The Boomerang Generation

The car is packed. “Wait!” Your teenaged daughter runs back inside, returning with her beloved childhood doll in tow. The key’s in the ignition. Next stop: COLLEGE! Your foot’s on the accelerator; your heart’s on the brake. Your baby’s leaving home, probably for good, but college admission is a clear sign of good parenting: your emerging adult is about to be ready for the world. You let go and step on the gas.

You return home and visit the childhood bedroom. You’ll keep it ready for vacations and summers, then repurpose it as an office, a yoga studio, a media center. For now, you and your partner have more time for younger siblings…and each other. It starts to feel pretty good. Four years fly by. The graduation cap is tossed in the air. Your baby takes up residence in the childhood bedroom — just until he lands a job. Maybe she lands a job before she graduates, but it doesn’t work out. She’s back in the twin bed. Meet Generation Boomerang. The tragic confluence of a failing economy, challenging job market, skyrocketing housing costs and massive student loan debts has rendered emerging adult independence virtually impossible.

60% receive financial support from their parents — perhaps subsidizing rent, assisting in paying off student loans, or paying for car insurance. About half of recent graduates — in addition to financial help — actually live in their childhood bedrooms. These boomerang kids are not a temporary phenomenon: they appear to be part of a new and permanent life stage. Gone is the stigma the prior generation faced.

Most millenials expect to return home after college, widely considered a practical means to paying down debt, or saving for real estate. After moving out, unexpected misfortune: losing a job or a fractured relationship, may send them back. Especially fascinating is millenials’ attitude toward employment choices. Prior generations’ willingness to stay in whatever job they found, regardless of whether they liked it is anathema to millenials. They are looking for the right fit — and refusing to settle for anything less. In the meantime, that twin bed is the right fit.

Home Sweet Home

Boomeranging is pretty much inevitable. Before the diploma is framed, be prepared with some non-negotionable rules to be discussed prior to the move.

  • Establish a reasonable rent payment. (If you are don’t need extra cash, establish a nest egg for your millenial — to be used toward future expenses like weddings and home furnishings.) Do you want to request a proportional contribution toward household expenses? Many families do.
  • Encourage your child to use this opporunity to save — particularly toward a home of their own.
  • Household chores and errands: you may not feel comfortable asking your child for chores the
    family has handled since she left. But she should do her own housekeeping and laundry (just as she did at college).
  • Decide how you feel about overnight guests. Are you comfortable meeting a new young lady in an over-sized t-shirt making coffee for your son when you walk sleepily into your kitchen in your comfy Hello Kitty robe? What about smoking? Drinking?

Focus on finding work. It’s best if the job search begins the day after he returns. But despite keg parties and football rallies, college is long hours of hard work. He deserves a little slack. Then: informational interviews, righteous resumes, networking — adult children know the drill. Assiduously avoid social media counsel: remember, they invented it. However, if you have a promising contact, by all means, use it. Then step away. Your child can handle the follow through.

  • The arrangement needs a clear beginning, middle and end. Be realistic, but firm. Both millenials and their parents agree, 5 years is the maximum end date.
  • Coordinating schedules establishes order and helps avoid blow-ups. Once your child is home, establish schedules for showers, quiet time and any other sources of conflict.
  • Help your child become independent. This is the ultimate job of a parent. As soon as your adult child finds work, he should move out. Set an end date (career counselors suggest six months). It’s also important for you to transition into the next healhy phase of your own life — beware of fiscal trade-offs that could be detrimental to your own financial future.

Hold off on bringing in the bedrom contractor or decorator and definitely postpone that plan for downsizing. Your baby is probably coming back home, at least temporarily.  But do consider that since your adult child left home, he’s grown and changed. And so have you. Her return will offer you an unparalleled opportunity to acquaint yourselves with who you’ve become, which can lead to rich relationships going forward. But the new living arrangement is sure to kick up some conflicts.

Boomeranging kids tend to follow one of two patterns, each to varying degrees:

The “perma-child”

Annie loved college. At a respected Midwestern university, she did well as a Sociology major.

Her studies left her ample time to hang out with her sorority sisters. Annie understood that career success in Sociology would require grad school — a reality she wasn’t ready to tackle. She moved home to “regroup”. She was expected to do her own laundry and housekeeping — but not contribute financially.

Underemployed at the local bank, she used her disposable income on clothes, dinners and vacations while her grad school catalogues gathered dust. Annie had become a “perma-child”, regressing to an earlier stage of development, securing her status as not-quite-an-adult.

This Annie isn’t an orphan

  • Encourage a plan. Help her create a purposeful agenda for applying to grad school. Fear often holds us back. Remind Annie that she successfully applied to college. The strategy that requires us to do at least one thing everyday in service to our goal almost always works!
  • Treat grown-up kids as adults. Hold back from hypervigilance, which can freeze your child at a high school mentality..
  • Make your expectations clear. Hopefully you’ve done this before the boomerang. Expect to revisit.
  • Money talks. Here again, the subject of financial contributions has hopefully ocurred before the move. If your child is working, this is non-negotiable. If not, bartering with chores is an option. Teach your child that in the real world, nobody rides for free.
  • “Perma-parenting” may also be in play. Annie’s parents may prefer having a child at home who depends on them, not realizing that they are preventing both their child and themselves from moving on.

Mr. Perfect

Jason had taken on several internships as he pursued his degree in Finance from the same university Annie attended. He jumped on a resulting job offer reasonably close to his home and boomeranged. He had a clear goal in mind: transitioning to the independent living of a full-fledged adult.

He wanted a place of his own. He contributed to the family’s living expenses, but was also able to save. He set a time period for the stay in his childhood bedroom and planned his exit strategy. His parents offered 2 tips:

  • Avoid excessive frugality. Millenials have introduced us to the crucial concept of sustainability. Make sure your child has what he needs. Rigid deprivation is neither healthy nor necessary.
  • Being young doesn’t last long, and it never lasts as long as you think it will.  Savor it.

The kids are alright. And so are you!

  • While the student is away, parents may develop a new closeness — quiet, private, perhaps more romantic time is created. Protect your time as a twosome: keep the fires burning.
  • You have earned your retirement fund. Don’t touch it until you retire.