Boomerang Kids and the Evolving Family

grad hats and boomerangFor years our society has been polarized on the Boomerang Phenomenon. It’s described as either good or bad, right or wrong. And Millennials are seen as practical or a failure, finding their way or lost. Those opposed advocate cutting the apron strings, whereas the ones in favor say it’s irresponsible to not provide a port in the storm.

It’s hard to believe, but exactly seven years ago today – December 17, 2008 – we were interviewed by about how to cope when adult kids move home. 

Our remarks about the challenges parents face still ring true today: “Extended stays jolt relationships that have settled into happy kid-free patterns… Letting kids ease back into pre-college roles can make them dependent and you active parents again… It’s easier to reclaim your lifestyle by staying somewhat emotionally detached…”

As do our guidelines for creating solutions in a boomerang family: “Hold family meetings to determine household chores and financial responsibilities… Discuss expectations, roles, boundaries and respect… Work toward individuation and set goals for eventually moving out…”

The Newsweek article generated over 200 readers’ comments, a lot at that time, the majority being from Millennials. Some focused on the selfishness of turning your back on family: “Most people on the planet still live in some form of an extended family… You create a lifelong obligation for yourself when you have kids… What a shame when someone can’t count on their families in times of need…”

Other emerging adults felt they should be responsible for how their lives turn out: “Parents take care of young kids, you’re not a child in your 20s…The sense of entitlement in our generation is crazy… So many value creature comforts over independence and freedom… Why don’t you take care of your needs before your wants?”

During the Great Recession, we posted a blog about how to set boundaries on a popular community website for Baby Boomer women. And it was the readers’ extensive remarks that painted a complicated picture of the challenges and gifts of Boomerang Kids.

One excerpt, for example: “This conversation is a must-read for all of us whose adult kids have come home, taking refuge from the recession. Count me in this category but I’m not alone. In a recent survey, over 40% either took kids back in or helped with housing costs. What is worrisome is that ¼ are using funds set aside for retirement. Not to take this lightly, I must admit I am secretly delighted to have this bonus time. My daughter is launching her own business, and I take pride in my role as incubator of the next generation. While I do pay heed to advice about setting rules & boundaries, I’m more concerned about getting overly attached. There are signs that for a variety of societal and economic reasons, we may be moving back towards intergenerational family groupings on a permanent, rather than temporary, basis. With a few adjustments, I say hurray!”

If your Millennial has boomeranged back, here’s some reading material – over 70 articles with a full spectrum of opinions. The results of a recent survey show the different perspectives on young adults living at home with their parents. While 52% said it’s a smart decision as they’re saving money, 48% replied it’s not right because they should be more independent.

So the polarity remains. If you want to engage your family or friends in conversation, click on this 2014 New York Times Magazine Story. It presents the points of view of 14 Boomerang Kids – complete with a slide show and narratives on student loans, career goals and the realities of living at home. A few days later, the New York Times  ran another article that focuses on the 1,600 reader comments. As expected, there was a huge generation gap and a wide range of remarks – some responders optimistic, others clearly disappointed.

Traditionally the American dream was to strike out on your own. Yet today some development experts are calling the Boomerang Phenomenon the new family paradigm and a cultural shift. As 2015 comes to a close, families are still struggling to make sense of it all. For some emerging adults moving home can represent a personal defeat, provoking frustration and anxiety. Yet for so many, their parents’ secure love provides support that opens the door to new confidence and self-discovery.

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