Life after Life: Returning to the Nest

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I consider myself in my nascent middle age (I’m 44), and yet – I live with my parents.  I haven’t always lived with them.  It’s only the last three years that I have, after I returned from nearly seven years overseas.  Before that, I mostly lived by myself or, in my twenties, with housemates.  I’ve spent a lot of time on my own, living by myself, earning my own way in the world.  It wasn’t easy – anyone will tell you that.  So, after all that independence, why have I decided to return to my parents?  In strict economic terms, I don’t earn enough money to live by myself.  I work part time, and maybe I always will.  My excuse is that I’m bipolar, and lucky to be able to work at all.  I could have applied for Disability, and eked out a living that way.  But I chose my parents instead.  I could lie and say my parents are living with ME – I’m taking care of THEM – but that is not true.  They are mostly taking care of me.  That may change in the future, and I know they hope I will be there for them, and I will.  Families run in circles, and maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

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According to the U.S. Census, 15% of adults ages 25-34 live with their parents.  There are similar numbers in the UK.  A New York Times article yesterday, “Empty Nest? In Slovakia, It May Begin When the Child Is 35”, it reported that in Slovakia, 74% of adults ages 18 to 34 live with their parents.  The problem in Slovaka, and neighboring countries, is that there are very few rentals available.  Typically, people buy apartments, once they’ve saved up for them.  And that takes a long time, especially with unemployment being rife in many of these places.  So young people, even married couples, live with parents.

All these statistics are causing some consternation.  The article doesn’t address what kind of consternation, but mostly I think it’s a typically Western view of how families should work – children should leave and build their own lives.  People should be independent.  Only the weak depend on their parents.  I can well understand the concern that this is an indicator of the demise of the middle class – my generation (X) and younger (Y and Z) are not able to buy houses of their own.  This is bad for the economy.  It’s bad for neighborhoods.  It’s bad for all kinds of reasons.  But it’s a reality.

Also a reality is that many people depend on their extended families – for time, for money.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  The U.S. doesn’t have much in the way of a safety net (and that so-called safety net is getting smaller all the time), so it’s totally reasonable that people turn to their families.  In other cultures, it’s perfectly normal to live with your parents, even if you’re married.  Even if you have children of you own.  It’s not shameful in other places, but unfortunately it still is here.

Maybe that will change over time, as more and more people are forced to move back in with their parents.  Maybe that stigma will disappear.

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As for me, I like living with my parents.  We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but we get along quite well.  Honestly, I think they like my company.  And I like theirs.  I’ve discovered, as I get older, that I need people around me.  Part of my problem living overseas was that I was often alone too much.  It can make you crazy, and I was crazy to begin with.  Lots of studies show the dangers of isolation.  We’re not meant to live in isolation – we’re social creatures.

I consider myself lucky to live with my parents.  They are my rock.  I thank God everyday for them, and yes, I do worry about when they are no longer here.  In the meantime, I will enjoy their company as long as time allows.

I’m a spoiled American. Et tu?

I make no secret of being a bleeding heart liberal, so I’m going to do a little more bleeding here.

Recently, the New York Times had two eye-opening articles (well, they constantly have eye-opening articles).  One was “Iranians Celebrate Agreement Online and in the Streets” and “For Eager Cubans, Big Opening in U.S. Relations Is More Like a Crack“.  In the first, it showed pictures of Iranians partying in the streets of Tehran, singing, dancing, honking horns.  They tweeted their appreciation for their Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  They are hopeful.  In the second article, Cubans were still optimistic about a thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, but they still had not seen much in terms of results.  Supplies were still hard to find, and international businesses are still being cautious about investing in their country.  But they are still hopeful.

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And yet, apart from news articles, I don’t see much elation here.  Maybe elation would be too much to expect, but what about some general concern?  Why don’t we care?

We’re still pretty good at protesting, as seen lately with Indiana’s RFRA controversy, or the Black Lives Matter movement.  But what do we celebrate, together?  Sure, we celebrate in the streets when Wisconsin wins an NCAA basketball game, and riot destructively when Kentucky loses the same game.  But beyond sports, what do we really care about?

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Our policies have real life implications for millions around the globe, and yet it seems we don’t care.  And why don’t we care?  Because we have the luxury not to.  Our survival, our livelihoods are seldom meddled with by other countries.  We don’t have to feel the strain of living under embargoes, like the Cubans or Iranians.  Maybe we should celebrate for their sakes, if not ours.

At times, equally troubling is the lack of interest in our own internal policies and how they affect us.  Someone said to me recently, “I think it’s awful that the government is sending jobs overseas.”  Naturally, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.  “Um, actually it’s corporations that send jobs overseas, not the government.  Why would the government want to do that?”  I can well believe that some people might take her initial statement further, and say that it’s the government’s fault that corporations send jobs overseas, because of regulations and taxes.  But I don’t buy that argument.  I think it’s rampant, unbridled corporate greed.  Still, in this case it was easy to see how things like this get twisted in people’s minds, and how much damage that does.

I worry about an ignorant electorate.  I worry that people don’t care enough to do some research into their representatives and vote in their best interest and hopefully, in the best interest of the public good.

With security comes complacency.  And even our security is at risk – in terms of environmental degradation, the disappearing middle class, and the rise of the One Percenters.  It may seem like a gradual change, and maybe I read too many dystopian novels, but when the devastation adds up, we won’t be prepared.

Maybe we should celebrate with the Iranians and the Cubans while we still can.