As graduating seniors return home to their parents’ briefly empty nests this summer, many parents have been conditioned to believe that this modern ritual of reverse migration will be open-ended torture.
We’ve heard the anecdotes of angry young adults taking out their unemployment frustrations on their parents, of entitled college graduates expecting to spend months sleeping late and receiving a regular allowance for doing so, of a generation of spoiled and stalled youth.
But new evidence is emerging and new voices are rising to counter this perception.
A study published by a German population expert in the May issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family on the long-term effects of “coresidence” between parent and child found the opposite of tension:
“The results indicated that, compared with siblings who moved out ‘on time,’ late home leavers lived closer to their aging parents, maintained more frequent contact, and were more likely to be providers as well as receivers of intergenerational support. Overall, this evidence paints a positive picture of extended coresidence, revealing its potential to promote intergenerational solidarity across the life course.”
Katherine Newman, a Johns Hopkins University dean who has studied the trend, said that the parents and young adults of this generation are different than previous generations in some important ways that can make cohabitation beneficial — and even fun.
She studied hundreds of families across several countries for her recent book “The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition” (Beacon Press, 2012).
She discovered, she said, “as for the internal temperature of those ‘accordion families,’ I found them remarkably pleasant.
“Parents are happy to have their children back, in part because they were not tired of them when they left. Today’s boomer parents worked all through their kid’s childhood years and never had enough time to enjoy their company. Retrieving them in an improved form — more mature, less in need of surveillance — means jettisoning those ugly aspects of parenthood (screaming conflicts, late nights waiting up for the key in the lock) and revisiting the most enjoyable ones. Boomerang kids come back as something closer to equals.
“What’s more, today’s generations do not experience the cultural gaps that defined the gulf between boomers and their World War II-era parents. Millennials and boomers often have similar tastes in film, music and politics.
“The boomers are hardly in a position to lecture their progeny on sexual behavior since they broke that mold decades ago. In truth, they are more relaxed on that topic and few had qualms about the son who wanted his girlfriend to sleep over or the daughter who wants her beau to move in.
“Finally, boomer parents have discovered a sociological fountain of youth in the accordion family. As long as they are active parents, they can stave off the turn toward elder-hood. They are not becoming grandparents, they don’t have empty nests. They are performing social roles that would have been characteristic of people twenty years their junior just one generation earlier. And they like it.
“All in all, the economic frustrations that are producing the accordion family are a source of genuine frustration and worry. But apart from that, it would appear to be all quiet on the home front for most families.”
What do you think? Are you a parent who has welcomed home a graduate? Is it more pleasant than expected? Is Newman a bit of a Pollyanna?