Leslie Brayton of Somerville, Mass., is delighted to have her only child, Maggie, 28, back at home. “My daughter has lived abroad and is going to Colombia soon for five months, so I am happy to have her down the hall,” she says. “We have a big house, so we’re not on top of one another.”
Maggie, who teaches English as a second language for a nonprofit school, “is a lovely person, and my husband, Greg, and I enjoy having her around, even if we don’t see her much,” Brayton says.
They don’t charge her rent, but expect her to help out with chores and their dog, and to take care of her own laundry, meals and car. They treat her like an adult, try not to nag and don’t offer unsolicited advice.
“We recognize that the only way to make this work is to let Maggie have her own life,” says Brayton.
There are 75.4 million Millennials — the generation born after the early 1980s through the early 21st century — in the United States, and nearly a third are still living with their parents. According to the Pew Research Center, for the first time in 130 years, young adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely to be living at home with their parents than with a romantic partner.
That’s an unusual turn of events in the recent history of America, where we have championed the idea of kids becoming independent from parents, reports Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen students at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.
Maybe so, but the trend isn’t surprising, given the high cost of living, the burdensome college debt and the difficulty of finding a well-paying job that offers solid advancement. Young people are also delaying marriage and may have different priorities. Some have more relaxed, companionable relationships with their parents than the previous generation had with theirs. And living with your parents may just be losing its stigma in America, Lythcott-Haims says.
“Living at home can be a smart way to get ahead,” says Richard A. Settersten Jr., director of the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families at Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the author of Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good for Everyone.
It can allow young adults to offset the costs of higher education, gain experience through low-paying or unpaid internships that keep them from living on their own and saving for the future. And living away from home doesn’t always mean young adults are financially or emotionally independent anyway, he says, because parents are often called on to supplement their children’s incomes.
“It comes down to how kids live when they live at home,” says Lythcott-Haims. “A 25-year-old should behave like a 25-year-old out in the world, earning income, contributing to expenses and the upkeep of the house and sharing in adult responsibilities. That’s a co-living situation.”
Contrast that to a 25-year-old who behaves like a 15-year-old and expects to be waited on by his parents, and you have a case of arrested development.
Clearly, living at home can give young adults some financial latitude while they start a career. Jane and Jamie Male of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., have two Millennials in the house. Daughter Melissa, 28, a content creator who recently started a freelance business, moved back home, along with her dog, following a breakup with her live-in boyfriend a couple of years ago. Son Daniel, 22, is also living at home while he decides on a career path.
“I grew up in a family-style home with different generations, so it was natural for us to welcome Melissa and Daniel back home,” says Jane. “I never expected to have an empty nest due to my upbringing and today’s economy. And I want my kids to have the opportunity to experience life, experiment a bit and take trips without worrying about the pressure of paying bills.”
Although neither child pays rent, both are expected to contribute to the household in some way. “Daniel is responsible for his car and mowing the lawn, and Melissa helps clean the house. And they both pay their own cellphone bills,” she says.
Jane is taking a step-by-step approach to helping her kids become more independent and responsible.
“When they were younger, we were in a management phase as parents,” she explains. “That started to transition to a consulting phase when they were in high school, and today we see ourselves as consultants who are there to give advice if they need our help.”
That’s a great tactic, according to Lythcott-Haims. “We parents have to remember that we will be gone one day, and we must make sure our kids can fend for themselves,” she says. “Our impulse is to take care of them, but that can be harmful. They need some hardship to be tough and capable, or the world will eat them up. The goal,” she adds, “is to raise an adult, not a child.”
For Karen Goodman, a single mom living in Orange, Conn., having her son Michael, 24, move back in last year after he graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston was a no-brainer.
“He said he was thinking of coming home, and I agreed it was a good idea,” she recalls. “He didn’t have a job in Boston beyond his band, and it was hard for him to make his bills. I was living alone, so I welcomed the company.”
The adjustment of having him back home has been easy. “Michael’s dad died when he was 12, and we have an unspoken rule that we’ll be there for each other. He is probably one of the best people I know, and he has always been strong, mature and kind. He’s helped me out as much as I’ve helped him,” Goodman says.
They’ve never discussed rent, but because he recently got a full-time job, she may ask him to contribute in the near future.
Goodman is leery of doing too much for Michael, but she also likes having someone to take care of. His informal responsibilities include taking care of her dog when she goes away or is at work, buying groceries when he can and taking out the garbage.
As for the future, Goodman sees herself creating an in-law apartment for herself, with Michael and his family living in the main house.
“That’s my plan, at least,” she says, laughing. “I don’t know what his plan is!”
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