College grads returning to the nest

Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

As more and more new college graduates fly back to the nurtured nests of their childhoods, it seems the homes we should have outgrown have adapted to fit our adult needs in a way our parents couldn't have predicted.

My brother and I, despite living for years far from our home turf in Northern Virginia, have found ourselves back in our old house, back in our old beds, back with Mom and Dad.

At first, when I reconnected with high school friends who had returned to the area (or never left it), I talked about my living situation with a dose of self-deprecation. It was not so long ago that the sentence "I live with my parents" would evoke recoiling disdain. It suggested immaturity, incompetence and a lack of initiative. Today, however, the response I usually get is: "Hey, me, too!"

My peers and I are back at home for the low cost of living, but it's about more than that. Admittedly the perks are numerous. In my house, we enjoy HBO, DVR, a fridge stocked with beer and Diet Coke, a laundry room, showers with perfect water pressure, a top-of-the-line grill and well-furnished deck, a tuned piano, free parking and wireless Internet - not to mention parents who help us out when we have car trouble, computer issues and cooking needs.

We are far better taken care of than our friends on their own in the city, friends who consciously chose Washington as their place to live and work.

For us, home was simply the default location. It may seem as though we are doing ourselves a disservice, that we are reverting to a second childhood: We are living in a world sculpted by our parents when we should be living in one of our own making. But we defy the stereotype of parental basement dwellers. We are well-adapted, fully functioning, ambitious young people, and we have given ourselves a special opportunity.

Much is gained from having to adjust to new, adult relationships within a family. By restructuring those most innate connections with others, we are able to shed some of the stubborn issues of adolescence. Had we not come home, our youthful conflicts with our parents might have been suspended forever with last words amounting to: "I hate you. You don't understand me." Every Thanksgiving or Christmas could be cause for an eruption of that old frustration. Instead, we have learned to talk to each other as adults.

There are certainly irritations that come with living under Mom and Dad's roof. Yes, the fact that their job as parents predisposes them to wait up whenever we go out at night can cramp our style, but they let us get away with a lot. For them, our return to the nest is a strange blessing. They can watch us thrive firsthand and never have to worry about what suffering we might be going through in some distant city.

One reason this arrangement works is that all parties know the situation isn't permanent. It will only take a year or so for everyone to be ready to move on and apart.

It would be easy to credit today's uncertain financial climate for the time my friends and I are spending back home, but the truth is, we'd probably be doing it anyway. Many of us are musicians, artists and writers. We are looking for the liberty to exploit our creativity while we are still young.

So, though we may be subject to our parents' occasional passive-aggressive hints - couldn't we get a consulting job like their friends' children did? - we are simply snatching a little slice of time before the real world bears down on us without respite.

Gratitude goes to our parents for their generosity and for the suburban lifestyle we were raised on. For anyone unsatisfactorily angsting it out on his or her own post-graduation: Return to the nest and make the most of it. The anxieties of independence can wait.



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