Independence and empty nests

We nurture our young until they can get by in the world by themselves. Are we doing our children a disservice by letting them stay in the comfort of the nest? Photo: Mick 2014.

We nurture our young until they can get by in the world by themselves. Are we doing our children a disservice by letting them stay in the comfort of the nest? Photo: Mick 2014.

Young adult children tend to hang around in their parents’ home for longer these days. Perhaps it is just the difference between the 1980s when I became an adult and the 2010s when my kids do. Perhaps it is the difference between a country and social security system that – in the name of equality and social mobility – provides a living wage for young students and a country that does not.

My boys are 18 and 20, and even if they would like to move away from home, it would be very difficult for them to do so financially.

Informally, I moved away from home when I was 16. My room was still in tact with my furniture, clothes, posters, records, stereo and stuff, but my boyfriend had his own flat and it seemed a good idea to hang out at his place, rather than my family’s place. Except when we were really hungry. The fridge at my parents place was regularly stocked with small goods from Gøttsche, the butcher in Herning and there was fresh bread from the baker in Skolegade, where my mum would stop by on the way home. The fridge literally boomed with luxury, ready to raid by ravenous young people. My parents never minded us coming to feed: at least they never let on. My mum would love to offer a beer and sit down for a chat and a smoke while we fed. Food was one way to connect to her growing children and I am finding myself doing much the same with my sons and their crowds. Forever offering up food in return for their company and a snippet of conversation.

Formally, I moved away from home in 1986, when I started university 120 km away from my parents house. There were very few options to study in Herning, unless you wanted to be a textile designer or work in mercantile professions, convincing people to buy stuff they did not necessarily want or need to boost profits for someone else. After three years in commercial college and in spite of my father’s entrepreneurial spirit and growing business, I was not interested in book keeping or sales.

I was much more interested in the world of ideas, in the humanities. A brand new degree had just started at Aalborg Universitetscenter – Humanistic Informatics. It combined humanities with the rising information abundance and explored the interface between humans and information technology systems – a course fit for the late 20th century.

I enrolled in the second intake year of that degree and I had to move. My parents helped me out with accommodation at first. I started university in August the year I turned 19. Until February, when I turned 20, I lived off my savings from the summer job. According to the rules at the time, turning 20 made me independent of my parents’ income and I was entitled to SU, a study allowance courtesy of the Danish tax payer. Each month, a sum of money turned up in my bank account to supplement income from my job. From then on I was able to pay rent, eat well, buy university books and supplies, pay public transport and have a good time as well. In other words, I was truly independent and able to learn how to live within my means by managing a finite amount of money – a precondition for functioning in an adult world.

I understand that things have changed in Denmark and young people face harsher requirements to open the Sesame of government sponsored study. However, young Danes still do not pay for their education and still are paid to study, thus providing the realistic opportnity for everyone to get a qualification, irrespective of their socio-economic status.

How can we help our children fail small and early, so they can succeed later?  Photo: Mick 2014.

How can we help our children fail small and early, so they can succeed sooner? Photo: Mick 2014.

In 2014 in Australia, very little support is available to young people to live independently, even if they study, and by no stretch is the study allowance sufficient. My sons are not entitled to any help, at home or living independently. Their entitlement remains dependent on our household income. We are not a double income family and our household income is not massive. We are fortunate to be able help out our adult children, but I think it quite unfair that all young people – irrespective of their financial background – are not offered the opportunity to study independently. We really are failing to reach Australia’s potential because they are not.

Perhaps I am engaging in pure after-rationalisation: When we leave the kids in our house in December – for a whole year – it is not just to satisfy my self-centred need to go back to where I came from: it is also a step along the way toward my children’s independence. Rather than pushing them out of the nest, we leave the nest to them. And see what happens. We will provide them a study allowance so they can have a go at managing themselves and a household.

I know the boys will rise to the challenge and I know they will develop and grow. I don’t know what kind of hygiene or messiness the place will endure; I don’t know how big the washing piles will grow (will the washing even leave the floordrobe of their bedrooms?) or what kind of food they will eat. Or how the garden will look and whether the chooks will be watered and fed. But that is all part of it: I too have to let go and trust them to do the right thing.

Would you consider running away from home to give your adult children a chance at independence?

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One thought on “Independence and empty nests

  1. Pingback: Home of part of the heart | Pied-á-terre CPH

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