Enough empty rooms for kids to boomerang home again
Published 05/23/2013 12 AM
Just before my nephews graduated from college my sister and brother law decided to downsize. As if I knew what I was talking about, I advised, buy a one-bedroom condo with a couch that doesn’t open up. I was clueless. The underlying truth, once they’re gone they’re gone, is a truism a little like the tide, it always goes out and back in; bringing a lot of stuff with it, too.
My daughters were in grade-school when I made my little know-it-all comment. What I didn’t know then is that as the fabric of the world economy unravels so goes the safety-pinning of the family dynamic at home. Our two daughters graduated from college, moved out, became gainfully employed, completed post graduate educations, got married and have waded knee-deep back to our shore. Why did they boomerang home, because they wanted to and had to; thankfully we still had enough empty bed rooms.
When both girls were out of the house and on their own, empty nest - the overused term to describe the angst parents feel when their prodigy heads out - was not a negative but a very joyous positive. The house stayed clean and my husband could use the bathroom with the door open. The quiet of our home was soothing at first until I figured there must be more to life than evenings filled with the symphony of my husband’s snoring during “Wheel of Fortune.” Did I miss my children? Yes. Did I love our empty nest? Absolutely. But taking control of the remote while hubby dozes on the couch should not be the daily highlight.
Redecorating their bedrooms with a look somewhere between Holiday Inn Express and Hilton was liberating; I showed them off to anyone who wanted to trudge upstairs and look. They’ll be back, some said. I thought, “Oh no they won’t,” but knew, they might.
We have a mother-in-law’s apartment attached to our home. When she passed away, at the age of 93, the apartment sat empty until it made sense for our oldest daughter and her husband to move in and save money. It’s wonderful having them as neighbors and, from the beginning, it never felt like they boomeranged because the apartment is totally separate and they pay rent. Here’s where it gets interesting.
Living a state away, our youngest daughter and her fiancé missed family. Even though each had good jobs our daughter decided she wanted to switch gears and become a teacher, which meant more education. Knowing how disenfranchised she felt within her career, I thought her new choice a wise one. Back to school meant back to family. So our daughter and now son-in-law, live in the Comfort Inn upstairs, one room is a bedroom and one a living room; they pay rent and I’m the innkeeper, with no linen service provided.
Once the house filled up with our family of four, plus a couple of son-in-laws and another dog, I thought I’d feel put-upon, inconvenienced and out-of-sorts. I thought my life would change, but it hasn’t, except that the house looks very lived-in and my husband once again closes the bathroom door.
The hardest adjustment for all hasn't been that privacy has been compromised, because it hasn’t; it’s how hard it is for adult children to share the parent’s beach blanket once they’ve had their own to sit on. Everyone is employed so it isn’t a failure and dependency kind of thing; it’s a temporary new kind of normal the likes of which past generations have enjoyed as multi-generational living for years. So far it’s working for us. The only problem is our youngest can’t wait until her sister and husband move out of the apartment so they can move next door. When that happens, I’m redecorating. My husband and I will each have an office; no couches will open up. Enough said.
Carolynn serves continental breakfast only at her home in Westbrook. Email Carolynn Pianta at
Published in The Times newspaper, a division of The Day in New London, Connecticut