What empty nest?

IN the traditional scenario, at this stage of our life, my wife and I are supposed to enjoy a house that’s without kids. Our home should have become what they call an “empty nest.”

But look, everyone is here: all three of our grown-up kids, one married and two unmarried, with the addition of two grand kids who are growing up in our midst.

I am not complaining. In fact, my wife and I are delighted. We are physically together as family every day of the year.

My friends and my neighbors are in similar situations. In fact, there are at least three young families living in the house next door. The children have gotten married but they did not move out. I have a friend who has two daughters in their late 30s who are still unmarried and who have no plans of living on their own. He nudges them to get married, but they seem to shun the idea of marriage.

Is this a trend now?

In our case, it’s not because they did not try. One son got married and had two kids and they lived in an apartment until his young wife died of cancer. After trying it out as a working single parent, he decided to just build a two-story structure on the empty space in our yard and moved in with his two kids.

Another son, the youngest in the brood, tried to live an independent life and after a while he found it unsuitable to his health, as well as his wallet. After a year, we invited him to move back and he did not hesitate to do so. That’s why ours is a full house once again.

Nowadays, it seems that young adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely to be living at home with their parents than with a lifetime partner, not surprising given the rising cost of living. Many never left home, and many have also returned after living independently. Another observation is that young people are delaying marriage and some of them have marriage far from their minds because of other priorities.

We usually expect our children to equal or surpass their parents in building a life of comfort and convenience for their respective families in a place of their own.

As for me, I was really itching to get a job and be on my own after college graduation. Thankfully, I got employed shortly and that got me started on the journey to an independent life. I made sure to pull myself up by my bootstraps, to use the cliché.

Even when I got married, my wife and I never troubled our parents with the expenses. We rented our own apartment and with our little savings, we were able to acquire a home and lot of our own.

We even managed to help both parents financially as they aged and faced health issues.

In contrast, it looks like it’s not turning out that way for many with today’s younger generations. Expenses have doubled; home ownership is out of reach; and the stability of a five-day-a-week job is being replaced by the gig economy.

So it looks like we have to embrace the new trend of full nest. I think it naturally suits the Filipino because we have close family ties, so strong that sometimes people choose to stay at home even after graduation or even after marriage. Extended family members are living under one roof—grandparents, cousins, grandchildren, parents, uncles, aunts, and so on. A happy Pinoy home is addition, not subtraction.

Another reason why young Filipinos stay in their family homes is because they don’t know how to summon the will (courage and stamina) to live an independent life. Takot makipagsapalaran, as we say. I know from experience that paying for rent, utilities, and taxes is complicated business, and today’s young adults, it seems, don’t want to go through that. Living with one’s parents has all the perks: free food, comfortable bed, and even some weekly free laundry. Their easy way out is to just give back to their families and help them with their finances whether that means paying for rent, groceries, medical bills and/or utilities.

Of course, a full nest has its plusses and minuses. There are new joys, but also new headaches.

One of the things my wife and I most appreciate is that there is no physical distance between the children and us.  There is no need for us to travel to different locations to check on them. Their physical presence in our house is considered an everyday blessing for my wife because she is a constant worrier.

In fact, we are reverting to our parenting mode—making sure they’re eating enough and eating healthfully, and washing their clothes. It’s a good thing they also seem to like being with us. We are their comfort zone. They have a relaxed companionable relationship with us.

The art of co-living also means sharing in adult responsibilities. We don’t encourage loafing and dependency. They have to earn their keep. One welcome side benefit is that I now have a handyman in my eldest son, who does the small repairing tasks at our home, including old appliances that break down. My youngest son is a techie of sort and he is helpful when we encounter problems with our digital gadgets.

What’s the downside? Maybe lack of space. And less privacy. Our house is not exactly a mansion. Our kids and grandkids freely enter our room. There are modus vivendi arrangements and unspoken house rules that we observe so family members don’t get on top of one another.

Then because of the pandemic, our kids have been working from home. The grandkids are also into virtual schooling. This means everybody is always at home. We have to make adjustments and schedule our activities so they’re not bothered while having a zoom meeting or having online lessons.

The good thing is we have been so physically close together for a long time, we know each other’s likes, dislikes, faults, quirks and because of this, we’ve learned to get out of each other’s way and minimize vexations, which can’t be helped sometimes.

We’ve always known that this arrangement is temporary, and we want to help our children out in every way possible to live a life on their own. We keep reminding them of the value of saving for their future. We really don’t know how many more years we can give them, because sooner or later the fatigue of it all will slowly begin to set in, not to mention the inevitable health issues of aging. It is possible to love your children completely and simultaneously be exhausted by them. That is the truth, and there is nothing shameful about acknowledging that.

Yet, as parents, it is the most important and fulfilling thing we’ve ever done. At the end of the day we can truly say, we rose to the challenge and have given it our all.

For now, my wife and I just want to enjoy the joy of their company. We savor the good times of being together under one roof: the pandemic staycation at home, the family movie nights while snacking, the occasional birthday celebrations, being together on Christmas and New Year’s eve, praying and going to mass together (now just online mass), cheering each other up in sad moments, watching each other’s health, and so on.

If in poker a full house is a winning hand, then our family’s full house seems to be a win-win deal for our children and us.

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