My children, when very young used to tell me they would never leave me. The boys vowed to marry me one day, and the girls solemnly promised to stay with me forever, and hopefully marry their father. I remember holding them close to me and saying that I wish they would stay with me forever, knowing of course that in the natural order of things they would all eventually begin the lives of their own. But they didn't.
My children are part of the ‘boomerang generation,’ a phenomenon that began in the 80s. The cost-of-living index, which has affected everyone, is especially hard on young people about to embark on their journey into independence. My oldest daughter married at 22, moved four hours away from me, breaking my heart; especially when she had two sons that I was rarely able to visit. Before my tears were barely dry, she divorced, moved back home, and began looking for the means to support herself and two young boys. After spending a year at home, she eventually rented a small apartment next door to me, found a job that fell well below the median standard of living, and a full-time babysitter – me.
My sons didn't exactly boomerang out and return. They never left, until we finally moved to a smaller home with no room for them. It sounds cruel, but it initiated independence. Once on their own, they managed to maintain both jobs and apartments but might have stayed at home forever if not nudged gently out of the nest.
Another daughter, determined to be independent, moved out of the house when she went off to college. She lived for six months in a basement apartment that was only 5 feet high, with cement floors, no windows and septic pipes intertwining throughout. Her bug-infested home was in a neighborhood where Clint Eastwood would say, ‘Go ahead, make my day,’ at least 10 times a day. Eventually this child rented a lovely apartment in an older home, which she shared with two other students. Her rent was nearly doubled, and that along with other expenses, forced her to move back into her small bedroom in order to pursue a career in law.
My youngest daughter began college and lived at home because she saw, through her siblings, how impossible it is to live on your own. So far as I'm concerned, my children can boomerang in and out of my life as long as they want. It's wonderful having at least two children and grandchildren in my home at all times. I never experience the ‘empty nest syndrome,’ because it never emptied.
However, being robbed of their total independence keeps young adults from maturing as rapidly as earlier generations did. Adolescence, due to the overall prolonged life expectancy, has extended into the mid-20's. This is not necessarily bad, because it shields young adults from making the sometimes dire mistakes their parent generation did while trekking perilously toward adulthood.
While high rents and housing costs, plus inadequate pay scales, have initiated the boomerang generation, there are other causes. Many young adults have been spoiled by the affluence of their parents and are reluctant to strike out on their own in the face of a reduced standard of living. Most teenagers today have acquired a TV, cell phone, computer, stereo, various computer games, video games and the car by their 18th birthday. Who would want to leave all that? Marriage has also been pushed forward, with 26 the median age for men and 24 for women, sometimes longer. Having children is also delayed, sometimes into their 30’s.
According to some social scientists, money is not the primary reason for the boomerang phenomena. Rather, it indicates failed adults – the result of inadequate child-rearing and overindulgence by parents, who will buy their children material things in lieu of the love, support, and security they need to become responsible adults. There are some parents who resent the loss of privacy and plans for self-fulfillment that are delayed by boomerang kids. In addition, many of these same parents bear the responsibility for caring for their own aged parents, and are caught in the middle of two generations; both needing or demanding financial and emotional care.
Parenting was never a process which was supposed to go on indefinitely. When a child reached adulthood, he/she was expected to be self-sufficient. Escalating prices in contrast to low pay scales have changed that, perhaps indefinitely. The boomerang generation is establishing a trend that is not likely to disappear for some time.
I figure that by the time all my children have boomeranged in and out of my home, my grandchildren will begin. But I wouldn't want it any other way, in spite of the bathroom being littered with hairdryers, electric rollers, and endless makeup, plus the attic crammed with all the ‘essentials’ from their previous spurts of independence.
It is an extended family life that I find keeps us all together, close and loving — qualities often lost when children leave home. And on the days when I don't feel so altruistic about the situation, I remember that someday their father and I in our doddering old age might be boomerang in and out of their homes… a just reward I think.