I have three Generation Y children. When the first one entered high school, I began in dread to count the remaining years before they all flew the nest. I knew it would be traumatic because the youngest are twins and would exit together – a double whammy.
I started to worry 15 years ago. Since then, the nest has been empty for only 18 months. We are now beginning to worry that it may never be empty.
In 2003, my husband accepted a job in Thailand. Our older son had already left home to study at Concordia University in Montreal, but the twins agreed to finish Grade 12 in Bangkok. One year later, our daughter returned to Canada to attend McGill University, while her brother decided to spend another year in Thailand. Our daughter’s empty bedroom was filled almost immediately by my cousin’s daughter, who came to Thailand to teach English. I was happy since there were still two in the nest.
In 2005, my younger son and his cousin returned to Canada to attend university and our older son arrived in Thailand to teach English. I was delighted. We had been dangerously close to living alone.
For the next two years we saw the twins at Christmas and briefly in the summer. Meanwhile, having our older son in Bangkok worked well – we had a large apartment, he contributed to the rent and we still had one child at home.
In 2007, my husband and I returned to Canada and spent the first year back settling into work and our house. Our older son moved to Japan to teach English and the twins were finishing university in Montreal and Ottawa. We hardly noticed there were no children at home.
It all began to unravel, however, in 2009. Our daughter graduated and couldn’t find a good job in Montreal. She moved home to search for work in Ottawa. She ultimately found a promising job, although her late-night shift tended to disrupt our schedules.
A year later, her twin brother finished university. He parlayed his part-time retail job into full-time hours and moved home to save money.
The four of us have been under the same roof since April, 2010. The twins are saving money so they can eventually do the things that my generation was able to do in our mid-20s: pursue a career, live independently, travel and enjoy the perks of youth and money.
I know moving home has been difficult for them. The scarcity of good jobs is discouraging. And while I try to bite my tongue, they regularly face unsolicited questions and advice when, at 25 years old, they would prefer to be free of parental oversight. Conversely, their late nights, different schedules and relaxed approach to housekeeping have been an irritant for my husband and me.
The nest is not full 24/7 because they spend time with their significant others. Yet, if I look around, there is ample evidence they live here. The entrances are filled with shoes, boots, lunch and gym bags. The kitchen counters and sink fill up regularly with dirty dishes. Computers and televisions are not switched off.
I have to summon my courage to enter their rooms, where beds are unmade and clothes cover the floor or cascade from drawers. The dust bunnies have merged into a formidable army, daring me to bring a vacuum into this wasteland. I have declared war on the mess and while things are improving, victory eludes me. The solution is closed doors.
I think you grow up when you live on your own. You have to clean up the messes. There are bills to pay and consequences if you don’t pay them on time. If you leave lights on, your electricity bill will be high, and 20-minute showers are costly. When the buck stops at your wallet, these life lessons are quickly learned. When you live at home, these lessons are not so immediate.
Our situation is not unique. Our friends also complain about the disruption of kids living at home, but we differ in how we deal with it. Some charge rent, and some do not. Some have strict rules, and others do not. But no one seems to know how to address the real issue, which is where are the jobs that will enable youth to live independently?
The reality is that parents can no longer help their newly graduated children with what they need the most. We can offer advice but we cannot deliver good jobs. Resolution of the problem will require the collaboration and co-operation of government, industry and schools.
Usually I am happy to be in daily contact with my kids. I know where they are and what they are doing. Shared meals and discussions are fringe benefits. But they are frustrated they are not independent, and we are frustrated we cannot solve their problems. So, we help as we can. That means providing a home where they can build up their resources and eventually launch themselves into independent life.
Some would criticize this approach, but our stance is that, as long as they are working, we will provide some support. At their age we did not live at home, but our parents also helped with mortgage payments and assisted with grandchildren.
As Gen Y, by necessity, waits longer to marry, have children and buy homes, their parents may not be around to help them navigate these milestone events. So we help now, while we can.
Elaine Peebles lives in Ottawa.