Some boomerang kids may be able to recall having this feeling growing up: There's an entire world waiting for me that my parents do not want me to experience. Nowhere did I feel this teenaged re-sentiment as strongly as I did when the rented van carrying my mom, dad, two younger brothers, an aunt visiting from Nigeria (who was in the backseat braiding my hair) and all of my worldly possessions rolled into the parking lot of my first-year college dorm on move-in day.
I angled my face as close to the window as propriety -- and the length of the hair my aunt had a firm grip on -- would allow. These were the people I was supposed to be with: the studious co-eds in the admitted student material moving off the glossy page and living the "Life of the Mind" right in front of me!
The 9' x 11' room I shared with a boisterous roomie who played Korean drum on her twin XL bed and had a taste for 190-proof grain alcohol seemed luxuriant compared to the freedom-stifling entirety of my home back in Kansas City. Chicago became my adopted hometown for the next six years, and while I didn't make good on my promise to never return to "Cow Town," I definitely had no intention of moving back home, especially after moving in with my college boyfriend my senior year.
Fast forward to February 28, 2010 and me driving Bessie the Uhaul van on what I called my "Trail of Tears 2010." I don't know what made me cry harder: the fact that I had an expensive graduate degree, but no gainful employment or prospects to show/pay for it; the fact that I had ended an almost six-year long relationship with the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with; or the sight of the familiar peach shingles and burgundy beams on the front of my home.
I wasn't alone. According to Pew Research Center, 29 percent of boomerang kids aged 25 to 34 had found themselves moving back in with mom and dad. This is far from a case of failure to launch -- it's the economy's failure to launch us into the lives we grew up working toward and were promised. Unemployment figures are at 13.7 percent for folks in their early 20s, compared to 6.3 percent for those in their 40s and 50s, Bloomberg reports, and 78 percent of those polled in the Pew study said they didn't have enough money "to lead the kind of life they want" -- if they did, I doubt they would be so keen on moving in with mom and dad. So we end up back in the nest, which can lead to some boundary issues as we who have lived as full-fledged adults for years are shoehorned back into our high school selves under your roof.
"When you live with your parents as an adult, they're not in charge of you and that's a different dynamic than all the years you spent with them before," said Bourree Lam, a friend who lived with her parents for two months. "There's a lot of navigating on both sides."
For me the upside of living rent-free and getting to spend time with my family again was diminished by every peek into my bedroom, every loaded question, every request to be home at a decent hour and to let them know just where I was. (Just as I'm sure the joy of having their first-born and only daughter back home was shot to heck by her tendency to not do dishes as quickly as they would've liked.)
Yet some families seem to avoid the messiness that can occur when boomerang kids come back to the homestead. Amy Zimmerman, mother to Jana Levinson, who has lived back at home for a year after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, said that her family was "doing a great job of not killing each other."
Even with the old rules back in place now that Jana is living at home again? "We do not have many rules; we think that would be sort of ridiculous at this stage of life," Zimmerman said. "It is more about respect for each other's time and space…I think of that as considerate roommate behavior more than parenting."
Both Amy and Jana said they were happy to have the chance to "reconnect" after years apart. "My parents have always respected my boundaries, especially after I started college, so I wasn't too worried about butting heads with them," Jana said. "They've been very understanding about how hard the transition is from college to the real world and honestly are the only people that are willing to listen to me complain about it."
"My advice to other families in this situation would be to keep aware of the pressures and schedules that each family member is under and take that into account for daily living," Amy said. "This is not high school and teenagers anymore. The things that used to cause friction have been long outgrown and choices are choices made as an adult."
As a former boomerang kid, I can offer six rules to help create a harmonious experience:
- We get that we're living under your roof again, but try not to rub it in. It makes the fact that we couldn't avoid moving back home that much harder to bear.
- Get a feel for what topics aren't good ones to harp on. General inquiries into our job status, romantic possibilities and the like can be fine, but no one likes an inquisition.
- We get that we may be better at technology than you are, but we are not your 24/7 on-call IT help desk. Seriously.
- Having us back home does not mean that you've instantly acquired a new, unpaid chauffer/maid/butler/handservant/ gopher. We can run a few errands, sure. But try not to exploit our presence.
- Respect our space and our need for privacy. If it was important to us when we were kids, it's even more important to us as adults back home.
- Continue to love us and support us unconditionally. It's nice.
Check out the slide show below for more advice for parents facing the prospect of a child moving back home, or who are right in the thick of it. It can be trying, but don't worry: 48 percent of those polled by Pew said the experience didn't affect their relationship with their parents.