I have a confession to make. I am the quintessential person Sally Koslow talks about in her new pop-psychology book, SLOUCHING TOWARD ADULTHOOD. Although I’m a year older (gasp) than the ripe-old cut-off age she refers to in the book (I’ll let you figure that one out on your own), I fall squarely (and not-so-smugly) smack dab into many of the categories she discusses. Am I proud of it? Well, not always. Do I regret any of my past decisions? Definitely not. Is it sometimes a bit bewildering, a bit invigorating being me? Hell, yes. Am I alone in my predicament? Not by a long shot. In fact, nearly everyone I know fits into a similar mold. In Koslow’s words, we’re the true definitions of “adultescent” --- “perpetually postponing full maturity.” In other words, we haven’t stopped “farting around.”
Let’s paint you a picture. Like many of the young(ish)‘uns Koslow profiles in her book, I moved back home and lived with my parents after graduating from college. Sure, only for a few months before renting my first apartment in Brooklyn, but I lived at home all the same. And that wasn’t the last time. Nearly three years later, after moving with a boyfriend to “try out” Portland, Oregon, I moved back in with Mom & Pop for a few months (maybe more?) at 25 in order to get back on my feet. Since then, I’ve lived in seven different apartments, with three sets of Craigslist roommates, a boyfriend or two, a cat, and alone. And yes, my parents willingly (sort of) helped me move up and down some of those god-awful sixth-floor walkup stairs, until we collectively decided enough was enough. My mom even drove cross-country with me from Portland to New York (although I stand by the fact that it was her idea. Plus, we had fun.). What’s more, I wasn’t the only one in the family to exhibit such meandering behavior. My brothers (both older) did so too, including separate stints back under our parents’ (so comfy!) roof.
Shall I go on? While I stopped taking money from my parents pretty much right after college (some of my friends, however, didn’t from theirs) and I do consider myself financially independent and somewhat of a neat freak (Koslow devotes a chapter to bemoaning the slobby habits of some adultescents), I’m still more of an adultescent than not. Take my attitude toward travel. Last year, my boyfriend and I sold most of our worldly possessions in New York in favor of traveling through South and Central America for eight months. Who took care of the cat? Yep. Mom and Dad. To be fair, I grew up hearing stories of my grandparents’ constant world travels on a dime, and my parents are some of the most sure-footed ramblers I know. But still. If I said I could relate to Koslow’s chapter on adultescents with itchy feet who a) want to keep on trucking to far-flung places, and b) come back after living abroad to a sorely repressed and depressed United States and have a tremendously difficult time readjusting, I’d be vastly understating my opinions on the subject. Again, I’m not alone on this. I met plenty of adultescents on the road from all sorts of countries who felt the same way.
Job security these days is a joke. The twist on the old adage “Take care of your company and your company will take care of you” hasn’t been true for years. Layoffs keep happening --- at every level. Buyouts are a dime-a-dozen. The employees who stay in their jobs? Forget it. A lot of them are miserable --- overworked, underpaid, underappreciated. A company’s loyalty to its employees (and visa versa) was thrown out with the bathwater a while ago. So why stay entrenched in your cubicle (if you can even get hired) if you’re going to be back on unemployment after the rosy new company you chose to work for ground you up and spit you out with not so much as a positive review, a severance package, or even a mentor who was halfway invested in your future to thank? As Koslow says, it’s a hard world out there --- for everyone except those lucky few (you know who you are, you zany 1%) --- and maybe being your own boss and working for yourself, like so many of us adultescents are doing these days, isn’t such a bad idea after all. Lots of companies stopped “giving out” health benefits anyway (oh, to live in Paris). Plus, the only person who can lay you off then is, well, you. “Find your passion!” “Beat to your own drummer!” “You can be anything you want to be!” A lot of good those pep talks did. As one of Koslow’s subjects so aptly put it, “We’re waking up and finding out that none of the opportunities we were promised are there.” Amen, sister.
Marriage? Kids? Successful relationships that build toward a collective future? What do you mean? Most of the thirty-somethings I know didn’t get married until well into their 30s (if they’re even married now). And the ones who got married earlier? A large majority of them got divorced (or divorced and remarried before the rest of us had time to get engaged). Kids at 35 or later. Some, none at all. It’s a different world out there than the one my parents grew up in, where choices about whether or not to get married and/or have kids seemed much more black and white. Don’t get me wrong; my parents have a fantastic relationship. They met when they were 14 and are still married. Happily and well adjusted. But the path to a “successful, long-lasting equal partnership” (as they like to call it) that seemed so straightforward and possible to them seems, to many adultescents, perpetually littered with debris.
This isn’t to say “woe is me.” That we adultescents are just sitting around, doing our nails and washing our hair, willingly playing video games when we should be looking for “secure” jobs in that one field we’re meant to choose. Or getting married to that “perfect” partner. Or buying diapers for the super well-behaved kids we’re planning to have any minute. We’re just cautious, weighing our options and taking a bit longer to do so than our parents are comfortable with. In the meantime, we’re joining CSAs, brewing wine in our basements (if we can afford to have a basement), canning pickles and growing our own vegetables because the price of produce is a bit high, even if it is organic. Maybe we’re late on our rent one month, but it isn’t because we’re slacking off, not making decisions. It’s because the rent is “too damn high” (at least it is in New York).
Sure, we are “paralyzed” by all the “limitless opportunity” that Koslow refers to, but not because we can actually take part in it all. A lot of these options are out there for us to see, but not touch, like the careers we got our advanced degrees for before all the jobs vanished. We’re paralyzed because what we thought the world would be like when we grew up --- the one our parents sheltered us from --- isn’t the ideal world we thought it would be. And we’re actively trying to figure out what to do about it. The key word is “actively,” no matter what it looks like from the outside.
So. A word to Sally Koslow and to those who read SLOUCHING TOWARD ADULTHOOD (because, dear readers, you should): Adultescence is, indeed, a “new” phase. In my humble opinion (and I can only speak for myself and for those I observe around me in this urban environment I now live in), you’ve hit it right on the mark. And your advice to parents, too, is sound: Stop trying to fix it. We know you’re worried. But there’s nothing you can “do” to charge our butts into gear. Times are different, and just as you did when you were our age, we’re trying to make a go of it…slouchy posture and all.
I come from the land where you were told to deal --- that you weren’t that special, and there were plenty of people prettier, more talented and smarter than you. No, it doesn’t matter that you don’t like ham. Eat that sandwich! There are starving children in China! Ahh, the ’70s --- when we were all taught we should work hard and be happy with what we get and never develop a swelled head if we managed to have success as it’s defined by American society.
With that attitude in mind, Sally Koslow has written a book about these ridiculously entitled, self-esteem-driven children from the most recent generation of helicopter parents who kill their kids with kindness. Evil, right? SLOUCHING TOWARD ADULTHOOD tells us all the ways in which our lax parenting skills and all that insane love we try to spread around will come back to bite us in the proverbial parental derriere when these kids can’t find jobs and come back home to live until they are in their 20s.
Adultescentsis the term Koslow uses for this new phenomenon --- kids who had it so good at home that they never want to leave. It is our job as parents to make sure we give our children the self-esteem to move forward and the belief in themselves to compete in an increasingly overcrowded marketplace. And, of course, thanks to a bunch of overprivileged “grown-ups” who abused the American financial system for their own ill-gotten gain, the economy these kids are walking into is an absolute shambles. Four years of college might get you a good job at Arby’s, unless Daddy or Mommy’s employer can be convinced to give you some crappy low-level position. But Koslow thinks this is a scam, believing that helicopter parenting by baby boomers (who were actually glad to have kids and take care of them properly) is ruining the retirement possibilities of everybody else in the world who want their children to leave home at 18 and never look back. After all, how else does a couple get a good “guest room” if their kids don’t leave them free for reuse?
One chapter, “Gifts from the Universe,” speaks disparagingly of a young woman who studies Reiki massage, uses it to help her mother who has MS, creates an environmental art curriculum in Hyderabad, moves to Hawaii where she lives communally, and takes on many part-time positions to make money, attends crazy hippie events like Burning Man and “wake(s) up every day and ask(s), ‘How can I be of service?’” Oh, no! Helicopter parenting has created self-actualized kids who think of themselves not just as hoarders of money and fine objects, like bank CEOs’ golden toilets, but human beings who can actually live in a humble fashion trying to help other people with their talents. Yes, what a horrible generation this is.
SLOUCHING TOWARD ADULTHOOD talks a good game about how children who grow up with parents who love them and stress the positive over the negative (oh, those of us who used to get hit with a belt when we did something “wrong” learned to always question ourselves; is that better?) are not self-sufficient and, just because they are not buying (or able to buy) into the crumbling façade of American capitalism, stress out their parents by making them do things, like help them move into various apartments. I lived in Manhattan for 18 years and had 11 apartments during that time. Is it a sign of dependence not to be able to maintain ever-increasing rents in an urban arena these days when raises are hard to come by? Are they really the losers Koslow makes them out to be?
This is yet another book in the growing pantheon that strives to hang on to the conservative values of another generation and blame the baby boomers for all the wrongs in the world, putting together a generation of kids who don’t buy into the ghost of a promise that upward mobility may just save this country, instead of hurting it the way Koslow thinks. SLOUCHING TOWARD ADULTHOOD is a good book for bitter parents who have lost their retirement accounts or pensions due to the criminal acts of our financial system’s kings and are rethinking the fact that they brought up their kids NOT just to become financial wizards but to find their own way in the world. Who really suffers? Only the history of the next generation will tell us for sure.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling and Jana Siciliano on July 20, 2012