This weekend, Viking published an amazing book by our good friend, the first-rate writer Sally Koslow. The subject is our kids, all of ours, and the title is Slouching Toward Adulthood, Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest. Sally looks at the epidemic of boomerang kids with the tough eye of a journalist and the warm heart of a mother. With a combination of zinging humor and good old fashion research Sally explains why many kids never seem to leave, or if they do, why they come right back.
According to Sally, we spoiled them and praised them to a degree without precedent and then we wondered what happened. Their teachers gave them better grades (but not, she notes, the College Board) colleges demanded less of them, and they floated through, on what Sally deems, “a cloud of narcissism.” Is it any wonder that they emerge ill prepared to pay rent, get a job or find an apartment? But the blame for this altered demographic lies not only with indulgent boomer parents but with a brutal economy. They move back in with their parents because the gap between what they can afford and the standard of living at home is so great that the decision seems easy. But didn’t we all face this choice at one point? Wasn’t there a moment when we hoped that the tiny, slightly grimy apartment we found ourselves in would be very temporary? The defining difference according to one of the many experts Sally consulted is that they value comfort over independence.
We love Sally’s book and hope you will read it. Her story is as important for parents with two-year olds or twenty-two year olds, as she examines the arc of parenting. We chatted with Sally about the behind-the-scenes story of the book, and her interview with us is below.
A Gift for You from Sally
Sally was kind enough to give us two signed copies of Slouching Toward Adulthood, Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest and we hope to give them away to you, our readers.
In order to become eligible for our give-away and a chance to receive one of Sally’s autographed books, either leave us your email address through the subscribe button on the right (you can always unsubscribe later if you want) or leave a comment on this or any other post. We will contact the two winners on Saturday, June 30, and mail them their copies of this wonderful book. You must be a resident of the US or Canada and you must leave us your email address (no one can see it if you enter it into subscribe) or how else can we reach you to tell you that you have won?
G&F Interviews Sally
Was there a catalyst or tipping point that led you to write about this phenomenon? I experienced having a young adult child return. Our oldest son moved from New York City to San Francisco after he graduated from college and came back two years later. The plan was for him to live with us for only a month or two, but his new job fell through and he wound up staying for ten months. A few years after that, I began to notice that growing numbers of college grads were in a state of constant improvisation, often shackled to their parents by cell phone and/or purse strings in a three-legged race toward an undecided destination. Since I’d been 24 or even 34, something new and interesting was clearly afoot. As a journalist, I decided to explore it. My research became Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest.
Did you coin the term “adultescent?” (Koslow defines this group as 22-35 year olds “caught between adolescence and adulthood” Also known as, boomerang kids, aldultini, adult-adjacent, kidult or kippers (UK), bamboccioni (Italy,) freeters (Japan) – and a doozie of a phrase “a boychick wait-listing adulthood.” The credit for “adultescent” goes to my son Jed. I enlisted my whole family to come up with names. Jed nailed it, though I was awfully tempted by adultini. This generation drinks a lot of cocktails.
You introduce your real life husband and two grown sons as exhibits A, B, and C. In what ways have your sons been typical oe atypical for their generation? Did they have veto power over your final draft? No veto power, but I try never to embarrass my family and hope I haven’t. My sons have led different paths. The older one, Jed, has had a journey that typifies Slouching more than his brother, Rory. Jed started out in the music business in California and took a second music-industry job in NYC after he returned to the East Coast. Then he decided to go to law school, from which he graduated at 29. I’m not at all sure that he’ll practice law for the rest of his life. Rory, who is 29, moved to California, too, after college graduation—to work in the film industry– and he’s stayed in that field. Rory typifies the people I report on in his knowledge about and preference for sophisticated food and drink, which is part of the 20’s and 30’s profile. You meet a lot of foodies in this generation. I found the chapter I called “One for the Road” to be fascinating to research. I practically break into hives before my sons come to dinner. Both of them are superb cooks, far better than their mother.
Seriously, the copious employment statistics you report are enough to make us moms worry like we did when our babies didn’t sleep through the night. Do you have any slightly optimistic trends to report as a lifeline for us? I hate to freak you out, but there’s little good employment news. The last census shows that 20- and 30-somethings are suffering from highest unemployment rate since World War II, 14%– similar to the Great Depression—if you factor in graduate students hoping to ride out the economic storm and adultescents who’ve given up looking for full-time work and are working part-time. We’ve become a gig economy, where an unpaid internship is often a person’s entry level job. Seventeen million Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree. A lot of these waiters, bartenders, and parking lot attendants and so on are recent college grads. There are more than 5000 janitors in the United States with Ph. D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees!
Does male and female adulescent behavior play out the same or differently? Why are there twice as many post-college males living at home? On the whole, young women have their act together more than young men. Females graduate from college in greater numbers. By 25, 34% of women have gotten a bachelor’s degree, but only 27% of men do the same. Women’s grade-point averages are higher, too, and they carry that glory forward by going to grad school in higher numbers, which gives them better employment prospects. This accounts for why there are more guys acting out a Judd Apatow screenplay, playing Total War IV and eating Fruit Loops. This leaves a lot of women in their 20’s and early 30’s in herds sipping cocktails, which appears to be the enduring legacy of “Sex and the City.”
Do you really think the whole generation is messier and the problem is not just in my house? What you’re seeing—not just at your house—is the perfect storm of kids having many more possessions than their parents owned at the same age and less of an emphasis on maintaining order.
Tomorrow, our interview with Sally continues in part 2.