By Ronni Berke
(CNN) — Yes, I’m a boomer parent. But I missed the cutoff for being an aging hipster boomer — one who is groovy, laid back and accepts life holistically. My road is split between the hippie and the “me” generation boomer. Which means I have a Type-A approach to counterculture goals: I wash my sardine cans in the dishwasher before recycling them.
For some reason, coming of age as a baby boomer does not translate into worry-free parenting. It hasn’t all been hard: There is a palpable sense of freedom during the period in which the children are out of diapers, but not yet familiar with the cruel, hard world of online predators and STD’s. Unfortunately, that period lasts about five minutes.
Now I often worry whether my two young adult daughters will be financially secure. Even with a college degree, it can take months — years, even — to find a decent job with benefits. As the sluggish economy delays more millennials from establishing households of their own, it’s clear that when the going gets tough, the tough get going — back to their childhood bedroom.
When my eldest daughter moved back home post-college, a pattern started to emerge — she was pretty laissez-faire about things like tidying up — which for me, is a priority. After a series of arguments and standoffs, I began to wonder how common our dynamic was.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 36% of young adults ages 18-31 are now living with their parents.
That’s the highest share in at least four decades. Yes, the economy, student loan debt and higher college enrollment are contributing factors. But the real news here is: The majority of these interloping young adults don’t seem to mind living at home. It’s not embarrassing for them at all. In fact, for many, it’s expected.
The Pew Center’s Kim Parker, who documented this phenomenon in her 2012 report “The Boomerang Generation,” said “there can’t be a stigma attached to something that’s become almost a norm with a certain age group.” Indeed, three-quarters of the young adults she interviewed felt living back home either helped their relationship with their parents or made no difference.
Yet there are inevitable tensions between boomerang kids and their parents. A good friend’s 23-year-old son moved back home after graduating college in 2012, while he looked for a job. The arrangement seemed to make sense at the time. Now, the father says, it’s getting old. “After having somebody out of the house for four years, it’s a bit of a buzz kill,” says dad Jonathan Levine.
Levine is often at odds with his son about his career path, yet he cops to some responsibility as a boomer parent. “We’ve made it very easy for our children to stay home — more so than our parents. They’re motivated in a different way. We knew we had to hustle and figure it out. Their generation waits for things to come their way as opposed to making it happen.”
His son, Jason, couldn’t disagree more. “They don’t want me here and I don’t want to be here,” he said, but he can’t afford to move out. He’s worked at three part-time jobs, and two unpaid internships, since he graduated. “It’s ridiculous I haven’t been able to find paid work since I got out of college.”
What about those boomerang children who actually like living with their parents? Often, there’s no time frame for their departure. But how long is too long? In a recent Coldwell Banker survey, adults ages 18 through 34 said they think it’s perfectly acceptable to live with their folks for up to five years after college.
Dr. Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist who worked on the survey, says this living arrangement can be healthy. “It depends on how it’s handled. If the young person regresses to a perma-child type mode, and if the parent goes into a perma-parent type mode,” that’s damaging, she says. But if they’re staying home to pay off some student loan debt, or saving to buy a house, that’s not necessarily a negative thing.
However, she warns, living at home with the parents should not be too easy. “Part of what makes this such a cushy scenario is that the millennials have a very close relationship with their parents; they like living with them, they look to them for advice,” Ludwig says. “It’s shocking to me to see how parents are enabling some of these young adults to live as permanent adolescents.” Like when the children who do have jobs consider the money they earn disposable income — to be used for going out, nice cars and vacations.
Susan Ende, who co-wrote the humorous “How to Raise Your Adult Children,” says boomerang kids aren’t ashamed of how much their parents do for them, because they have a certain sense of entitlement. Besides, most of their friends are living back home. “They’re not freaky or unusual.”
Yet Ende says parents will ask her: “OK, my kids are home. How do I get them out?” Meaning — for good. “You have to sit down and say, the goal is for you to be self-sufficient,” Ende explains. “There needs to be a cost to living at home, (like) rent, or household chores … every person in the house has to contribute.”
Above all, “there needs to be an exit strategy in mind,” says Ludwig. “There comes a point where you have to separate.”
Separation did wonders for my relationship with my eldest daughter, who moved back home for about a year after college. We had, you could say, a conflicting approach to household chores.
First, there was the backpack situation. I kept seeing her backpack in the living room, where it was not supposed to live. As the NYPD says, if you see something, say something. So I said something. Again and again.
Then, there was the list of chores that kept going missing, or was ignored, or reasoned away. When I suggested she water the backyard once in a while, she was taken aback. “Why should I do that? I never go out there!”
My daughter ended up moving in with her boyfriend — a serious relationship — but she’ll be the first to admit that remaining at home with me was no longer tenable.
Now that my eldest lives away from home, she and I look forward to getting together whenever we can. And her younger sister? Hopefully, she’ll have a job and apartment lined up when she graduates with a teaching degree next year. If not, she’s always welcome to stay with her nagging, neatnik mother — at least that’s what I keep reminding her.
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