09/06/2012 02:05 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

House of the Returning Son

One of my HuffPost readers recently sent me this message:

Dear Malcolm --

Last May my son finally finished his post graduate studies. Unfortunately, finding employment in his field (or any field) seems impossible.

Now he has returned home -- with no income and massive student loan debts -- and is living in my renovated attic. I'm concerned that my son's disappointments have diminished his ability to find a job, or maybe even himself. It's important for him to make his way in the world. What can I do?

Out of Resources

Dear Reader,

Years ago I found myself in a situation like yours. I'd made bad career decisions, needed the right job, was running dangerously low on cash, and my confidence (or belief in myself) was near an all-time low. So I asked my mother if I could move into her house for a while. She lived alone with her two faithful dogs. Her house was a modest one. I could occupy the "guest" room. Beatrice, my mom, was totally hospitable. She told me I was coming home.

But I wasn't.

Clearly I was a guest, even a most welcome one, in her home. I'd be moving temporarily into her world. There were lots of things to think about. Obviously certain household chores or duties would fall my way. Like meals. Mom had never been the great cook her mother was, but she was good. She'd inherited a classic iron pot that belonged to her mother. It was superb for soups or pot roast. Of course, mother was used to being alone and eating sparingly. In fact, after I departed from the house, she signed up for Meals On Wheels which worked miracles for her. Good food, delivered regularly on time, and certainly meeting all her basic needs. However, durng this moment of togetherness in her house, mom and I found ourselves collaborating. Naturally there were dishes to wash. Shopping to do.

A far more important and challenging issue was literal sharing of time together. She took naps which I didn't. TV became an issue. Which shows would we watch? When would we do this? Naturally there would be plenty of time to share. But what about being alone when we wished or felt we needed it? What would we do with silence? A form of intimacy builds silence into itself.

Mother's two dogs helped enormously. They were gracious and loving and helpfully intrusive. Needless to say, they contributed enormously to sustaining variations of conversation. In fact, often they became the motor of conversation itself.

Shortly, I discovered that I was getting to bed earlier than I was accustomed. The house shut down. A couple of her neighbors had, over the years, taken on important roles in her life. Basically they helped out by being there. So I needed to fit ito their presence in mom's life in easy ways. Avoid conflict. Welcome their presence and never see it as intrusion. See if I could find some ways to be of use or service to them. By all means, never let a tinge of jealousy creep into the situation. They had been in mom's life before I showed up and would still be there after I departed. So I was always a peacemaker, being of whatever assistance as I could be.

My mother was at the center of her household. Breakfast, then, was communial instead of solitary. I wanted -- needed -- to join her for this meal, this ritual. Then I departed early in the mornings, got into my car and busily involved myself in the eternal job hunt that included exploring a rack of work possibilities as well as communicating with friends for advice. Basically I found that I needed to sustain very serious movement in my search. It dawned on me that it wasn't simply for a new job. I sought a brand new definition of career and work. Could I find where I needed to be?

Yes, I did. On a given day I departed my mom's house. In the process I had learned more fully who I am, where I was going, and how to get there. Did the time I spent in her home help? Enormously. I was able to give as much as I received, spiritually and creatively.

The point is: my stay with Mother became a way station instead of a destination.

Place one foot after another. Move forward.