adult, very independent children. They shook their heads with a slight degree of disgust. Yes, what I was telling them rang very true. Sadly, they each had a number of friends who still relied on their parents for financial support; a credit card for gas or having car insurance and/or rent and everything in-between, paid. Sure, some of their friends had moved home but not simply because of a bad job market and failed personal economics. No, as Koslow notes, life at home can simply be more comfortable.

I appreciated Koslow’s ability to make a good case regarding how all of this dysfunction came about. But now that you’ve faced the monster, what should you do?

With her typical humor, Koslow writes: “It’s time to say enough. People, step away from the adultescents. All together now, let’s push back. The best way for a lot of us to show our love would be to learn to un-mother and un-father.”

Finally, she offers what I believe to be a subtle and profound observation: “If we’re not old – with our covetable lives, joint replacements, face lifts … Spanx … Bikram yoga … treks through Patagonia – how can we expect our kids to grow up? If we’re not old, our children must be big babies we adore, whose attention we crave as much as they crave our support in myriad forms.”

If this doesn’t get your wheels turning, I don’t know what will.

Image from Sally Koslow’s website:

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