Old Rule: Adults who move in with their parents are socially stilted/creepy.
New Rule: Adults who move in with their parents are financially or emotionally rebuilding, even savvy.
Welcome to the era of the boomerang generation-a growing segment of society that boards with Mom and Dad after age 21. What was once mocked and frowned upon has become a plausible strategy to employ.
“Because so many of this generation are returning home, [boomeranging] is socially acceptable,” says Dr. Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father. “It’s no longer viewed as, ‘What did the parents do wrong that they couldn’t raise their child to be independent?'”
The Birth of Boomerangers
This exodus back to the nest began in the early ’90s, “when the economy turned and jobs became harder to find,” Newman says.
Young adults began to return home for a variety of reasons, Newman explains, most of which are financial – to pay off debts from higher education, credit cards, and automobiles and to be supported while hunting for a new job or saving for their own housing. Kids also turned to their parents’ shelter to recover from life’s emotional and physical blows, including health setbacks, divorce, bad roommate situations, and the loss of a job. Those impetuses, combined with the fact that young people continue to marry later in life, are keeping this trend alive and kicking.
Upsides and Downsides
Mica Curry, 28, of Williard, Mo., joined the ranks of boomerangers when she moved back home to save money. “I knew that at some point my boyfriend and I would get married,” she says, “and I wanted to be financially stable at that time.”
Curry agrees that moving home has helped her accomplish that goal and brought an unexpected benefit: an enhanced relationship with her parents.
“It is so much better [than when I was a teenager],” Curry says. “Mom and Dad are no longer parental authorities telling me what to do; they are more like friends and mentors. It’s wonderful. I am making great memories with them. It’s amazing how much you can grow up from high school to now.”
Newman agrees: “In many, many instances, this reunion of living together is better than the parents or the adult child expects.”
But there are drawbacks to the scenario as well, depending on the maturity of both parties. Newman says the biggest pitfall is sliding back into the roles of when the children were being raised and Mom and Dad were full-time caregivers-with parents commenting on and/or criticizing what their adult children eat, what time they arrive home at night, how they spend money, etc.
Adjusting to Roommate Status
While it can be difficult for parents to recognize their child as a responsible adult, it can also be a struggle for adult children to allow their parents to be non-caretakers.
“Parents may, having lived four or more years without children, have developed very active, independent lives,” Newman says. Parents may have trips and engagements that don’t involve their adult child. And just as adult roommates wouldn’t whine to be included in each other’s vacation plans so should the adult child not expect parents to coddle and include them in their daily plans.
Nor are parents duty-bound to wake their adult children for work, check to see that their credit card bill is paid on time, or make sure they’re eating enough fiber. To keep adult children from falling back into the child role, all parties need to see each other as adult roommates.
A good way to contribute as a roommate (if adult children can’t afford to help out with living expenses) is to double up on chore duty. Boomerangers need to pay parents with as much help as they can in return for Mom and Dad’s generosity, avoiding any hint of taking advantage of the situation.
“If you’re not paying a small rent,” Newman says, “mow the lawn, do the laundry, or help with meals and grocery shopping. Run errands for parents who are busy. Respect your parents’ values and rules-it is their home.”
As responsible roommates, adult children should also keep tensions and conflicts from building. “Discuss what upsets you about the arrangements with your parents to work out an agreeable solution,” Newman advises. “For instance, ask a parent to stay out of your room; explain you will take care of it, keeping it clean. Don’t try to change your parents – you will have to be the flexible one.”
According to Plan
Once you figure out an amicable way to live together, the best gift boomerangers and their parents can give each other is a plan of action for moving out. Newman advises both parties to discuss a plan that “includes goals and time frames for moving out,” so the boomerang phase is not a permanent one.
The lure of financial support and fellowship can become a snare for parents and children. There is a season for everything, but to let that “season” stretch year after year encourages slothfulness in the adult child. Paul sets the standard for a laborer to earn his keep in 2 Thessalonians 3:8, “We did not eat anyone’s bread free of charge; instead, we labored and toiled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you.”
Boomerangers should not work night and day, but they should definitely steer clear of being a burden to their supporters. To do so, they need to stick to the goals they’ve laid out. If an adult child has moved home after being laid off, it would be unacceptable to sleep in, mark the classifieds, and improve his video-game reflexes instead of networking and determinedly seeking employment. If an adult child has moved home to save money to pay off debt, it would be inappropriate to spend her saved funds on trips, a new wardrobe, or entertainment systems.
Sticking to this plan is beneficial for the parents and the boomeranger. “If your plan is to save money,” Curry says, “then put the money you would normally spend on rent, utilities, and so forth in your savings account and don’t touch it. Once you see your nest egg, you will be proud of your decision and know that no matter what everyone else does, this solution worked for you.”