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Opinion & Analysis
POSTED | 17:54 PM | 22-03-2014

American children come home

-- By Valerie Hyman

Letter from America 



By Valerie Hyman 

The American way of growing up is changing.  It used to be that teenagers could hardly wait to leave their parents’ home and go out on their own.  Independence has, after all, been a foundation of the United States since its founding, and that has been true not only in government, but in the culture as a whole.

We train infants to sleep alone early, young children have their own bedrooms, teenagers have their own cars.

In the past five years, however, instead of moving away, young adults are returning to their parents’ home, a record 21.6 million in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, which uses the US Census as a basis for identifying social trends. This is the highest share in at least 40 years. The Pew study lists explanations for this migration.

-- The American recession since 2008 has made jobs harder to find for everyone, and especially for “Millennials,” born after 1980, ages 18-32.

-- College tuition costs have risen steadily so some young people opt not to attend. 

-- College students are graduating with more debt; they need the free rent they get at home to enable them to pay off their college loans.

-- Millennials are marrying later. Only 25% of adults 18-24 are married, down from 30% just five years ago. 

I would propose factors that Pew didn’t mention, based on my perspective as a mother and a “Baby Boomer,” the generation born between 1946 and 1964.

-- We Baby Boomers parent differently than did earlier generations of Americans. We were more protective of our children than were our own moms and dads. We helped with homework, planned recreational activities, provided transportation to lessons and sports, and generally hovered over our children. As a result, Millennials may feel a bit less confident as they enter the unprotected “real world,” and more drawn back to the nest in which they were sheltered. 

-- Baby Boomers whose children moved away to college, also known as “empty nesters,” often are more than willing to welcome them back. Our lives revolved around our children when they were young and their absence can leave a big empty space. To my delight, my own daughter, who graduated college in June 2013, has returned to live with me. Happily, she found a job immediately upon completing her undergraduate degree; She’s living in our home rent-free so she can save money for graduate school.

-- Baby Boomers are working until a later age, are healthier, and thus can more easily accommodate returning adult children. More than accommodating her, I’m enjoying the opportunity to forge a new relationship with my daughter, one based on our equal status as adults.

To be fair, many Baby Boomers dread the return of their offspring. They find themselves sandwiched between their own parents and their children. Parents, now elderly, require attention; they themselves may come to live with the Baby Boomers, who now may house three generations. These Boomers try to care for their ailing parents while even the most adult children often require attention of their own.

And, let’s face it, many Baby Boomers resent the loss of the carefree retirement they anticipated throughout their working lives.

Still, I believe there may be a cultural shift underway in the US, back to a time that was slower and more personal than the super-fast, technology-driven life of today. People crave those who know them well and with whom they can relate comfortably.

I don’t know how long this trend will last and whether it’s good or bad for America. But it does raise at least one big question: As we Baby Boomers age and find ourselves in need of care and company in our later years, I wonder whether our Millennial children will be around to provide it. In other words, will they return the favor?

Valerie Hyman is a journalism and management trainer based in St Petersburg, Florida. You may reach her at ValerieHyman@BetterNews.com

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