Dear concerned parents of America, there's a reason your kid is a lazy jerk: You. In this week's New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert explores adultescence--the state of helplessness of America's adult children. No, we're not talking about adult babies (which is sort of the same empirical idea, but a completely different and riveting phenomenon on its own), but rather the generation of Americans who come back to the nest with their $200,000 college diplomas in hand, the 8-year-olds who are clever enough to get their parents to do their chores, and the princesses who can't be bothered to get their own silverware. And the reason, which Kolbert concludes from examining the recent rise of self-help parenting books, is "good parents" who want to do the right thing, be better parents than their parents, and "want the best for their children."
Because this is The New Yorker, the typical "back in my day" conversation about going up mountains to school and parents laying down the law is elevated to an example from the Matsigenka tribe from the Peruvian Amazon where toddlers heat their own food over an open flame and machete-wielding three-year-olds do helpful things like clear grass. And well, just compare them with this all-too-familiar American trope, per Kolbert:
Not long ago, Sally Koslow, a former editor-in-chief of McCall’s, discovered herself in this last situation. After four years in college and two on the West Coast, her son Jed moved back to Manhattan and settled into his old room in the family’s apartment, together with thirty-four boxes of vinyl LPs. Unemployed, Jed liked to stay out late, sleep until noon, and wander around in his boxers. Koslow set out to try to understand why he and so many of his peers seemed stuck in what she regarded as permanent “adultescence.” She concluded that one of the reasons is the lousy economy. Another is parents like her.
“Our offspring have simply leveraged our braggadocio, good intentions, and overinvestment,” Koslow writes in her new book, “Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest” (Viking). They inhabit “a broad savannah of entitlement that we’ve watered, landscaped, and hired gardeners to maintain.” She recommends letting the grasslands revert to forest: “The best way for a lot of us to show our love would be to learn to un-mother and un-father.” One practical tip that she offers is to do nothing when your adult child finally decides to move out. In the process of schlepping Jed’s stuff to an apartment in Carroll Gardens, Koslow’s husband tore a tendon and ended up in emergency surgery.
Read Kolbert's whole essay in The New Yorker.
Photo by: Suzanne Tucker via Shutterstock.