Written by novelist, magazine editor and empty nester-at-last Sally Koslow, "Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations From the Not-So-Empty Nest" (Viking, 258 pages)looks at the empty nest phenomenon from a 21st century perspective that combines considerable research with often-hilarious commentary and plenty of real-people experiences.
The 21st Century Empty Nest
Even if you're not familiar with Sally Koslow's name, chances are you've read her stuff. The New Yorker was editor-in-chief of McCall's and Lifetime magazines, contributes articles to O, More and Real Simple magazine, and has three novels under her belt as well, including "Little Pink Slips" and "With Friends Like These." But it was her personal life - and the post-college return home of her 20something sons - that spurred this book. Subtitled, "Observations From the Not-So-Empty Nest," the book delves into the changes in society and parenting style that have made this boomerang generation and the 21st century empty nest so different.
Divided into 13 chapters, the book covers the return home, the global wanderings of 20somethings, changing views on careers, and the role of parents in creating and enabling the current state of affairs. The typical child of the '60s and '70s went to college (or not), found a job and a mate, settled down and started raising a family in their mid-20s or early 30s. Now, although many kids graduate from college, find decent jobs and start settling down, many take a drastically different route.
If you haven't seen it in your family, you've probably seen it in a friend's. There are the boomerang kids, who move back home for months - or years. There are the global wanderers, who backpack around Thailand, roam through India, move home briefly, then do a stint in grad school. And then there are the kids who get their own place and find a job, but when moving time comes around, as Koslow points out in a chapter titled "The U-Haul as Umbilical Cord," it's mom and dad helping with the move.
Helicopter Parents, Grown Kids
The book is witty, no question. Koslow is a good writer with a fine sense of comic timing and clever turns of phrase, and it's her writing that makes the book as enjoyable to read as it is illuminating. But she can be glib - an issue that Christie Mellor's "Fun Without Dick and Jane" shares. Speaking as a parent who was driving that blasted umbilical U-Haul just last summer, I'm not sure "helping with a major move to a new city" is synonymous with helicopter parenting, sassy phrasing or not. But Koslow definitely has caught the whiff of a trend there - I actually can't think of any empty nester or college parent in my neighborhood who hasn't helped a grown kid with a move. I wouldn't put it in the helicopter category, but it's certainly a trend worth noting.
Koslow also includes two incredibly depressing, serious chapters on female fertility - "Oops, I Forgot to Get Married" and "A Woman Walks Into a Sperm Bank." They may send you racing to call your 20somethings to shriek hysterically, "OMG! Who are you dating? Find a mate now!" Female fertility rates start dropping at 33, then plunge at 37. Male fertility drops as well, so if your grown child has been doing "the wander years," as Koslow calls it, backpacking through Asia, doing the grad school thing and basically not getting him or herself launched in his 20s and early 30s, there's going to be a major, unexpected impact down the line.
In the end, "Slouching Toward Adulthood" is a funny, painful look at parenting and growing up today, backed by a great deal of research and generous use of anecdotal evidence and average-Joe sources. The book is less how-to and more "things you'll wish someone had told you 10 years ago." (Although come to think of it, 10 years ago, you probably wouldn't have listened.) There's plenty of food for thought here, though, and it's delivered accessibly, with warmth and wit. Koslow's main point: Back away slowly and lovingly, and let your grown kids learn to fend for themselves.
This book is a finalist for the 2013 About.com Readers Choice Awards.