Millennials are the “go nowhere” generation. They’re spoiled, lazy, undecided about a line of work and all too willing to move back in with their parents after college. Boomerang kids, they are called — as if every time their moms and dads toss them out, they circle back to crash their parents’ hopes of a child-free life. At least that’s the rap against them.
It’s true that many 20-somethings move back to their childhood homes and let their parents subsidize them in ways that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. But are they really entitled narcissists exploiting their parents’ goodwill? I don’t think so. I’ve been teaching undergraduates for 30 years, and when I talk to families, I see parents who are supportive of the semi-empty nest — and a recognition that this is the reality of the current job market.
Not that it is always easy. One New York dad told me in an e-mail that when his son graduated from college in 2009, he urged him to move in with him. “I wanted him to save money and take his time exploring job options. Living together gave me a chance to get to know him as an adult. But it was an odd mixture, partly a return to adolescent dependence (complete with free food and laundry service), and partly adult independence (he kept his own hours and socialized with his own friends). The ground rules had to be worked out, and over time, they were.”
The 20-somethings moving back home aren’t doing it just for the free laundry, though. One young woman, whose mother died during her junior year at Rutgers, explained that she moved back to her family home to help take care of her younger brother. “I got a part-time job in a fitness center and took classes at a nearby university. Still, I found going back to the nest challenging in ways I hadn’t expected. I had grown independent, and my dad treated me as if I was still in high school. After a year I left to live on my own. Returning home made me realize that the time had come to truly grow up.”
In instances like these, the parents aren’t saps, and their children aren’t freeloaders. Both parents and children understand that in a world where the young are saddled with debt and find it difficult to quickly enter a career, parental support — where possible — is indispensable.
After graduation, many of my Columbia University students plan to move back home. And they’re happy about this. My generation — Oberlin, Class of 1973 — would have regarded returning home as the ultimate symbol of failure and a huge sacrifice of personal liberty. But my students consider their parents friends. Their homes will be their base camps from which they will pursue the internships and educational experiences they want. For one of my students, this involved volunteer service at the Arab American Family Support Center and internships at Freedom House and Seeds of Peace. She also had the opportunity to curate a museum exhibit before leaving to study Arabic in Qatar. That’s a circuitous path, and one that required enormous help from her family well beyond graduation.