Rediscovering the American Family – 10 Keys to Success for Baby Boomers and Boomerang Kids
More and more young adults are moving back in with their parents, earning the nickname Boomerang Generation in addition to “Generation Y” and “millenials.” The debate on whether this phenomenon is bad for society or a blessing in disguise for the American family is still a hot topic. Many families living in multigenerational households that resulted from the trend found the situation difficult. If you’re in the same situation, read on. These guidelines might help you survive and make the most of it.
I’ve been there and done it. In fact, I’m still there and loving it! After five years of trying to make it on my own I was suddenly out of a job and in a deep financial mess. I was back in my parent’s house where I planned to stay until I sorted things out. In December of 2008 at 27 and in the prime of my life, I had become a recession statistic. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2010, 37% of us belonging to the 18-29 year-old age group were unemployed or out of the workforce entirely. A survey by the AFL-CIO also reports that a third of workers under 34 lived with their parents.
Moving back in with my parents wasn’t a difficult decision to make. After doing the math, I realized that I had way too much debt (student loans, two credit cards almost maxed out for an auto loan and editing equipment) and too little savings to last for more than two months without a pay check. For my parents, taking me back in wasn’t a matter that needed a long discussion. “Stay with us for as long as you need to.” They had welcomed my sister’s three young children (nephews aged 8 and 10 and a precocious 6-year-old niece) with the same calm when she decided to try her luck in the Middle East after her husband died the year before I came back.
It was only in the months that followed that I learned about how difficult it was for them to adjust to the whole idea. They had to deal with the “failure to launch” issue. Somehow, my inability to fend for myself became a reflection of their ability to prepare me for adulthood. But they only had to deal with this for a short time, because their friends soon experienced the same phenomenon or knew of people who did. Children in their 20s and 30s were coming back to live with their parents in record numbers. Mostly, though, my moving back in became a non-issue because what seemed at first to be a setback soon worked to our mutual advantage.
Here’s how we managed to turn adversity into opportunity:
- Schedule family meetings. While I was searching for a job and trying new things out, I wasn’t always able to share meals with the family. I sensed that my parents needed to know how I was doing so we decided to set Wednesday dinners as official family time.
- Communicate household issues with all family members and address the issues before they become problems. I was so used to living and solving (or ignoring) problems on my own that it took some time to realize that whether I liked it or not, my Mom would not sleep until I came home. We had to sort this one out.
- House rules! If there are existing rules you need to stick by them or negotiate to have them readjusted. Schedules, chores, meal times, quiet time, TV time, computer time. Being a full-time uncle not only meant that I had to abide by the rules but also enforce them.
- Establish financial responsibilities. Luckily for me, the pressure wasn’t great and I was allowed my own sweet time to find a source of income. As soon as I did I made sure to contribute my share of living expenses. It wasn’t required but I knew that my help would be appreciated. I eventually started paying rent for the space I occupied at a rate less than what I’d have spent on a place of my own. It’s a win-win arrangement and one that will help solidify relationships. Trust me on this.
- Have separate and shared spaces for all family members. As soon as I started paying rent, my father decided that my living space should be arranged so that I have my own quarters with its own entrance but that I’d still have access to common facilities such as the kitchen and the living room. We waited for six months before deciding to rearrange spaces. The rebuilding period was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had as a family and perhaps the reason why I’m still staying at my parent’s house even when I now have a good and steady source of income.
- Respect each other’s privacy. This was one of the reasons for the decision to remodel the house. Again I’m lucky that my parents accepted me back into their house as an adult and not the fresh-from-high-school kid who couldn’t do his own laundry or cook his own meals. I still postpone laundry until I can’t anymore but my Mom has the good sense to let the hamper be.
- If you have children living with you be a good role model. This means different things to different people but the bottom line is you’ll need to walk the talk.
- Establish traditions and rituals that bring the family closer. For example, we decided that we didn’t have to wait for birthdays and thanksgiving for an excuse to celebrate. The weekly Wednesday dinners became special occasions that everyone looked forward to. Each week there was a designated “host” who decides what food would be served. My mother did most of the cooking, of course, but she prepared the food that the host wanted. Even the kids had their turn at hosting Wednesday dinners. Their choices were always a source of amusement.
- Be flexible. As the months go by, you will need to constantly re-evaluate your living arrangements, schedules and financial responsibilities. Circumstances change and you should go with the flow.
- Be nice. Smooth interpersonal relationships should be top priority in multigenerational households. Always keep your tempers in check. Hurting words have an effect that last way after the heat of the moment and can ruin your carefully planned arrangements.
A couple of months after I moved in with my parents I realized that I had all the basic equipment needed to offer film and photo services to the immediate community. Weddings, parties, recitals, baptisms and even high school intramurals needed a professional to document the event. After a few months of work I was soon able to build a network of colleagues who provided services along the same lines. We pooled our talents to form an events outfit that provides a complete package of services (catering, cakes, photos and videos, music and entertainment, etc.) for just about any occasion. My education and experience would pay off, after all.
Because I was now earning well, we became a triple income household. My parents are retired and were able to prepare for retirement properly. My sister sends money from Dubai for the upkeep of her kids. My income was the other third. More important than the income was the fact that we were all happier than if we had lived separately. Even my sister who is far away feels more secure knowing that I’m helping take care of the children.
I’m not sure how long this arrangement will last. I will eventually want a family of my own. My nephews and nieces will grow up. The one thing I’m sure of is that the recession has proven the resilience of our family, and that my story isn’t uncommon. Yes we’re called the Boomerang Generation, and they couldn’t have chosen a better name. Boomerangs, thrown properly, always come back to the same place and it’s a fact that the best boomerang throwers are also the best catchers.
Are you a Boomerang kid, or a Boomer who just caught one? Tell us your story.