As a middle class, suburban kid growing up in pre-recession America, I expected to graduate high school, go away to college and set out on my independent life as an adult. I love my parents - but it seemed to be a rite of passage to fly the nest. As it turns out, I was one of the lucky few who were actually able to live out this sequence which had long been considered the norm. But all around me, I was seeing my friends returning to their childhood homes one by one. And even more surprisingly, I kept hearing about parents and grandparents being forced to shack up with their kids. It became clear that the path to independence was changing - and so were family dynamics.
In many places around the world, it is perfectly common for young men and women to live with their parents until they marry. In some cultures, elderly parents are treated with great reverence and remain an integral part of the family household throughout their later years. Conversely, in our own country, it has been custom for decades that young people move out of the family home as soon as they are financially able, and elderly parents often take up residency in retirement communities and nursing homes. But these times of economic uncertainty are changing all that.
In most cases, the recession has impelled people to move in with family members because they don't have the resources to be self-sufficient. But while some only see this cultural shift as a sign of economic peril, others are looking on the bright side - they're seeing cohabitation with family members as an opportunity to pool resources and strengthen relationships. Maybe it's not such a bad thing after all.
The MarloThomas.com team decided to reach out to Marlo's Facebook friends to find out if any of them found their own families changing shape. And what we found was that many were currently living - or had lived with family members they never expected to - and most felt relatively positive about it.
Carolyn Hitt was one such case. Hitt was diagnosed with a neurological illness at 49 and has benefitted from her older son's decision to remain under her roof. As a musician, he has a limited income so he can't afford a place of his own, but he is able to assist his mother with physical tasks that she cannot do. "I am very grateful that we have been able to live together and combine our resources so that everyone has benefitted," said Hitt. "With the economy in this country and the high costs of living, it seems practical on so many levels to return to the multi-generational living idea."
Aside from the benefits of sharing household duties and living expenses, cohabitating with family members may also provide a built-in platform for relationships to grow. When Annie Greenberg decided to move home in order to save money, her relationship with her mother flourished. "Being together so much has helped us to bond in whole new ways, [like] taking a cross-country road trip together in 2009. What a phenomenal experience it was seeing the country together! My mom and I are a team, of which I am honored to be a member."
Sometimes, whole families are drawn closer together. Ricky Overmyer and his wife had nowhere to go when he lost his vision and stepped down from his job as a paramedic, so they moved into their daughter's small apartment. Tensions were high at times, and there was little privacy during the months that the family packed into the small apartment, but Overmyer "believe[s] that the sharing of these hardships has brought [the family] closer together."
And many times, a parent's presence in their child's home can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Nicki Bradshaw's daughter and son-in-law welcomed her into their home when she lost her job during the recession. "Without my children I would have been homeless and living out of my car or on the street for the last three years," she said. But when Bradshaw's daughter and son-in-law both were suffering with serious health conditions, it was her turn to come to the rescue. Because she was living in their home, she was able to lend a hand with babysitting and other daily household tasks.
As evidenced by Marlo's social media friends, both parents and adult children are finding ways to thrive in each other's company. In an economically unsound landscape, adaptability is key. Those who are given the opportunity to reside with a family member during tough times can choose to make the best of their situation and come out on top. Who knows? When the recession finally draws to a close, those who maintain a positive attitude could walk away with savings in the bank, stronger family ties and the resources to begin their independent lives anew.
Though it may feel unsettling to deviate from traditional living arrangements, the shifting cultural pattern can be used to your advantage. It's all in the way you play it.