Boomers and Boomerangers: Can They Live in Harmony?

Posted By Arthur Murray on September 15, 2016 at 9:15 am
Boomers and Boomerangers: Can They Live in Harmony?

Felicia thought her nest in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., would be emptier by now. Two older children graduated college, a daughter with a degree in accounting and a son with a degree in criminal justice. But Felicia, a business development director for a real-estate appraisal company who asked that her last name and those of her children be withheld, is not getting the justice she was counting on from those undergraduate degrees. The daughter already moved back in and the son will in November – part of a growing trend of “boomerang kids” who return home to live with parents.

Nationally, the numbers are surprising. A Pew Research Center study says more 18- to 34-year-olds now live with their parents than in any other housing arrangement – for the first time more than 130 years. The numbers from the center’s analysis earlier this year:

  • 32.1 percent of people in that age group live with parents.
  • 31.6 percent are married or cohabitating with their own household.
  • 14 percent are living alone, single parents or other heads. (Pew defines “other heads” as young adults who are the household head and living with roommates or boarders.)
  • 22 percent have “other” living arrangements. (Pew says these include living in the home of a grandparent, an aunt or uncle or a sibling or residing in a group quarters living arrangement (college dormitory or corrections facility).

Compare those numbers with 1960, when 62% of that age group lived with a spouse or romantic partner and only 20 percent lived with their parents.

boomerang kids survival tips

Why has this happened? Psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, who specializes in treating families, offers three reasons:

  • The bad economy, which makes it harder for them to support themselves on their own. Current college graduates have accumulated an average of more than $37,000 in debt.
  • What Lieberman calls “the sad state of dating and mating these days, where their fear of intimacy keeps them single.”
  • Kids unconsciously stay in the nest longer because they are afraid of being alone in today’s scary world.

Fern Weis, a certified family coach in New Jersey and mother of a boomerang kid, agrees with Lieberman that the economic recession and its aftermath affected many young adults. “College (and high school) grads are coming out of school with fewer jobs available to them,” Weis says. “They just can’t afford to live on their own.”

Laura Diehl, an international children’s minister with Crown of Glory Ministries who has written and spoken on the boomerang kids issue, offers more insight into the third point. “Families are discovering that ‘being independent’ may not be the best thing and are coming back together to depend on each other.”

Again, Weis agrees: “Some parents want to be needed and the thought of their children moving on is devastating to them.”

What a first glance doesn’t reveal about boomerang kids

Felicia’s experience with her boomerang children is not typical in one important sense. Despite conventional wisdom denigrating millennial college graduates, young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree are the least likely to live with their parents, according to the Pew study. Felicia’s children are pursuing advanced degrees – that’s why they moved back in. “Neither had any debt” after getting bachelor’s degrees, and both initially had apartments.

Her 24-year-old daughter is seeking her CPA degree, while her 23-year-old son quit his sales job and will pursue a masters. Felicia made the same deal with both: “You come to Florida, and we pay. If you want to live on your own, have all the debt you want.”

Weis’ son moved back in with the family seven years ago after his job was eliminated during the recession. He’d worked in Boston for a year in banquet management. He found a job within a year of moving home and has been there since and is saving to move to his own place. “We’re hoping for this to happen within six months,” she says. “We are definitely ready to have our house to ourselves, and welcome our kids back as visitors.”

But Felicia’s and Weis’ children are the exception. The Pew Report says about 79 percent of the young adults living with their parents have no more than a high school diploma.

Leslie Tayne, a lawyer with Tayne Law Group PC in New York who specializes in financial and debt matters, defends boomerang kids such as Felicia’s and Weis’, particularly those who have student loan debt. “Do we want them to find apartments after college, ignore their debt, be financially irresponsible and cause our economy to go backwards? No. We want them to understand their debt, manage their debt, and become, if they haven’t already, financially literate. While taking these steps, it is a responsible decision to move back home with your parents so you can focus on paying off your student loan debt and figuring out a plan before making any big financial decision.”

She’s not as sympathetic toward boomerang kids without college degrees. “This statistic is frowned upon and should be,” Tayne says. “There needs to be some type of reason why you are 23 and still living at home.”

Parenting expert Cherie Corso says critics shouldn’t just blame millennials for living at home. “In many ways, the helicopter parents are handicapping our children. The parents jump in and solve problems too quickly for them, and a lot of them (the children) don’t have their own successes to draw on, Corso says. The solution, she says, is for parents to back off: “If you give your kids the right tools, trust them to make the right decision. And even if they make a mistake and fail, so what? It’s all about moving forward and growing at all ages, but your children will grow faster when they’re living on their own.”

Weis agrees, though she notes her own child is capable, that fault doesn’t entirely rest with the children. “Parents have done so much for so long for them,” she says “They don’t believe their children are resourceful, and fear the worst instead of handing off responsibility and contributing to their children’s independence.

An exit strategy for boomerang kids

One thing the experts agree on is that the boomerang kids can’t – or shouldn’t – stay home forever. Weis believes her son will be ready to leave in six months – he says it could be more like a year.

Tayne says the decision on leaving shouldn’t necessarily include a timeline. “Plan to align the move-out date along with your college grad’s goals for future,” she says. “For example, if a college grad has a job post-graduation and sees himself or herself moving to a nearby city or different state,  he/she may want to start saving and have a plan to move out in two-to-three years.”

Otherwise, there can be parent-child stress over such issues as curfew, chores, the child’s contributions and more. Tayne says boundaries should be discussed before the child moves back in.

In Felicia’s case, she’s given her children a year to get their master’s degrees, find a job, and move out. “They want that as well,” she says. In the meantime, they’re expected to follow house rules – unloading the dishwasher, walking the dogs and occasionally picking up their younger sister from high school. While they can come and go as they please, Felicia says, “I like to be texted and told you’re dead or alive.”

Arthur Murray
Arthur is managing editor of GoodCall, directing its newsroom. He has nearly 30 years of newspaper and magazine experience. A native of Virginia, Arthur attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a bachelor's in journalism.

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