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The number of Americans living in multigenerational households has been on the rise in recent years. Census data shows 5.9 million adults between 25 and 34 years of age currently live at home with their parent. That’s an increase of almost 26 percent since before the recession. Most of those young adults moving back home are men. As the unemployment rate soars and the job market for recent graduates tightens, the number of adults returning to the nest may grow. But this may add to the financial burden facing many parents already having a tough time in this economy. What the trend in boomerang kids means to families and society.
Since the recession began, there’s been a huge jump in so-called “boomerang kids,” adults who move back in with their parents. Recent census data show that 5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 have returned home. This affects individual families and society, and it raises questions about the value of a college degree as well as the state of our jobs crisis.
“Boomerangers” Not Just a Result Of Poor Economy
Though many recent college graduates have found it necessary to move back home due to a combination of student loans and difficulty finding a job, experts say this trend started anew around 2004, before the start of the recession. Linda Gordon theorizes that part of the explanation for the trend is that this generation of youth are less sure of career paths, get married later, and generally delay some traditional rights of passage that we have used to mark adulthood. “Home is comfortable, and there is a bit of a lack of generation gap between their parents. They like their parents,” Gordon said.
The Economy’s Role
The sociological factors Gordon cites aside, advice columnist Carolyn Hax said the people she’s hearing from are the “failure to launch” youths for whom the economy has no place right now. “A lot of them are washing up at home to the great dismay and distress of their parents,” Hax said, citing substance abuse and other social problems, too. Young people with these kinds of problems who might have been able to get by on their own in better economic times aren’t making it now, and are looking to home for a safe haven, Hax said.
The Upsides To Moving Back In
Despite the financial or social hardships that drive some to move back home, many adult children find some positive sides to living with their parents again. “If they are piling up experience in unpaid internships or trying their wings in jobs that have some prospect for a happy future, it creates the opportunity for parents to be parents without all the surveillance obligations they had when their kids were teenagers,” Kathleen Newman said. One big downside for parents, though, is that those who were looking forward to being “empty-nesters” find themselves on a different trajectory with adult children unexpectedly back in the house.
One caller shared his story of being a 64 year-old man who had lost his job, his house, and his wife. He recently moved back in with his 84 year-old mother. “If it wasn’t for my mom taking me in, who knows where I’d be,” the caller said. “I’d be in a homeless shelter or sleeping under a bridge,” he said. Newman replied that the listener’s story highlights one of the “horrendous tolls” of the prolonged recession – the fragility of Americans across the board and in every age group. In poorer families who may have less space than wealthier ones, tensions and conditions can be much worse. “How families adapt to this depends a lot on the resources that they have on the table,” Newman said.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Since the recession began, there's been a huge jump in boomerang kids, adults who move back in with their parents. Recent census status show 5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 have returned home. This affects both families and society. Joining me in the studio, Linda Gordon. She's psychotherapist, co-author of a new book titled "Mom Can I Move Back in With You?"
MS. DIANE REHMAnd Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post. You read her column every day. And joining us from WYPR in Baltimore, Md., Katherine Newman of Johns Hopkins University. She's author of "The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition." We'll take your calls throughout the hour. Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. LINDA GORDONGood morning.
MS. CAROLYN HAXGood morning.
MS. KATHERINE NEWMANGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here. Linda Gordon, let me start with you. Are boomerang kids mostly adults who have been affected by the job market and simply cannot earn enough to support themselves?
GORDONI think it's a combination of things. I think the trend is trending toward that. But it actually, when I started looking at this and doing focus groups, it was about 2004, we were noticing the trend and it was before the recession. And so I think part of it is also because our generation -- the generation of our kids is not really sure when they become an adult and they're not getting married at 22 as, you know, their parents did.
GORDONAnd there's a lot of job switching and there's unpaid internships. So what's happening is, they're moving back home partly because home is comfortable and there is a bit of a lack of generation gap between their parents. They like their parents. So you have that to begin with and then you add the economy.
REHMCarolyn Hax, how do you see it?
HAXWell, of course, the ones that I see are more the dysfunctional situations where people are -- first of all, there's certainly some people coming home because it's more comfortable or because the real estate market -- I mean, we haven't mentioned that. Before the recession the housing prices went out of control in so many places that some adult children who were earning plenty of money still couldn't get off on their own.
HAXBut what I'm seeing a lot of now is the failure to launch kids, the ones who, for example, aren't being absorbed by this economy because it's just -- we don't have wage jobs anymore, necessarily. Or we don't have a system that really supports people who aren't 100 percent functional. And a lot of them are washing up at home to the great dismay and distress of their parents. So -- and often there are substance abuse issues involved as well.
HAXAnd again, is that related to the economy? I actually think so because those are timeless problems, the substance abuse, for example. But I think fewer people are able to hang on when the economy is bad. I think some of these kids might've been able to get a foot hold on their own, even struggling. But now, it's almost like, forget it.
REHMKatherine Newman, you've been watching this trend of expanding and contracting families. Your book titled "The Accordion Family" certainly indicates that this has been going on for a while.
NEWMANThat's right. It is as Linda and Carolyn both pointed out, a secular trend that's been with us for quite some time. The economy plays a big role here for all the reasons that have just been explained. There's some other issues worth paying attention to. It takes longer and it costs more to gain the kind of educational and workforce credentials to launch into anything that even remotely looks like a middle class trajectory then it once did. The long unpaid internships, the masters degrees that cost a lot of money. All of that takes its toll.
NEWMANAnd so to some degree, American families and families around the world are sheltering their young and providing them with opportunities to springboard into what they hope will be a better trajectory long run. But to many other families, it's really about a global economic crisis that is pushing wages down at the entry level while keeping the cost of living very high. And there really isn't going to be any other alternative except to move back home, especially for those, as Carolyn put it, who are sort of at the very bottom of the capability heap.
REHMIt really does delay adulthood in many ways, doesn't it Linda?
GORDONWell, absolutely it delays adulthood. But then I think that some of this period of time, I hope I can explain it in a simple way, but if you think about us living longer it's actually -- when you're 20, you've actually lived a shorter percentage of your lifespan. And so I'm not so sure this isn't something that is a new normal. So 20 year olds have not now lived, you know, I don't know, 25 percent of their life. They may actually live longer. So it's not so odd. I think that there is - the economic trend is a very important one, the recession is a very important one. But I think we need to look at this as a book end. This was happening anyway.
REHMYou know what's interesting, especially to me, Carolyn, is the psychological impact on both, pardon me, the young people and their parents, the role that each assumes once the young adult moves back in. You've certainly had a lot of columns dealing with that.
HAXI have. And I have a lot of people asking questions on how to figure out -- how to work this new normal. Because when the parents now had a different model when they were leaving home and so -- in fact, I like your notion of the percentages, Linda, because maybe they spent 25 percent of their lives under their parents wing and now their kids are doing the same but that's taken them to a older age and presumably greater maturity.
HAXAnd so the parents have to renegotiate these roles in a way that they didn't do themselves. So they've got to decide, okay, are we friends? Am I the parent? Are we roommates? Are we -- is this an economic arrangement? Is this an emotional arrangement? And they're working out so many of these details that it's just a question that won't stop coming.
REHMAnd Katherine Newman, I would think that, at least initially, parents would say, of course you can move back in. Of course, we'd welcome you. And then you may have problems begin because of the very questions and boundaries Carolyn talks about.
NEWMANYes. I would point to what I think is a new phase all together of what, in my book I call in-house adulthood. Because being at home when you're 24 is not the same as when you're 15. There is a different set of rules in play. There are different relationships in play. And often they're quite positive. If that young person is making progress toward a future that everyone can live with, if they stall out and show themselves incapable of moving in a forward direction, that does change the dynamic dramatically.
NEWMANBut if they are piling up experience in unpaid internships or trying their wings in jobs that have some prospect for a happy future, it creates the opportunity for parents to be parents without all the surveillance obligations they had when their kids were teenagers. And there is a more egalitarian kind of relationship in play.
NEWMANThis is also changes the trajectory for the parents, by the way. Because when the nest doesn’t empty, they also don't move on. So the whole trajectory of our lives is changing, not just the pathway for young people.
REHMAnd of course, we haven't even talked about the economics of all this, of the parents taking on an additional financial responsibility when they may have thought they were finally home free.
NEWMANYeah, I have heard from parents who are staying in jobs later. They're delay retirement because either they are paying more money to support their kids or they anticipate having to pay more because their kids haven't, again, haven't launched yet. And so they don’t know when that's going to happen and they don't want to start their retirement clock ticking when it's possible they will have this other financial obligation.
NEWMANSo there's this -- there is this delay. I mean -- and I think more of the emphasis is on the delay in the adult children and when are they going to marry, when are they going to have families, when are they going to start supporting themselves? But I think the one that gets talked about less is that these, you know, parents who were going to be empty nesters are also delaying their progress.
REHMExactly. And Linda Gordon, when you think about the question of responsibility...
REHM...within that household, you know, is the young adult a child, free of responsibility or is he or she taking on responsibilities as an adult would?
GORDONThat is the perfect question because when I have talked to parents, they usually ask what I consider the wrong question. The number one question I've been asked is, do I make my child pay rent? And I think that that's their way of saying, if they pay rent, then they're responsible. But the real question is, are they taking personal responsibility in their lives? Are they showing up for job interviews?
GORDONAre they on the internet looking and sending out their resumes? Do they have empathy for the fact that you're working so if they're up late at night, they have to be quiet just as they would with a roommate. That's just, you know, that's just politeness. So they are many, what we call the characteristics of adulthood, that once you identify them, they give parents some kind of road map to work toward.
GORDONAnd if you see that your child's being financially responsible, taking personal responsibility, being empathetic to the fact that there are working people in this house, then things can run more smoothly. And there's all kinds of boundary questions that everybody asking...
REHMI should say.
GORDON...and those are very important.
REHMAnd we'll talk more about those after a short break. Linda Gordon is a psychotherapist in private practice, co-author of "Mom Can I Move Back in With You?" Which is -- she's working on a new addition of that book. Carolyn Hax is the Washington Post advice columnist. Katherine Newman is at Johns Hopkins University.
REHMAnd in this hour, we're talking about adults who move back in with their parents. A recent census data show 5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 have returned home usually for financial reasons. The fact that the economy is as it is, they may have gotten their degree and they have no job. Joining us now in the studio is Jennifer Pape. She's a 23-year-old who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in August and moved back in with her parents.
REHMI want to say one thing before we begin our conversation with Jennifer, and that is that producer Monique Nazareth looked and looked and looked to have a male on this program who had moved back in with his parents. And as studies show more men have done so, but there wasn't one male who was willing to come back on and speak publicly. Jennifer, it's good to have you here.
MS. JENNIFER PAPEHi, Diane. Thanks so much for having me.
REHMTell me why you moved back home.
PAPEWell, when it comes down to it, I think the number one reason would be finances. And I am a lot better off than my counterparts because I actually do have a salary job. And I was lucky enough to have worked there in high school. And when they decided to restack a position, they contacted me. So I was really lucky in that sense. So it isn't so much the financial strain, but it was the decision to do so because I would rather pay off my student loans faster...
PAPE...as opposed to paying rent.
REHMTell me your parents' reaction to your decision or your request to move back home.
PAPEWell, you know, I don't even think my parents were that surprised. I think they almost expected me to move back home. You know, I knew I kinda wanted to move back into this area and I had lived there -- I had taken a year off of college and started doing some art classes. So I had lived at home previously before returning to Wisconsin to finish my degree. So it almost seemed like a natural solution kind of. And, you know, I knew I had gotten along with them then and I was actually pretty excited to move back in with them.
REHMSo you get along with them. Now, what about personal issues, like the amount of freedom you have? Are there any rules imposed on you?
PAPEWell, I wouldn't say there're specific rules that they've tried to impose on me, but I think there is the atmosphere of respect that, you know, we really do want to maintain. And, you know, I don't really feel hindered because I'm living at home, you know. If I want to go out and maybe stay out late, you know, they don't have a problem with that. Their number one concern, though, is my safety. And I think it would be that way whether I was living at home or living in an apartment, you know. And -- yeah, I think...
REHMYou think it's fine.
PAPEYeah, there are some things that, you know, are different, like if I have my own apartment over at school and stuff, you know, I might have a few more friends over and have them over to drink and, like, laughs or something.
PAPEAnd my friends are still welcome to come over and party, but, you know, it is a different kind of environment and stuff. I don't want people getting too drunk, you know. I'm -- you know, because people often drive here, you know, that changes the -- I mean, not drink and drive, but, you know, you have to make sure, you know, certain things happen. And, you know, you do have a little more caution when you're around your parents.
REHMThat's interesting. What do you make of that, Carolyn?
HAXWell, I'm listening to this and I hear, well it's really not all that different. They would be worried about my safety if I were in an apartment. They'd be worried about it here. But I'm thinking, ah, you know. And then as you progressed, it's actually very different when you start describing what actually happens. Because the first thing that I thought of was thinking as a parent, when you have the idea that your kid is out late, that's very different from hearing the door slam at 3:00 in the morning because you're a light sleeper and your kid's living at home, I mean, or waiting for that door slam.
HAXI think parents naturally detach to a degree when their kids are staying somewhere else. And when the parents know that the information is not available to them where their kid is and when the kid will be home, they're not as invested. I mean, of course, they love their kid just as much and they'd be just as upset if something happened, but they're not as invested minute by minute when they're across the country in an apartment or...
REHMYeah, yeah, yeah.
HAX...across town in a dorm. It doesn't matter. But you're not watching that. But when they're home, I have to think that it's -- some parents obviously can say, okay, my kid's 25, I'm getting my sleep and then they do. And bless them, but I know some are going to be up and they're going to hear the door.
REHMIt's fascinating to me. Katherine Newman, I'd be interested in your take on this. Carolyn is referring to a 23 or a 25-year-old as a kid. You know, once my kids reached that age, I didn't call them kids. And yet now, we're still calling them kids. What's your opinion?
NEWMANI think we have redefined the whole trajectory toward adulthood, which has now opened up a space in the early 20s in which the experience Jennifer is having has become a new normal. And if we can adapt to that, it may not produce terrible wrinkles. But I think we need to understand that her family, like all American families, is trading off a sort of collective obligation to see her through her student loans, see her through to a period of time when she can be more autonomous against these interpersonal issues of her autonomy and managing a new adult-adult relationship in the house.
NEWMANBut those student loans are real and basically this family is banding together to make it possible for their child to cure what would otherwise be an overwhelming burden that would last so long it would compromise her future. So I think these are all aspects of tradeoffs. There are no easy solutions here. I would point out as well that this is having consequences for the long range that matter for the whole society. Jennifer is not likely to marry as young as her parents did. She probably won't have children as young or as many as her mother did. And so that has consequences for the whole society.
NEWMANAnd when we look at what this has meant in a country like Japan, which has faced exactly the same demographics, what we see is an aging society with so called young people living at home well into their 30s, which has huge demographic consequences. It has policy consequences that flow to the bottom line of social security as in who is in the workforce to pay for it and whether or not there is a next generation coming along.
NEWMANIn the United States, we would have a society aging very rapidly also if we didn't have a large immigrant population that continues to have more children than those who are probably in Jennifer's community. So we've got low fertility, extended period of time in the household, parents that can't graduate to their own elder hood and financial consequences for young people of these extraordinary educational loan burdens that are going to keep them exactly where they are even if they didn't work out as comfortable of a relationship as Jennifer seems to have with her parents.
REHMJennifer, what do you think of all that?
PAPEWell, I think it is kind of an interesting idea of me delaying my adulthood kind of, as you guys were talking about before, too, by living with my parents. Because in a lot of ways, I actually feel like by living with my parents I am becoming an adult faster. Because, you know, the fact that I feel like I have an end, you know, and a goal in sight to have my student loans paid off and to eventually work towards moving out of my home. You know, it feels like I’m making mature decisions, you know. And my lifestyle is definitely -- you know, I work from 8:30 to 5:30 and I do -- well, I would cook on my own a lot, but, you know, I also cook at home. And I do grocery shopping and...
REHMSo you do have responsibilities at home.
PAPEYeah, and, you know, I think I was pretty good living on my own at college, but I also find that my mom really also pushes me to take on more responsibilities, you know. Like, cleaning the bathroom every single week, which in college I'd probably only do, you know, maybe every other week or every three weeks. And, you know, so it is like, for me, I think, you know, becoming an adult faster and learning to live on my own.
GORDONAnd I think that this is not just a moving-back-home issue, that there are -- our kids are connected through technology. So what's happening -- and this has happened to me as a mother, as my son at one point -- and he's, thank goodness, gainfully employed and living on his own right now. And he will kill me for telling this story, or maybe he'll laugh. But when he was in college, he actually once called and asked us to go online, look in the syllabus and tell him what room his class was in.
GORDONNow, this is happening all over the place 'cause people are -- again, lack of generation gap, kids are very connected to their parents. There's now texting, there are cell phones. And so many of the walls and the boundaries are broken down that what our challenge is, is where are the new healthy boundaries? What do they look like? How do we put them in place? 'Cause we have to do them as parents regardless of whether our kids are moving back home or not.
REHMHere's a message posted on Facebook from Scott. He says, "I'm an employed CPA. I live at home with my parents for free to be able to afford buying and doing fun stuff." Carolyn Hax, what's your reaction?
HAXScott, thank you for going public with this.
HAXIt's not necessarily a choice I'm going to raise my kids to make, but, of course, they get to make their choices. And I think that's also -- that's actually part of the new normal that we have not talked about. And I have a friend who's -- with two daughters living at home. They're grown and they're employed. And one of them joked about living the life because their parents have this beautiful home and they're not in their faces about their lives. And they're living at a -- they have a quality of life that there's absolutely no way they could afford. It took their parents 40 years to get there so...
HAX...and so that's part of the deal. And Scott, I just -- if your parents are onboard, then it's none of my business.
REHMWell, that's the point, if your parents are onboard. Karen writes, "It seems like a long time ago when multigenerational families lived together under one roof. Everyone contributed in some way, whether it was going out to work, maintaining the home, caring for children or the elderly. It wasn't for free. It came with responsibility and maybe it's time to put those values back into our culture." Linda.
GORDONWell, I think we always have to keep that value in the culture. You have to take personal responsibility. And it's not up to a parent to enable their kid's sense of entitlement. So what you have to do is you -- you know, you certainly help your child pay their loans if you can and if it's not bankrupting you. You know, we always say put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children. I think you have to think of that as well. How do you provide for your kids, but not bankrupt yourself? It's extremely important.
HAXWell, also in that multigenerational family, the engine was always the middle. It was always the high producing mid 20s to 50s part of the family. And now the engine is at the top. The engine is still the parents who are in their late 50s, 60s.
REHMCarolyn Hax, Washington Post advice columnist and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Amit. He's in Troy, Mich. Good morning to you.
AMITGood morning, Diane. How are you doing today?
REHMFine, thank you.
AMITYes. I wanted to call in. You know, I come from a different perspective. I'm an Indian American first generation born and raised here in the states. My parents came from India. And as a 27-year-old, you know, gainfully employed, I still live with my parents. I provide just as they do and for me, it's not a new normal. This is just the normal. We do this in our family and it doesn't raise any questions. It seems to me that the American culture is one of individual exceptionalism. And when that individual exceptionalism runs into an issue, say, an economic depression, people start to complain about having to live with family again.
AMITWith me and my family, you know, I'm producing, my parents are producing and this is a way to build intergenerational wealth. And I know my children will be better off because I'm going to do the same thing for them.
REHMThat's interesting. Katherine Newman, do you want to comment?
NEWMANYes. Well, Amit raises important points. It's been the custom and remains the custom among most of our immigrant groups to see young people remain at home until they marry. What has changed is the age at which they marry. It has grown higher and higher and higher and that leaves them at home for much longer periods of time.
NEWMANIn communities that are accustomed to this, as they would be in India or in Mexico or in many of the other countries that contribute to our immigration pool, it is not a new normal, as he said. It's the ongoing normal. I suspect his children are going to feel somewhat differently because they will have been absorbed into American culture that does emphasize more autonomy between generations.
NEWMANSo we do have a mixture around the country and around the world. You know, I've studied this problem in Italy, in Spain, in Japan and every culture has a different interpretation of whether this is a problem, how much of this is a problem, whose fault it is if it is a problem, and who should solve it.
REHMThat's an interesting notion, whose fault it is. Carol.
HAXOh gosh, fault. I mean, that's almost like the national sport right now is finding blame -- assigning blame. Whose fault is it that people are coming home? Is that what you're asking? I don't know that -- and again, we have a caller saying that why should we be finding fault when this is perfectly acceptable. Although while I was listening to that and saying -- all I was thinking was about his potential spouses might not sign on to this quite as he does, 'cause now he's fishing in an American pond.
HAXBut I think that this is one of those situations. Just by the way this conversation has been going, there are so many factors contributing to this. And we've done -- we've got the recession, we've got real estate prices, we've got entitlement, we've got gadgets, we've got -- I mean, I don't know where you start in pinpointing the prevailing influence.
REHMYou know, I'm wondering from you, Jennifer, when you said to your parents -- how did that conversation go when you said, I'd like to move back home?
PAPEYou know, I don't even really remember it as a specific point in time. It just...
REHMIt just sort of happened.
PAPEYeah, it really was kind of, you know, at the time I had just graduated. You know, I had student loans. I didn't have a job at the time. Right when I came back I did get a serving job right away, so I was making some income. But it just -- it didn't make sense to me to move out and I think they understood that, you know. And...
REHMYou weren't lying around on the couch all day...
PAPEOh no, not at all.
REHM...eating bonbons, watching television. Jennifer Pape, she's a 23-year-old who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in August and moved back in with her parents. We'll take more of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd on Facebook, Mary says, "I'd like to hear the parents' opinion of how this is working out. I'll be happy to help my kids at some point, but I'd be very sad to lose the intimate time with my husband." Carolyn, you've heard from parents.
HAXI have. And there are definitely many in that camp saying, absolutely, come home. Let's get you launched properly. And that can mean, let you save some money, let you pay off your loans. And many are sad about that lost time, but if they see an end to it, if there's a goal, then many are ready to accept it. But the ones -- the parents that I hear from -- and I really -- this is -- it's a large amount of mail from parents whose kids are coming home and then getting depressed at being home, at not working at their capacity and sort of withering and maybe disappearing into their rooms.
HAXAnd then you have these parents in an awful position because they understand that their acceptance of the child at home -- the adult at home is part of the problem. But it's also not -- it's not the same as 30 years ago when their parents said, you're out. Bye. You've got 30 days. Because you're kicking them out into a very different world and a lot of parents just don't have the certainty to pull the trigger on that.
REHMJennifer, what about your parents' privacy?
PAPEWell, you know, I really do think we are each able to give each other space. And actually one of the things that I think is funny is that I like to call them my adult roommates when it comes to this situation. And, you know, I think with any roommates you need to give each other privacy. And I think we do, you know, make sure we have time for ourselves and time together.
PAPEAnd actually as we were talking I was thinking how when I first moved home my mom was actually getting upset that I was going out so much and I wasn't eating dinner at home more often and -- because I was kind of wanting to see friends and, you know, get in touch with everybody. But, you know, like also go on vacation, I was in New York this weekend. They had the whole weekend to themselves. And, you know, I really don't think it's something that really impedes on (unintelligible) .
REHMAnd what about your privacy? Do you have a boyfriend?
PAPEI do have a special gentleman in my life. He's actually in the studio right now listening in. And he is actually visiting from Portland.
REHMAnd when he visits, if I may be so bold as to ask, he's staying at your house I presume.
PAPEHe is staying at my house. And he actually...
REHMHow did you negotiate that?
PAPEWell, I obviously wanted to be able to have him, you know, be able to share my room with me and stuff because we are across the country most of the time. And, you know, you want to be able to just have that time together. And, you know, I knew my parents would probably be okay with it, but I still did have to ask. And I first talked to my mom and she was okay with it, but she was also like, well, you have to talk to your dad on your own, you know, 'cause...
REHMAnd you did.
PAPEYep, and I did. And they were both fine with it. And I think the fact that I was mature enough to approach it and ask about it, you know, give them time before he came to think about it, you know, they were fine with it.
GORDONWell, that happens all the time. And what I've talked to parents about is it is your house. And what you're comfortable with, if you can express it in a way that it's about you, not about your child, they usually do understand. So for instance, I talked to a 20-something who knew that her parents were very religious, they'd be uncomfortable with it. And while she did live with her boyfriend when she was in college, she said that she was uncomfortable making her parents uncomfortable. So that was one way of dealing with it.
GORDONThere are also a lot of 20-somethings that may be returning home and having a much younger sibling. So if you've got a ten-year-old, you know, brother in the house then that's a whole other issue...
GORDON...because you're not just talking about you or your parents. So I feel like that's one of those really important ways to express a boundary. What do you think is important and then you have to respect it.
REHMAll right. To Pembroke Pines, Fla. Good morning, Gene. You're on the air.
GENEHello. Thank you. I guess you might consider me a boomerang kid, but I'm 60. I'm living with my mom of 84. I lost my job, I lost my home and I lost my wife. So if it wasn't for my mom taking me in, who knows where I'd be. I'd be in a homeless shelter or sleeping under a bridge.
NEWMANWell, yes. This is one of the horrendous tolls of this very prolonged recession is that the fragility of Americans is across the board and in every age group. And some would even argue it's worse for those who are in Gene's age group because they're expected to maintain all these independent resources. And if they don't have them, they can really be seriously stuck.
NEWMANThis brings up a problem we need to recognize here, which is that how the boomerang family or accordion family plays out is very class dependent. When Jennifer says they give me my space, that's because her family has space to give. But if you're looking at poorer families, the kind of crowding that results can be -- can really spark tensions because there isn't a lot of space. So how families adapt to this depends a lot on the resources that they have on the table.
NEWMANI think that with respect to the issues you raised about sort of sexual freedom, there I think it's important for us to recognize the gap between this generation of young people and their parents is almost nonexistent compared to what prevailed in the past. Talking to the generation of the 1960s who are today's parents about whether or not they're comfortable with their children having some degree of sexual liberty is not likely to provoke a lot of angst since that's the generation that pioneered the whole idea.
NEWMANSo I think that there are good reasons why this generation finds greater degrees of commonality with their parents in their tastes, in their sense of liberty, in their feelings about what makes for freedom and appropriate behavior inside the household.
REHMAll right. To Shepherd's Town, W.V. Hi there, Elizabeth. You're on the air.
ELIZABETHHello. I wanted to bring up a very different situation that I experienced that I had to comment on. I'm 31 years old and I moved back home about two years ago because my grandfather entered hospice care. And I've lived here now -- I slept on the floor so that when he would wake up and wander in his dementia throughout the house at night it would wake me up so that I could take care of him. When he passed this summer in early August, my mother went into hospice care because she has stage four terminal cancer. And I'm here for the long haul and I'm going to be with my family as much as they need me.
ELIZABETHAnd I haven't heard any dialogue about children of parents under palliative care. I know other families that are experiencing this. And in this case, you know, I'm the one that's (unintelligible) .
GORDONWell, I think we've always looked at that from a sandwich generation point of view. So it's usually that middle generation, the parent that has children to look after that's also looking after their elderly parents. In your case you are the youngest generation that has looked after your grandfather and now your mother. I -- you know, is it a trend? It is just human kindness I guess, and a connectedness to your family that you're experiencing. And I think we all hope that we will get support from our family.
GORDONAnd I'm assuming that what you're juggling with is how to be there for your family and also launch yourself and have your own life as well.
REHMThat's a tough situation, Carolyn.
HAXYeah, and I just received a heartbreaking letter on this and it was a very similar situation. It was a father with a long illness and a mother who was not in a position to take full care of the father. So the grown daughter moved back in. I think he died and then the mother got sick. And so now she's in her mid 30's and has been care giving for 15 years. And, of course, also bread winning because these are people who are not capable of economic production because they're ailing.
HAXAnd she said, when does my life start? When can I -- when will I ever be able to relate to my friends? I go out and my friends are -- first they spent the 20s exploring and then the 30s settling down. And she spent 20s and a good part of her 30s without much relief in sight care giving. And I didn't necessarily have an answer for her. I don't think there's an answer for that. I think there's just -- okay, you find your relief where you can. You know, you find the things that you can delegate and use that space to start finding what is yours.
REHMI wonder, Katherine Newman, whether you think in this long term situation we're going to see more of that?
NEWMANI think we'll see it eventually when we discover that this generation of young people doesn't have children as often as they did before. I think they will find themselves looking upward toward their parents as their major familial obligation for a much longer period of time than they did before. So this is going to produce a kind of fragility for them, which if the economy continues to crater and the resources necessary to invoke in nursing care or hospice care becomes much less available because people can't afford it, we will end up with families that look more like they did in the 1940s.
NEWMANYou know, in the 1940s before the Second World War it was absolutely commonplace for parents to be caring for children and children to be caring for parents and grandparents who moved into the house and spent their old age at home. That was the way things were before the period when women started going out to work in large numbers. And that kind of accordion family began to retreat from the horizon.
REHMElizabeth, the last thing I want to say to you is that I hope you can find a way to take care of yourself as you take care of those around you. Good luck and thanks for calling. Let me ask you, Jennifer, are you thinking about marriage? Not necessarily to your current boyfriend but just sort of theoretically in the future thinking about marriage, thinking about having children?
PAPEI mean, we can speak -- theoretically, we can speak of my current relationship. You know, I would like to get married in the future but I don't think that my generation has as much of a rush to do so, you know. And I really do value the idea of marriage and committing to somebody, you know. And I think a lot of people I see, you know, get married too fast. And I once was in a relationship that we thought we were going to get married right away. And he just wanted to run away from me and it wasn't healthy, you know. And I think it's okay to wait.
PAPEAnd, you know, you see so many marriages these days, you know, Kardashians, the most infamous one of just -- people just jumping into marriage for no reason. And I don't really see a reason to...
REHMOh, the reason there, I think, was lots of money.
PAPEBut, you know, I mean, I don't see it as something that has to be rushed or, you know, I don't see the idea of prolonging marriage as something that means I'm prolonging my future. You know, we're building our future now and, you know, marriage is a title for something. It doesn't mean that in my current relationship we're not constantly evolving and growing. You know, we still have all that space and there's only more time to do so.
REHMIt's interesting how my generation thought you leave school, you get married, you have children. But the time I was 23, I had my first child and three years later, my second child. And now, you know, my own daughter did not marry until later. She finished her schooling, her residency and finally had her first child at 37. So I think everybody does it differently. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Waynesboro, Pa. Good morning, Raymond.
RAYMONDHow you doing today?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
RAYMONDThanks for taking my call. My comment was this. I actually lived at home until I was 26 years old. And now turning 33 next month I'm actually looking at having to move back in with my father -- lived in Montgomery County, Md. and for whatever reason, he moved to Tennessee and now he's lonely. And basically what the difference is that he actually asked me to move back in with him, given both of our situations. And it's for the financial as well as the fact that he's lonely. I was just curious how that plays in with the themes that are actually being discussed basically.
REHMNow have you -- let me ask you, Raymond, have you decided to move back in?
RAYMONDWell, actually, that fully depends on whether I can get a job 'cause I'm actually completing a course in alternative energies at the college here. And part of it is I have to keep going to school just so I can stay solvent. But the fact that I don't -- I'm not currently employed and there isn't a plethora of jobs for those that are coming out of college, if I can find something that pays the bills around here, then I'm going to stay. But otherwise...
REHMAnd is your...
RAYMOND...I'm not really going to have much choice.
REHMSure. Is your father employed?
RAYMONDI'm actually employed at the moment.
REHMNo, I'm asking about your father. Is he employed?
RAYMONDHe is. He can actually pay his bills but part of the consideration was -- one of your listeners had said before about living the life. It's not that, that we want to live the life but we would like to give each other a greater cushion that we could both live more comfortably without having to worry so much about the financial side of living basically.
GORDONWell, you know, my response is -- I'm using my therapist head right now and the one thing I heard besides the fact that this might help you both financially is that your dad is lonely. And my concern for you would be if you began to parent your father. And also if you enabled your father to stay in this place as opposed to figuring out ways to access people his age, friendships, community. If you can move in with your father and it's a win-win financially but also if you could both grow socially then that is okay. But if you can't and you end up being a symbiotic group, you know, dyad that is just leaning on each other, I think that does not bode well for health in the future.
HAXI agree. And I think that the regard for something as the perfect solution -- like the single act will solve everything is a really tempting trap that a lot of people fall into. And I think this situation is actually more specific to individuals than to a nationwide trend. But definitely when you are looking at moving home and looking at it is, okay then I'll just save money and that'll take care of everything, I think that is actually some faulty reasoning. That even when you're stuck going home you should actually look at it as -- all of the facets of it and see what you can do to make this better for all involved.
REHMJennifer, do you see an end involved to living at home?
PAPEI definitely see an end involved. You know, like I said, part of me living at home is so I can pay off my student loans faster. And once I do that and save up enough money that I can either, you know, move somewhere else, I do plan on moving out.
REHMJennifer Pape. Also here in the studio Linda Gordon is psychotherapist, co-author of "Mom Can I Move Back in With You?" And Carolyn Hax, Washington Post advice columnist. On the line with us from WIPR in Baltimore, Katherine Newman, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and author of the upcoming book "The Accordion Family." Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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