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“How long did you say you are going to be home?”
That was my dad’s question to me, Christmas holidays, 1975-76.
I had set my shaving kit in the small bathroom I had shared with Dad for years. Then, I had moved his shaving cream, after-shave lotion, and cologne to the side so I could spread out mine where his had been, just like I had done when I was in high school.
“Why is Dad asking me how long I’m going to be here?” I thought to myself. “Isn’t he thrilled to have me home, sharing this cramped space together once again?”
A few weeks ago, Lori and I found ourselves asking my dad’s question, only now it was to our children.
“How long did you say you’re going to be home?’
Although Lori and I were sad when each child flew away, we enjoyed our empty nest: no planning meals around the kids’ schedules; less laundry and dish washing; more privacy.
Then this summer one child flew back, and our empty nest was no longer exactly empty.
“Only for a short while,” he said.
Lori and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. I stroked my chin, not sure what to make of our new circumstance.
Then a second child flew back with our grandchild.
Lori and I, the once merry residents of an empty nest, looked at each other, thought about the prospects of two adult children and a baby living with us - and like Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone,” when he slapped his dad’s shaving lotion on his face - patted our cheeks with the palms of our hands and screamed, “Ahhh!”
For a moment I thought about hiding under the bed. The words of Barney Fife trying to frighten those disobedient children with the threat of jail echoed in my ears: “No more care free hours, no more doing what you want when you want to do it, no more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
But I soon learned there are many adults like us with children who have returned home. Perhaps you are one of them. Or maybe you could be.
The percentage of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who have returned home to live with their parents has increased from 51 percent just a decade ago to 56 percent in 2012. Not since the Great Depression have so many young adults moved back home. Sociologists have given them a name: the “Boomerang Generation.”
The primary reason they have returned home has to do with the economy. “The recession hit young adults the hardest because they were often “last hired, first fired,” according to Zhenchao Qian, professor and chair of the sociology department at Ohio State University.
Others have graduated and not found employment.
Still others return home because of broken relationships or transitions in life. But even then, these kids most often just cannot afford to move out on their own.
It’s important to have a serious conversation with the boomerang adult in order to set some ground rules. For instance, are you going to charge rent? (Most financial counselors recommend this if the young adult has a job, and finding work should be a priority. Doing nothing should not be an option). What other expenses are you willing to absorb? (Be careful about being an ATM machine.) Have you established an exit plan? (You should. It can always be renegotiated.) What other boundaries will enhance mutual respect and assure some privacy? (For instance, what habits are unacceptable? And, will you set a curfew?)
We have been fortunate in that our two temporary family residents are both employed and are more than willing to share with household duties.
One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, Lori and I walked to the kitchen and grinned as we saw our two young adults sitting on the back patio, drinking coffee, laughing, and chatting.
Now that they are more mature, I enjoy conversations with them at a level I couldn’t when they were younger. Had they not returned home, I would have missed out on those talks. And then, I have the joy of placing my grandson in my arms and walking him to sleep at night.
I know it won’t be long until they fly away again.
The boomerang will boom back the other way.
And I’ll be sad.
But then I’ll sit back, exhale a sigh of relief, and enjoy my empty nest once again.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website,www.davidbwhitlock.com.