My friend leans forward, gripping her latte with both hands. "He looked so peaceful, lying there on the couch with an afghan bunched under his head," she said. "I could hear him snoring slightly -- just like he did when he was a baby. Sound asleep. And you know what? I just wanted to smack him on the head and scream 'Get up! Get up! Get your lazy ass up and do something!'"
Now my friend -- we'll call her Jane -- truly loves her adult son. She loves him so much that she worked a full-time accounting job plus took in freelance clients to ensure that he could finish college without huge student loans. She loves him so much that she supported his right to "follow his passion" when he switched his major from engineering to humanities in his junior year. And yes, Jane loves her son so much that when he got his B.A. with no job prospects in sight, and no plans to go to graduate school, she welcomed him back home with open arms.
But that was almost a year ago. Her pride-and-joy now eschews "menial" jobs like flipping burgers, but has no problem complaining about the economy while he takes advantage of Jane's "bottomless" refrigerator. He also enjoys her cable TV and Internet, laundry facilities, utilities, health benefits and cell phone family plan ... just as he did in high school.
Jane is trapped with a so-called boomerang kid. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of today's 18 to 24-year-olds moved back to their parents' homes within the past few years. Other surveys say 85-percent of college students expect to move back home for a while after graduation and are facing a bleak job market. Meanwhile, their parents -- many of whom have begun to shift their attentions to the physical and financial needs of elderly relatives -- are at a loss. As Jane says, "What am I going to do? Tell him to go live in his car...that I insure, by the way?"
I have great sympathy for Jane and all the other boomerang parents. According to a recent NPR report, my hometown of Newton, MA has a high percentage of "generation jobless" graduates who return home. And since I'm an eldercare professional, I also see many members of the sandwich generation try to cope with three generations of adults living under the same roof. (Sometimes I even see four generations in the house, which in pop demographic-speak is a "club sandwich.")
When Jane and I graduated from college, we would never have dreamed of moving back home. We treasured our hard-won freedoms. We signed on a slew of roommates, lived in a modest (read: rundown) flat, ate noodles and put up with the occasional cockroach or rodent infestation. We did what we had to do to maintain our independence. Then again, our tech needs were pretty much limited to a hard-wired telephone, a stereo and if lucky, a TV that worked. Our children consider the lack of cable TV, a laptop, high-speed Internet access and a smartphone with an unlimited data plan to be unbearably primitive. And as they quickly discover, those things cost money.
I've been lucky. My own adult son inherited his mother's frugality and independent spirit. He graduated from college two years ago and rents a very inexpensive apartment in Boston. We enjoy having him close, but not too close. My daughter just completed her freshmen year in college and I've got two garbage bags full of clothes sitting in the stairwell -- where she deposited them two weeks ago -- to prove that she's home for the summer. Will she boomerang after the cap and gown come off? Who knows? Three years is an eternity in young-adult time. For now, I'm happy to have her around. She fills the house with music, makes our orderly life much less tidy (and more fun) and I can't wait to go home tonight to watch a Netflix movie with her. One of the great things about living with your adult children is being able to do things together that you both actually enjoy.
As for my friend Jane, she's come up with a temporary, but effective, solution to her problem. She's "hired" her son to help out her parents. In exchange for room and board and a small amount of spending money, he spends a few hours a day with her parents, drives them to appointments, shops for them and maintains their lawn. And, since he's giving Jane some relief, she no longer fantasizes about slapping him silly.
When dealing with adult offspring, boomerangers or not, small victories mean a lot.
Earlier On Huff/Post50
"Discuss the expectation of parents and kids in terms of how you behave at home and what responsibilities they have," said Katherine Newman, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Accordian Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents and the Private Toll of Global Competition. "It's better to talk these things over rather than be silent and grinding your teeth behind closed doors." Groceries, cooking, laundry and tidiness can all be areas of conflict, so lay down some ground rules. Photo courtesy of jim212jim
"Instead of saying, 'I don't see you applying for jobs and this can't go on forever,' talk about what you expect," Newman said. Discuss goals for hours per day that will be spent networking and searching for jobs or choosing and applying to graduate schools.
While you're talking about autonomy, also lay down some ground rules for privacy. The most obvious: Knock before entering. Photo courtesy of ricky.montalvo
Boomerang kids are young adults who have typically become accustomed to keeping their own schedules without answering to anyone. That can rattle parents who want more accountability, or just a little courtesy. It's fair to ask an adult child to text you if they are going out rather than coming home for dinner. While it may be fine for them to keep their own hours, it's not fair to come home late and disturb the sleeping occupants of the house who have to work in the morning. Photo courtesy of srwsrwuk
If young adults are doing everything they can to move toward autonomy, parents should be patient and recognize there are larger economic forces at work. Rather than having them pay rent, focus on steps toward independence -- such as eliminating any revolving debt and paying student loans on time.