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|Bungee Families - Page 5|
Carolyn's mother called me a couple of days later sounding more optimistic. They'd had a productive family meeting, and Carolyn had offered them a compelling and reasonable timetable, not for moving out, but for finding steady, full-time work. If old tensions resurfaced, they'd talk about it as a family and call me if they couldn't resolve matters on their own.
Dreamers like Carolyn, if they aren't paralyzed by despair and pressure to be and do something else, may be willing to enter into a conversation about where they fit in the world, and how to adjust their dreams without selling out or compromising their souls. This might not take long, once the stress level is reduced. Anthony, an aspiring professional soccer player, sustained some injuries, an incapacitating panic, and his grandmother's death almost all at once. His father brought him home and took the pressure off. Less than a year later, Anthony found a new bliss coaching an elite team of inner-city kids. Lucy, another Dreamer, tried for several years to make money as a cellist. Her mother was deeply invested in her daughter's music career. It took a while for both of them to accept that this wasn't to be. Lucy, now 31, plays for joy in a string quartet, lives with her partner, and holds an office job she likes well enough. With less struggle and a little more support, parents may help their Dreamers find the space to explore their passions, own their lives more fully, make compromises on their own terms, and sometimes even realize their dreams.
Regroupers. A growing number of bungee families are forming around the unique needs of Regroupers: young adults who've left, but returned home under stressful conditions. They may graduate from college, but don't get jobs or find places to live; they have messy relationship breakups, work disappointments, and changes of heart. They don't necessarily want to be living with their parents again, but they usually feel they have nowhere else to go. Parents offer them a safe haven to regress a bit, lick their wounds, and summon up the courage to look around and try again.
Jillian, age 25, dropped out of her culinary-school program after conflict with the administration, which led to the prospect of her dismissal for volatile behavior. She moved back home and quickly got a job as a breakfast cook in a diner—hardly the career she'd envisioned. She knows she needs more training before she can leave our small town. She doesn't like being told what to do when she thinks she knows it already. She's been fired from many jobs before this latest round; her sense of outrage and her tendency toward insubordination don't go over well anywhere (though I rather admire her feisty, if adolescent, spirit). Her mother and stepfather aren't pleased with this pattern, but they're letting her stay with them a while, and they're helping pay for therapy. They set the ground rules right away: she pays rent—and cooks for them, too.
Jillian's insecurity, anger, and disappointment surface quickly when I question her narrative of events; though I intend to be kind and curious, she's sensitive to any whiff of adult judgment. She's flounced, indignantly, out of my office on two separate occasions, and has gotten me to beg forgiveness before settling down to engage in the work we've had to do. She knows she needs to develop better social, problem-solving, and self-soothing strategies to become a less temperamental chef; time to regroup gives her the safety and motivation to do just that.
Nurturers. Emerging adults are moving back home with their own children in increasing numbers (one recent AARP report estimated that there were 6.2 million multigenerational households in the United States in 2008, up from 5 million in 2000). Nurturers move back home because they have kids and no jobs, or they need help with their children so they can keep jobs. One nurturer I saw in therapy had never moved out. She'd become pregnant as a teenager, and her mother was helping raise her son—while continuing to parent my client. In racially and ethnically diverse families and in rural America, this multigenerational model of care has always been the norm, as in many other places in the world, and now it's spreading rapidly beyond traditional race and class boundaries into the white middle class.
I treated another sort of Nurturer a couple of years ago and still wonder how many emerging adults there are like her out there. Twenty-six years old, Melissa gave up her job and life in the big city to return home to take care of her father, teenage brother, and dying mother. We met for a while after her mother had died, sorting out her own life choices and grieving. It's important to say that she didn't feel that her life was on hold, even though small-town Vermont in the winter can feel that way for most people. Instead, her return to the nest was purposeful and meaningful; she needed to be home with her family. Still living there, she's become an emergency medical technician and a hospice volunteer.