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Generation Boomerang

What to do when your grown kids move back in.


ShutterstockSo you’re past the soccer mom years, you no longer have to drop off teen-agers at the mall, and you think you’re safe to set up a yoga room. Your kids are off to college. Just don’t get too used to it.

According to Oakland author Elizabeth Fishel and psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s book, Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years, your grown children may move home after college, or whatever adventure they chose following high school. Given the tough job market and skyrocketing rental prices, especially here in the East Bay, Joe Junior or Fiona Darling might live with you well into their twenties—and maybe even thirties.

But don’t freak out: Fishel tells us that with planning, a lot of dialogue, and the occasional deep calming breath, parents can actually enjoy living with their grown-up kids.

Q: Why are kids in their twenties returning to their parents’ homes?
A: The issue that concerns parents more than anything else is the phenomena of the “boomerang generation.” A lot of parents say, “Hey, I never returned to my parents; I made a go of it.” But we are living in a totally different social and economic climate here. After the bad economic times of 2008, the job market is very tight: Even college grads are having a hard time finding jobs. There’s high student debt, with an average of around $29,000. There’s an uptick in rent prices.

But on the positive side, our generation of parents (those in their fifties and sixties today) are so much closer to our kids than we ever were to our parents: Our kids have come of age after years of child-centric parenting, where parents went to every soccer game and dance recital, and knew every friend. So for many, the idea of parents and kids living together again after college is not a dreaded fate. If it’s a temporary transition while grown kids are getting on their feet—while they’re perhaps getting more education, getting internships or entry-level jobs, or sending out résumés—then it really is a part of their master plan.

We found that something like 60 percent of parents felt positively about the arrangement, and only one-third had mixed feelings, and a very small percentage felt very bad about it.

Copyright Lisa Keating PhotographyQ: How does your book differ from some of the other reports we’ve heard about slackers and lazy postadolescents?
A: We take a positive approach. There’s been a lot of bashing of twentysomethings in the last year or two: There was a cover of Time magazine that said something about narcissistic millennials, and TV series like Girls don’t paint a positive picture.

We feel the 18- to 29-year-old period that [my coauthor] Jeffrey Arnett gave the name “emerging adulthood” has many positives that come from waiting later to reach your milestones: The age of marriage has gone up along with the age of first having kids, and the age of settling into a permanent job has gone to the end of the twenties or early thirties. These postponements, from the parents’ point of view, can cause a lot of anxiety, but it means the young people making these decisions are more mature and liable to have fewer regrets. So that’s the book’s perspective, rather than the trashing.

Q: Tell us more about the benefits of having your kids back home.
A: The best thing is that parents get to know their grown-up kids as the adults they’re becoming rather than the kids they used to be. They see them starting to take responsibility for things. Parents love to hear, “Can I make a salad for dinner, or can I pick Grandma up from the airport?” If those don’t come, it’s legit for parents to talk to their kids about the ground rules, and how it’s not going to be like when they were 10 and 14. If they want to be treated like adults, they should take on some of the adult share of responsibilities.

And also the companionship: When kids come home, life gets busy and complicated, and usually there’s a lot of entertainment in that.  

Workman, 2013Q: What’s the first thing you should do when you learn your grown child is coming back home?
A: The best thing is to be proactive, and sit down and discuss some of the house rules—like chores and whether there will be rent or other help—and then discuss some other issues that can get a little dicey. Will you ask your grown-up kids to call if they’re not coming home for dinner or for the night; will you let them use your car; will it be OK if they have friends over, and up to what time; and can they have guests stay for the night? And also alcohol and drug use—some nitty-gritty issues. We suggest parents approach these before their grown-up kid moves back, and then revisit things a month or two down the road.

Sometimes an oblique discussion, or sending an e-mail or text (“Would you put those dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them on the floor of the den?”) can work out better than a total heavy-duty confrontation that might leave a lot of bad energy. The situation definitely works best if parents see that their kids have a plan because it’s much easier to be supportive if you see they’re on their way to creating a good life, toward independence and financial stability.

Some parents want to make an agreement—like send out X number of résumés a week, or make eight to 10 networking calls, or try to get an internship, then get a more basic job to bring in pocket money—something to show a young person is working toward financial stability.

Q: How should you approach your child about financial issues?  
A: Money is for sure the hot button, whether kids are living at home or if they’ve moved out. We’ve found that almost 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds still get some financial assistance from their parents. If you are contributing money, then have a good conversation about what you’re contributing to. Talk about the ground rules, and then revisit them a few months later. Discuss whether there is an end date.

Some families might say you can come back for three months, six months, a year. If there’s an endpoint, there is some motivation to that.

Q: What role should parents play in getting their kids employed?
A: Honor the plan that they can create. The more it comes from the grown-up kid, the better it’s going to go. A lot of parents are tempted to do too much in terms of work opportunities (an outgrowth of the old helicoptering), and start networking and sending out résumés from their own e-mails, which can be damaging, as an employer wants to see that a kid has get up and go. So it’s fine to provide contacts and help your child network, but then it’s important to step back and let the young person pursue it.  


Q: How do we change our mind-sets so that the idea of kids returning home becomes more acceptable to us?
A: I hope our book is going to help change mind-sets, along with accepting how widespread this is, and that it’s not a shameful stigma anymore.

Also, we’re one of the few countries in which it’s not deemed part of the life cycle for grown kids to live at home. In many European, Asian, and South American countries, it’s a given for kids to live at home until they marry. That global pattern may now become our pattern.

Our mind-sets will change with awareness and the conversations I’ve talked about, encouraging kids to have a plan, and appreciating that this is a time that probably won’t come again. Enjoy it!


Foreword to

Getting To 30


By Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel


During the past year, emerging adults have been getting a lot of bad press. Grown-up kids between 18 and 29 have been bad-mouthed as lazy, selfish, narcissistic no-accounts.  From the snarky HBO series, “Girls” to the Time magazine cover story trashing the “Me Me Me Generation,” the media has had a field day vilifying Millennials as do-nothing slackers who sponge off their parents and never want to grow up.

This book tells a different story. 

It combines co-author Jeff Arnett’s twenty years of research on young people and our shared three years of extensive interviews with their parents and firmly debunks these negative stereotypes.  The portrait we create here for concerned parents is a more nuanced and positive picture of the life-stage between adolescence and adulthood that Jeff named “emerging adulthood.” 

Today’s 20-somethings are searching for their identity, often unstable and in flux:  that much is true.  For parents watching them from the sidelines, they can be perplexing, frustrating, upsetting, and disappointing when they seem to be taking their sweet time to become adults. We wrote this book, in part, to explain the younger generation to the older one and to help parents have patience while their grown-up kids move forward on the path to adulthood.

But despite their instability, today’s 18-29 year olds are also determined and hard working (many at the lowest, worst paid jobs on the totem pole), entrepreneurial, optimistic, and more tolerant, environmentally conscious, globally-connected, and community-service oriented than their elders.  We also wrote this book to celebrate and encourage the strong bond they still want to have with their parents and to guide parents in the necessary art of staying connected while stepping back.

During this past year, the Clark University Poll of Parents of Emerging Adults, directed by Jeff, has given us yet more encouraging evidence for our positive perspective. 

The Clark poll consisted of interviews with about 1000 parents of emerging adults sampled from all regions of the country, done by phone and over the Internet.   Because the Clark findings add weight to our original observations, we want to highlight several of them here:


Today’s grown-up kids want to stay close to their parents—and both sides benefit. More than half of parents polled say they are in contact with their grown kids “every day or almost every day.”  Most offer their kids emotional support, at least occasionally, especially in the years before their kids have found life partners of their own.  But when it comes to the amount of contact, some things never change:  if parents are less than satisfied about the amount of communication, they want more, not less.

 Harmony (usually) reigns.  Parents and their emerging adults get along well, much better than they did during the stormy teenage years. In fact, parents enjoy their relationships with their grown kids more than anything else in their lives.

When kids boomerang home, they bring more pleasure than pain. True, in these days of economic strains, a relatively high proportion of emerging adults (38%) return to the nest at one point or another.  But the Clark findings discredit the popular view that parents groan when their grown-kids move back home and immediately begin scheming to get them out again. Of the parents who have an emerging adult child living with them, 61% describe their feelings about it as “mostly positive” and only 6% describe the experience as “mostly negative.”  Although parents’ lives become disrupted in various ways, the upheavals are usually short-term, and the benefits of increased closeness and companionship outweigh the wet towels on the floor. 

Money is still a hot button issue.  Worrying about their grown kids’ money woes ranks number one for parents, higher than fretting over their kids’ choosing the wrong romantic partner or their lack of work or educational progress.  Almost half of all parents need to keep the Bank of Mom and Dad open for their 18-29 year olds, and perhaps not surprisingly, half of all parents also express concern that their emerging adult is taking too long to become financially independent. 

Parents and grown-up kids are both optimistic about this new life-stage.  One of our most important research findings is the parallel track between parents and their emerging adults during this life-stage.  As grown-up kids are emerging into the possibilities of their adult lives, parents are re-emerging into their own new chapter after years of full-on parenting.  Life for both generations may be emotionally complicated from the stress of change and uncertainty, but the Clark poll underlines the sense of optimism on both sides.  Both generally see themselves as being at a good time of life, characterized by freedom, fun, and excitement, a time to focus on themselves and find out who they really are.


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