Op-Ed

How can we miss our kids if they won't go away?

Thanks to wacky economics, our nests don’t stay as empty as we thought they would. Now, when I think back at the tears I shed dropping the kids at college, I have to roll my inner eye.

Had I known how briefly they would be gone, I surely would have spent more time naked around the house, or at least appreciated how leftovers remained unmolested, exactly as I left them. I’d have celebrated how long a roll of toilet paper lasted and treasured the adorable tininess of our utility bills.

According to the Census Bureau, 22.9 million 18- to 34-year-olds in America live with their parents. That’s 1 in 3! Way more than at any time since the 1940s. So it makes sense that my friends and I are part of this nest-refilling phenomenon.

We all come at the trend from different directions, though. One friend’s son, after earning a slew of fancy degrees from snazzy schools, has been forced to move home by his gigantic student debt.

Another has a kid deeply unemployed in the performing arts.

A third friend’s son moved home after college under the guise of helping his mom out. When she told him she was getting remarried, he threatened to move out, leaving her stumped for a non-hurtful response.

One daughter’s return was foiled when her mother bought the girl a condo, calling it an investment. Never mind that the down payment completely paralyzed her financially.

Still, I think I win this competition because my own daughter didn’t just move home, she brought along her husband and their dog, and another adult friend as well. He’s an elementary school teacher who can’t make a financial go of it on his own either.

To be fair, when I was between catastrophic attempts at independence as a young adult, I felt entirely entitled to return to my parents’ house. It never occurred to me to wonder how they saw it. Especially since, within three days of every return, I regressed to being a 13-year-old brat. I cringe now over the dishes I left in the sink.

Which reminds me of another friend whose kids recently moved home and are offering helpful suggestions about getting rid of most of my friend’s furniture and possessions, which the kids refer to as “clutter.” Ghoulish tidying in anticipation of inheritance?

My own daughter and son-in-law live in our garage, which they have spruced up by adding a cute little bathroom and mini-kitchen. It has been hinted that after they have babies (in the garage, like possums), perhaps my husband and I will trade places with them.

Their father and I did tell our children that our house would always be their home, and that whatever happened out in the world, they could always come back. We meant, rather than stay in an abusive relationship or couch surf indefinitely. We had no idea that the economy would tank, and that even after things improved, the job market and wages would stagnate while the housing market went bonkers.

It is, of course, no fault of theirs that our kids’ world is so hard to survive in. But who’d have guessed that just as I used to commiserate with other parents over bed-wetting and thumb-sucking, I now compare notes on which adult kids take out the garbage without being asked, and who is waiting up to make sure her kid gets home safely. Again.

We love our children dearly and would give them our last kidneys without pause. But living in such close proximity to our grown kids, we see things we don’t want to see, like their crappy eating habits, or disregard for appropriate hygiene, or wasteful spending, or lackadaisical job hunting, or excessive napping. We see the number of beer bottles in the recycle bin and the home pregnancy tests bought, it appears, in bulk.

We choke back the impulse to nag until out it pops: The helpful suggestion. Which is promptly met by its equal and opposite reaction: The flounce, the yell and the door slam, or grim, silent, forbearance.

And there we are: Back in middle school (them), driving the carpool (us).

Historically, humans managed to live together in multiple generations. From a distance it looks storybook sweet: The wise elders honored and respected; everyone around the laden dinner table; laughter and coziness bathed in golden light.

We too have warm moments that we’d long for if our children lived far away, or even just a few streets over. But a sigh escapes as we recall a time when strange cardboard boxes didn’t tower in the corner, magazines stayed open to the page where we left off and, best of all, when we could innocently assume that everything was fine and our children’s futures were bright.

Amy Koss writes young adult fiction and lives in Los Angeles.

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